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In Search of A 'Real' Woman

August 24, 2012

Amid the air-brushed perfection of so much fashion advertising, a backlash is growing against retouched images

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Amid the air-brushed perfection of so much fashion advertising, a backlash is under way: one of "real" women, unretouched images and online customer reviews.

This new movement even has a name: "flawsome", as it has been labelled by Henry Mason of forecasting agency Trendwatching.com. "It's about a desire for more human brands and greater transparency,'' he says. "In the current consumer climate of decreasing trust in business, it's proving to be a winning strategy.''

The brands involved are bullish about their approach. French cosmetics company Make Up For Ever last year launched its HD Invisible Cover Foundation with a Photoshop-free ad billed as "the first unretouched campaign".

Dove, which first ran "real women" advertisements in 2004, has created a sequel fronted by "real woman" Alexis Foreman. "We found that digitally manipulated images were the least effective method of encouraging the purchase of a beauty product," says Ali Fisher, Dove's marketing manager. As a result, "Dove does not enhance or add extra elements to an image, nor does it combine images to create a false representation of perfection."
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In a similar move, French eco-beauty brand Melvita, (recently launched in the UK and the US), hired photographer Ryan McGinley to produce a Photoshop-free, unretouched campaign using "real" women. "It is very difficult for a woman to trust an image that is so far from reality," says Julien Laporte, Melvita's international managing director. "This kind of campaign can help to create a strong emotional link with our consumer, a link of trust based on sincerity and honesty."

As make-up artist Bobbi Brown says: "Looking your best is a combination of the right knowledge, accepting the things you can't change, and having confidence in yourself."
Michelle Feeney, chief executive of London PR agency PZ Cussons Beauty, agrees. "The future of beauty is about enhancing your natural beauty rather than focusing on erasing the 'flaws'," she says.

It all sounds laudable, but what does "natural" beauty mean? After all, cosmetics gurus such as Brown built business empires on selling us the myriad products required to look "natural".

Ren, which avoids synthetic ingredients in its beauty products, celebrated its 10th anniversary with an unretouched video of a couple frolicking in a lake. Founder Rob Calcraft, however, avoids referring to his stars as "real people", and talks instead of "possible aspiration" and "idealised normality".

At BareMinerals, another brand that has launched a Photoshop-free "real" women campaign, European marketing director Andrew Rodgers says: "In the past the relationship a beauty company had with the customers was very one-way. Today we have conversations with our customers; we are much more flexible."

Henry Mason sees the inclusion of a customer comment page on brands' websites "as a very powerful statement from a brand, which shows respect for consumers - that they are smart enough to process comments and make up their own minds".

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