The poster features a young woman unapologetically holding a protest sign that demands, “DON’T RETOUCH ME.” At first glance, The Body Shop appears to solely be promoting its no-retouch policy and proclaimed opposition to unrealistic standards of beauty. Upon closer investigation, The Body Shop is actually reeling its audience in with a progressive message, only to undermine it with: “INSTABLUR ME,” the sign continues, promoting a new makeup that will help the wearer “Get Selfie Ready.” It promises to smooth pores and hide blemishes, effectively eliminating the need for a virtual filter.
An accompanying video on The Body Shop’s website continues to push conflicting agendas: “Are you ready to join the no retouch movement?” it asks, quickly flashing to a shot of the words, “Get photo perfect skin.” If the point of the makeup is to be “selfie” and “photo ready,” the product clearly is meant to provide all of the benefits of Photoshop. The advertisement is no longer an audacious effort to celebrate female self-declarations of beauty, but is sneaky capitalization on a self-obsessed social media culture in which women learn to curate their photos and profiles to meet prescribed standards of appearance. The promises in the video rely on certain assumptions about the audience: that they are going to take selfies, are Instagram aficionados, and are accustomed to filters. Paradoxically, the same audience is expected to take a stand against advertisements using Photoshop.
Unfortunately, The Body Shop’s well-intentioned campaign completely undermines the purpose of the company’s no-retouch policy. The appropriation of social media terminology and obvious marketing aim at women who heavily use such media contradicts The Body Shop’s statement, “The media continues to prey on the insecurities of women. We are doing what we can to redress this balance.” The ad campaign for Instablur continues to insist that women have to hide their bodies if they are less than “photo perfect” (and, really, what does that mean?), and encourages the typical – and potentially destructive – use of social media to only display the best parts of one’s life.
In the words of About-Face through its August 2014 “#LifeHasNoFilter” event, “social media portrays a filtered, and often glorified, segment of people’s lives.” The negative impact of social media on self-esteem is beginning to be well documented (see this study), leading to bigger questions about media: is it ever truly acceptable to retouch a photo of a person? Does it depend on who performs the alterations? What about makeup itself – is there a responsible way to advertise and wear it without undermining a woman’s natural beauty? Answering those questions is beyond the scope of this post, but ultimately, The Body Shop’s advertising strategies need to be rethought, as they currently capitalize on a narcissistic culture that promotes the very attitudes the company claims to stand against.
Caitlin Lansing is a 2014 graduate of Princeton University, where an adamant belief that “freak shows turned into beauty pageants” propelled her to write a 90-page history thesis about it. A former dancer and college cheerleader, she is no stranger to body scrutiny, and seeks to challenge the idea that one’s worth is intimately tied to appearance.