A recent issue of gossip magazine Famous published pictures of model Lara Bingle on a beach in a bikini. Lara’s cellulite was clearly visible on the back of her thighs. When I saw the pictures my first thought was “Oh wow, even Lara Bingle has cellulite!” I have to admit it made me feel better about myself.
I read the accompanying cover lines and to my pleasant surprise, the words were NOT pointing out said cellulite. Rather, the story was a report of the rumour that she and new man Sam Worthington had eloped. I felt even better. A magazine had put a gorgeous model with cellulite clearly visible on the cover, and did NOT point out the perceived flaw.
But Lara was not happy. She tweeted her discontent, branding Famous “a disgrace”, accusing them of deliberately photoshopping cellulite onto her body and “perpetuating self-doubt in all women”.
But it didn’t perpetuate self-doubt in me. Quite the opposite. I think that a magazine publishing a paparazzi shot of a woman on a beach, while not mentioning any perceived body flaws, helps to promote a more realistic image of how bodies can and do look.
The implicit message sent by the Famous cover was that even beautiful young bikini models can have cellulite. It’s one tiny step to normalising the dimpled thigh, which is one step closer to helping women develop more acceptance of their own dimples. An orange-peel is the new black kind of thing.
The same photos appeared in Who Weekly a few weeks earlier. No cellulite was visible. My conclusion at first was that Who Weekly must have airbrushed out the cellulite. Who Weekly told the Daily Telegraph on November 27 that the photos were not manipulated but were “brightened”. Perhaps the cellulite was visible on the Famous photos due to a lighting discrepancy, as one photographer suggested to the Telegraph.
Famous claims it didn’t alter the pictures. The magazine says in an open letter to Lara in a subsequent issue (December 9, 2013), “In our opinion, this was an opportunity to embrace and promote a realistic body image. Given your many fans and several hundred thousand followers on social media, it could have been the perfect opportunity for someone as influential as yourself to be a role model for regular women with real bodies, to demonstrate that there is nothing wrong with cellulite – even top models have it!”
As Famous argues, would it have been better for them to hide the cellulite with airbrushing, which is what really would’ve presented an unrealistic expectation of how bodies look?
The Famous letter reads, “Upon examining the snaps of you looking happy and relaxed, we saw familiar lumps and bumps on your body – the very same cellulite marks that appear on our own. In that instant, we very much related to you. And to be completely honest, it made us feel good that you looked real – who wouldn’t want to look like a beautiful bikini model?”
Speaking as a former magazine editor, I would’ve made the same decision as the editors at Famous – to print the pictures as they are, and not refer to the cellulite. Because not only is cellulite irrevelant to that particular story, cellulite is irrelevant full stop. The more real, non-airbrushed women of all shapes and sizes that we see in the media, the closer we are towards less body-anxiety.
By even writing about this, some may say I’m drawing too much attention to something that I’m saying is irrelevant. But I hear a lot of women complaining about their own bodies, and hating themselves because of so-called flaws like cellulite. So although the cellulite itself is irrelevant, the self-loathing that unrealistic expectations of body image can cause, is very relevant in our culture.
By accusing Famous magazine of photoshopping the cellulite onto her thighs, Lara is revealing her own fear of cellulite and submission to the tyranny of cultural expectations of perfection. In her defence, I can understand her anxiety - she is a model, she works in a brutal industry and part of her job is to present an image of perfection, hence the job title, “model”.
Editorial shots of models will continue to achieve a standard of glossy perfection – and that’s the whole point of the modelling world. Lara may be concerned that publication of the shots has tarnished her professional image. But I think readers understand that a paparazzi shot on a beach is a photograph of Lara Bingle the person, not Lara Bingle the model. The cellulite just made us relate to her even more. It helped chip off just a little of the mountain of unrealistic body expectations that are foisted on women by society and themselves.
The Famous photos show Lara Bingle is real, relatable and gorgeous. I don’t think simple dimples will affect her earning capacity. When she is being photographed for a job she can still attain an image of perfection. It doesn’t matter if we assume there are thigh dimples or other so-called flaws hidden by the glamour that is professional modelling. As former 90s Supermodel Cindy Crawford famously said, “Even I don’t wake up looking like Cindy Crawford.”
What do you think? Do you appreciate flaws in models or would you prefer to only see airbrushed perfection? Is cellulite really so bad anyway?