Cindy Crawford has stretch marks? Less-than-perky thighs? For those of you somehow not familiar, a photo was leaked/released a few months ago of the supermodel that wasn’t Photoshopped to alien perfection.
It gave us a rare and full-on glimpse of Ms. C’s post-pregnancy, middle-aged body. Good on her, I thought, for bucking the media trend that leaves the rest of us gazing critically at our own imperfect bodies and wondering where we went wrong.
Crawford has been both revered — for her bravery — and reviled for this photo.
Some have criticized her for not doing enough to stave off the whole (apparently repulsive) aging process. But there’s been a big push recently to have the advertising powers-that-be acknowledge they make a mockery of the way we human women really look. And to let young women know they will never attain the perfection of the Photoshopped faces and bodies they’re assailed by daily. It’s a sad commentary that even the gorgeous cover model (and her mons pubis) on the last Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue was altered with more than a few point-and-clicks.
But I’m letting Hollywood, advertising agencies, and overzealous photo editors off the hook here for a moment. Why? Because it’s not Cindy on Photoshop steroids, or Beyoncé, with her newly-revealed imperfect dermis, who are to blame. Instead, I’m holding accountable the women who really do look like that and I’ll tell you why: They exist.
I was sitting next to one at Starbucks recently. This young woman was so striking, I couldn’t stop staring. She was tall, dark, and slim. Her long, black hair was cascading and shiny. Her skin was glowing and flawless. She had a face that would send Annie Leibovitz running for her closest Nikon.
The women who “make it” in the modeling world are very much like the young woman in Starbucks. They’re physical phenoms. They’re Hope diamonds. They’re very, very rare but they’re out there. I’ve seen several of these rare birds in my therapy practice, and each time I meet one, I roll my eyes at the Therapy Gods and think, “Really? Again?”
We don’t need Adobe to create these women for us. We see them in algebra class, on the Metro, in our offices. I still remember the prettiest girl in my high school class. She had skin like taupe silk and long, perfectly painted red fingernails. I still remember her and this was in 1977. (I saw her fairly recently and, true to form, she is as lovely as ever. Apparently, this shit sticks.)
The beauty industry simply puts these women to work. I’m not denying that young women growing up today have it tougher than my cohorts and I did. Back then, there wasn’t such intense focus on physical perfection. But we all knew who the prettiest girl on the cheerleading squad was. We still do.
Porn hasn’t helped. I read recently that the biggest health issue facing that industry isn’t HIV (or other STDs), it’s anorexia. So, not only are the women featured in these videos willing to participate in any sexual act known to man (and beast), they’re also thin beyond the thinnest most girls will ever be. And this is just another reminder for girls that the bar for being desirable just keeps getting higher.
It’s important to rail against a multi-billion dollar beauty industry that continually reminds us we just can’t compete with the women in its parallel universe, but we also need to bring our talks with our daughters closer to home. To point out that although Classmate Chelsea is quite pretty, she will have all the same challenges (and sometimes more) as every other person on the planet. Because, as adults, we already know her looks will not protect her from infertility or herpes or divorce.
I know the most beautiful of women. I know the most talented of artists and musicians. I know folks who write like the heavens are guiding their hands. We’re all born with something beautifully unique. And fair few wear it on the outside and the rest of us have to dig a little. And that excavating is where we’d do well to refocus young women.
Brava, Ms. Crawford, for reminding women and girls that beauty isn’t perfection. And that things aren’t always as they appear. And that the Starbucks chick, the head cheerleader, and the supermodel will, if they’re lucky, age and change physically in ways more beautiful — and real — than ever before.