Un-retouched Beyoncé Photos Smash Her ‘Flawless’ Mythology and That's a Good Thing

Leaked images cause a stir online only because they depict the Queen Bey her fans rarely get to see.
(Complex/Twitter)
Feb 18, 2015· 3 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

For the second time this week, unretouched photos of a female celebrity have leaked online, and the Internet is again reeling from the apparent realization that women often look different from the way they do in magazines—even if the woman in question is the invincible-seeming Queen Bey.

A series of outtakes from a 2013 L'Oréal makeup shoot caused shock and awe on social media after Beyoncé fan site The Beyoncé World published them on Wednesday. The media backlash, combined with pressure from Beyoncé fans, also known as the BeyHive, was so strong that the site removed the photos.

"Some of the things we have seen posted [about the images] were just horrible, and we don't want any parts of it," read a statement posted at The Beyoncé World. One headline on Gawker simply read, "Uh-Oh: Beyoncé's Face Is Uh-Oh."

The unretouched photos are a reminder that as much as her nonstop musical output suggests otherwise, Beyoncé—like supermodel Cindy Crawford, whose unretouched magazine spread was leaked online last week—is, shockingly, human. The photos went viral perhaps because they depicted the Queen Bey her fans rarely get the chance to see.

"We flawless, ladies tell 'em/I woke up like this," Beyoncé sings in her feminist anthem "Flawless," which is about loving yourself inside and out. Why then, do the singer's fans and publicists rush to remove any image that doesn't preserve the mythology around Beyoncé being physically flawless?

When still frames of Beyoncé's 2013 Super Bowl performance were published on BuzzFeed, for example, her publicist contacted the site to request that the most "unflattering" images be taken down. The photos showed her dressed in a black leather bodysuit and black thigh-high boots and in the midst of her nonstop dancing, her face contorted and strained in a way that a L'Oréal campaign likely wouldn't approve of. But the PR move only exacerbated the spread of the images, which were soon turned into a viral meme called "Unflattering Beyoncé."

A photo posted by Beyoncé (@beyonce) on

The meme may have been unfair—after all, it's hard to imagine that a male musician would be mocked for the way his face looked while performing on one of the most-watched stages in the world—but the effort to erase the images entirely only made the scrutiny worse.

It seemed to perpetuate the notion that the highest-paid woman in music and one of the most prolific, accomplished artists in the industry must also look flawless—from her hair to her toes—at all times. While Beyoncé's Instagram seems to offer an intimate glimpse of her personal life, even the photos she posts on her own account might not be the real deal. Fans accused the singer of digitally slimming her thighs when a photo she posted last April showed one leg looking more narrow—and even jagged—than the other.

Photoshop accusations flew again in September, when the singer posted two new photos of herself in a bikini on Tumblr. In one picture, the steps of the yacht behind her appear uneven, suggesting that the image may have been altered to provide more of a gap between her thighs.

In defense of publishing and then removing the photos, The Beyoncé World issued this statement: "We were just posting the photos to share the fact that our queen is naturally beautiful, at the same time she is just a regular woman." And, indeed that's the point. She is naturally beautiful, so why does the beauty industry continue to remove the beautifully natural fine lines most, if not all, models and celebrities have from their advertisements?

The fact is, the beauty industry is big business and convincing us that their products can get us close to the flawlessness depicted in photoshopped ads makes good business sense. "The total [worldwide] sales in the beauty and personal care industry were roughly $426 billion in 2011," according to Euromonitor International, a strategy and research firm focused on consumer markets. What's more, according to a story in The Economist,

"Americans spend more each year on beauty than they do on education. Such spending is not mere vanity. Being pretty - or just not ugly - confers enormous genetic and social advantages. Attractive people (both men and women) are judged to be more intelligent and better in bed; they earn more, and they are more likely to marry."

When we're spending more on beauty than we are on education, we have to start questioning our values and priorities, particularly when our unrealistic beauty standards begin to cause issues like low self esteem, depression, and other problems related to body dysmorphia - all of which are common in the U.S. In fact, as many as "24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder) in the U.S," according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

Some beauty companies have begun to take their influence from advertising more seriously and still manage to turn a profit. Unilever's Dove brand, known for its popular "Real Beauty" campaign has published research connecting beauty industry ads to low self esteem in women and girls. On a web page titled "Suprising Self Esteem Statistics," Dove.us shares data from their research study "The Real Truth About Beauty: Revisted:"

- Only 4 percent of women around the world consider themselves beautiful
- Only 11 percent of girls globally are comfortable using the word beautiful to describe themselves
- 72 percent of girls feel tremendous pressure to be beautiful
- 80 percent of women agree that every woman has something about her that is beautiful but do not see their own beauty

So, despite the uproar among Beyonce's fans over the un-retouced L'Oreal beauty shots, is it possible that this glimpse at her imperfect skin can do a little good for us too? Lifting the veil on what our icons look like every now and then might just help us feel a little more secure in ourselves. Hey, maybe stars are really "just like us" after all? And that could be a good thing.