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WWD Beauty Forum: The Notion of Beauty Reexamined

Linda Wells, editor in chief of Allure magazine, moderated a panel that discussed the evolution of what it means to be beautiful.

Linda Wells, Deborah Roberts, Jane Hertzmark Hudis and Steven Teitelbaum, M.D.

The notion of what it means to be beautiful is evolving, but with more ideals being represented, the definition may be even more difficult to attain.

This story first appeared in the May 20, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

During a panel discussion Tuesday, moderator Linda Wells, editor in chief of Allure magazine, quoted comedian Tina Fey to underscore the point: “Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass…the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits. The person closest to achieving this is Kim Kardashian.…Everyone else is struggling.”

The good news, as a recent Allure study found, is that women no longer only exalt those with blue eyes and flaxen hair as beautiful — at least in theory. To explore that view, Wells gathered experts in media, the beauty industry and plastic surgery.

Deborah Roberts, a correspondent for ABC News and “20/20,” said, “Sadly, at least in the media we’re still coming about this fairly slowly.” She divulged that stories involving a beautiful, blonde woman as the subject or victim get instant attention from TV producers. Roberts, an African-American who grew up in a small town in Georgia in the Sixties and Seventies, said, “There was an ideal of beauty and it wasn’t me.”

Los Angeles-based plastic surgeon Steven Teitelbaum, M.D., said that despite the headline grabbing procedures, à la Heidi Montag, most women and men seek subtle change.

People today are asking to be a refined version of themselves,” said Teitelbaum. But of course, “Occasionally they will bring in a photo of Angelina Jolie’s lips.” The point unleashed Roberts’ reporter instincts: “Bristol Palin. Did she or didn’t she?” Teitelbaum demurred that he does not comment on who has or has not gone under the knife.

Jane Hertzmark Hudis, global brand president for Estée Lauder, acknowledged the industry gets quite a bit of flack for pushing a certain ideal or look. But Hudis has a less menacing view: “It’s our responsibility to say, ‘Take care of yourself and feel good about it.’”

When asked by an audience member what role retouching of photographs plays, Wells quipped, “At Allure, we do a lot of retouching — as a matter of fact we do most of it on my editor’s photo.…Retouching was born when portrait photography was born.”