Picture this: Why we need to keep it ‘real’
Views on airbrushing — as with the ubiquitous self-editing apps used widely on social media — illustrate how rife ageist attitudes are, says Margaret Jennings
THERE’S a funny scene with a biting edge in the third season of Frankie
and Grace, the Netflix drama featuring two 70-something women, which highlights the realities of growing older.
The two would-be entrepreneurs Frankie (Lily Tomlin) and Grace (Jane Fonda) ask a PR firm to help them promote their vibrators for seniors. All is good until the PR people present them with a very large poster of themselves as the “faces” behind the product — very young faces.
It’s a laugh-out-loud moment for viewers, as the impact of the almost unrecognisable version of the two women staring back at us hits — and we watch them both storm out in total outrage.
But views on airbrushing — as with the ubiquitous self-editing apps now used widely on social media — are complex, skirting the issue of how “real” we are being.
As with other plot lines in the Netflix series, the writers use it to take a sharp stab at the not-so-subtle ageist attitudes widespread in the media and society against older women.
And although Grace is indignant at her picture being tampered with, if we take a step back from the fiction, there is an irony in the fact that actress Fonda, who will be 80 in December, looks amazing as a result of her openly admitted plastic surgery over the decades.
Photoshopping is not confined to older people of course — it is regularly used to portray images of unrealistic flawlessness in promotional material.
A-list actress Helen Mirren, now 72, found herself at the centre of an airbrushing controversy two years ago, after a complaint was lodged with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in Britain claiming she looked great in her images for a L’Oreal campaign, not because of the Age Perfect moisturiser she was promoting, but because she was Photoshopped.
L’Oréal won its case after providing red carpet images that proved Mirren looked the same as the commercial in question, fine lines and all. At the time, Mirren told Woman And
Home magazine: “Contrary to what everyone says, I don’t not allow retouching. I’m very laissez-faire about it all. But when I was offered the gig to be an ambassador for L’Oreal, which was very exciting, I said ‘please don’t retouch me’.
“In the US, they retouch for film posters. That’s their business, of course — they’re advertising the movie. But I look at it and think. ‘I don’t look like that in real life — and certainly not in the movie.’ So I didn’t want something to say ‘This is me, Helen Mirren’ — and for L’Oreal to perpetuate something that isn’t true.
“But it wasn’t even an issue, as L’Oreal UK don’t retouch images of me unless maybe there’s a hair out of place or a bra strap showing, which was music to my ears.”
Although she has strong views on fighting the anti-ageing message, and writes about it in her blog grey is 0K, 54-year-old Irish model, Denise O’Neill tells Feelgood: “I understand that a certain amount of Photographic editing is required to get the best and most flattering image. After all, we, as consumers, want to view beautiful images. It makes us feel good and transports us into a world of glamour outside of our day-to-day ordinary lives.”
The Lisburn-based mother of two would abhor the drastic measures taken with Frankie and Grace, however — knocking half a decade off their faces: “I believe there is a worrying subliminal anti-ageing message being conveyed through the use of the ‘perfect, flawless, non-wrinkled’ face and this type of influence on consumers contributes to the mind-set that ageing is to be combatted,” she says.
And she asks: “Why are we being brain- washed into thinking that ageing is a negative thing? It is a normal part of life to grow older and evolve. It happens to all living things. Ageing should be respected and celebrated. I’d like to see the term ‘antiageing’ banned from our vocabulary.”
It’s not an equal platform either, she points out. “I have noticed that in the main, images of older men are not being airbrushed to make them look younger. It appears to me that their wrinkles are very much displayed as distinguished, handsome, character-adding, wise and mature.”
In her own photographic work O’Neill says there is always only minimal editing, allowing her age and personality to shine through. “I much prefer to let nicely applied natural makeup and flattering lighting bring out the best in my pictures. I think they are more natural and real.”
Accepting how we look, frown lines, laughter lines, “warts and all” starts within ourselves, or course, but it could be less pressurising if the growing number of older women being used for promotional purposes were kept “real”.
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new —Albert Einstein
QUESTION OF IMAGE: Denise O’Neill believes there is a worrying subliminal anti-ageing message being conveyed through Photoshopped images.