Un-airbrushed and Overexposed

My Google Alert email is blowing up with articles about Jennifer Hawkins. If, like me, you’ve never heard of her, she was the 2004 Miss Universe and she’s showing the world her outback on the cover of February's Australian Marie Claire – naked and un-airbrushed.

Hooray!, right? This is what we need to see - a real woman, with wrinkles and sags and extra bits of flesh…right?

Wrong.

That’s the criticism coming from scads of bloggers and commentators, who claim a naturally svelte and stunning specimen like Hawkins doesn’t represent real women, and that even sans Photoshopping efforts, her insane bod STILL makes women feel like chunky crap.

One Marie Claire reader cried, "If anything is going to have me running to the toilet with my finger down my throat it's a picture of Jennifer Hawkins naked." Another said, "She wants to make [women] feel more comfortable about how they look, gee thanks, I now feel worse! I'm a size 10 and I still have more rolls than her!" (For you Where’s Waldo fans out there, I’ve listed Hawkins’ “flaws” at the bottom of this blog.)

Another vocal critic is popular Aussie radio host Bianca Dye, who claims the average gal doesn’t want or need to see a former Miss Universe held up as the Poster Girl for body confidence.  “She was born beautiful,” Dye said of Hawkins. “She has not had to go through any stress to look like that.” 

Dye walks the walk – she herself posed naked for Madison magazine in November, in an effort to show women "there's a difference between red-carpet Bianca and me sitting there with size 14 thighs and gut".

Marie Claire said they chose to feature Hawkins nude and unaltered following a survey they conducted of 5500 readers which showed only 12% were truly happy with their bodies. The pics are to be auctioned later this month, with the proceeds going to an ED support group called the Butterfly Foundation. The Butterfly Foundation says they chose to feature a celeb – as opposed to a real woman – to help create awareness.

I’m kinda straddling the fence with this one. Is it a step forward to have women – all women – being shown in a more real, unfiltered light? Of course. Is Hawkins a beautiful woman? Clearly. Does she have a crease in her waist, maybe the very teeniest hint of a roll? Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and say yes.

Then again, even naked and un-airbrushed, the fact remains that she STILL looks like a Victoria’s Secret model. The Marie Claire stunt nearly manages to accomplish the exact opposite of its altruistic goal: When readers look at her, many of us are going to think, “Holy crap, THAT’S what she looks like BEFORE airbrushing? I wish I looked like that AFTER a team of W designers got through working on me.” 

One point I don’t agree with is Bianca Dye’s assertion that simply because Jennifer Hawkins is gorgeous, she can’t possibly have ever struggled with body image or represent those of us who have. This debate emerged in November, when the Australian public chastised the nation’s official body image advisory group for releasing a proposed National Body Image Strategy….with three too-pretty-to-understand-suffering women at the helm - Minister for Youth Kate Ellis, who developed the National Advisory Group on Body Image, chairwoman Mia Freedman, a former Cosmopolitan editor, and model/TV producer Sarah Murdoch.

(Read my take on the whole “Would you take body image advice from a pretty woman?” debate here.) 

It seems we like to see un-airbrushed women in magazines, but only when the pictures serve our needs. The woman in the photo needs to look good, but still show an appreciable number of belly rolls/tush dimples/undereye circles/spider veins for us to be able to truly relate. Maybe that’s why pictures of Jennifer Love Hewitt in a bikini or Jessica Simpson in her highwaisted jeans caused such a stir, or why Celebs Caught Without Makeup stories are such big sellers. Looking at (kinda) plus-sized Lizzi Miller nakesters in Glamour with a belly pooch makes those of us who are bigger than her feel vindicated because there’s a model who looks more like us than Kate Moss does, while she simultaneously makes those of us who aren’t plus-sized, but nonetheless are insecure about our bodies, feel a bit, well, relieved. But a pic of Jennifer Hawkins just makes everyone want to eat salad and sign up for a Buy 81, Get The 82nd Pilates Session FREE! card at the gym.

*Flaws include a dimpled thigh, waist crease and uneven skin tone.

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