Un-retouched photos of both Beyoncé (for L’Oreal) and supermodel Cindy Crawford (for Marie Claire) were leaked over the span of this past week. The incidents have sparked worldwide debate, as people everywhere appeared unsettled to see the physical imperfections of women who are considered some of America’s most famous sex symbols. While some have hailed the natural photos as empowering and necessary to take down photoshop culture, the most important aspect of the situation to keep in mind is the issue of consent.
While L’Oreal has yet to comment on Beyoncé’s photos, Marie Claire has been outspoken in its support for Crawford. The fashion magazine claims that “[n]o matter where the photo came from, it’s an enlightenment — we’ve always known Crawford was beautiful, but seeing her like this only makes us love her more.” From a PR standpoint, this is a smooth approach to take. The rise of “femvertising” has made poking holes in the media’s unrealistic portrayal of women popular and it certainly makes Marie Claire look good to support its models in moments of vulnerability. Even though Marie Claire has tried to make the best of the situation, they ignore the invasion of privacy on account of both Crawford and their company.
It is commonly recognized that the photoshopping process has helped to create unrealistic beauty standards that negatively impact women. In fact, some celebrities and companies have chosen to take on the responsibility of tearing down the photoshop culture. For example, big-name stars like Keira Knightley, Jamie Lee-Curtis and Lorde have all released unadulterated photos of themselves to promote body positivity, which have received a warm reception from the public. However, it is neither Beyoncé nor Crawford’s responsibility to single-handedly fight against the photoshop culture if they do not chose to do so. They have a right to protect their image and their personal brand; if that means using photoshop to maintain certain expectations about their appearance, then it is no one else’s right to distort that public perception in a way that could impact their livelihoods.
In Silicon Valley, Dear Kate launched an advertising campaign featuring six female tech executives bearing it all in their underwear, sans photoshop. This is the way in which individuals and organizations must go about deconstructing beauty standards. If we celebrate hackers releasing similar images without consent, then we are taking the power away from the meaningful movement and placing it in the hands of anonymous individuals with neither accountability nor good intentions in mind.
An analogous, albeit more extreme example of hackers violating female celebrities’ privacy is the summer nude photo hack by the anonymous 4Chan. In a Vanity Fair interview, Jennifer Lawrence, a central victim in the hack, shed light on the issue of consent in the case, lamenting “It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting.” “JLaw,” everyone’s favorite, was able to find some silver lining in the situation, calling attention to the problematic societal norm that women are not taught to celebrate sexuality but rather to be ashamed of it. Instead of bending to the norm and drafting an apology, Lawrence defended her decision to take sexual images, explaining, “I was in a loving, healthy, great relationship for four years. It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you.” Similar to Beyoncé and Crawford in the photoshop debate, Lawrence was forced into the center of another gender norm conversation unwillingly. Opening up the dialogue about such topics as gender norms, especially considering the disproportionate amount of sexual violence committed against women, must be consensual.
Particularly on college campuses, where the conversation about consent is at a critical point right now, we cannot condone the invasion of a woman’s personal privacy by focusing only on unintended positive outcomes. Take the case of Emma Sulkowicz, for example. The Columbia University student was raped during her sophomore year, but took back control of the situation by choosing to become an activist for mishandled sexual assault cases on college campuses. No one (hopefully) looks back on the aftermath and thinks, “I am glad she was raped so we can have this dialogue.” While the photoshop case does not involve the same level of violation, Beyoncé and Crawford should be able to expect that their privacy be maintained and that they can control both who sees sensual images of their own bodies and in what form they are seen. Just because Beyoncé and Crawford are public figures does not mean that they automatically surrender themselves as martyrs for the cause.
As many I am sure would agree, I think both Beyoncé and Cindy Crawford are exceptionally beautiful women who do not need photoshop. Popular culture has evolved to a place where photoshop is expected, which is an unfortunate and harmful norm that needs to be changed. However, it is not up to me or the internet or society to tell these women when to deviate from the norm.
Contact Kelsey Page at kpage2 ‘at’ stanford.edu