The Oct. 13 issue of Newsweek features an up-close-and-personal photo of Governor Sarah Palin on the cover. The photograph (above), by Nigel Parry, is a tight shot of Palin’s face. In person, the image is more striking: the wrinkles are deeper, the stray hairs darker, the pores more defined.
Fox News yesterday had a field day with this one. (video below)
“Have you seen the latest cover of Newsweek,” asked the anchor, the disgust evident on her face, before introducing her two pundits:”Republican Media Consultant” Andrea Tantaros (hated it) and Julia Piscitelli of American University (thinks you guys might be exaggerating a little bit).
Tantaros called the cover a “gross slap in the face,” objecting to the fact that the photo appeared “un-retouched.” Said Tantaros, “it highlights every imperfection that every human being has, but we’re talking unwanted facial hair, pores, wrinkles.” The anchor chimed in, saying, “When they put you up close and personal on a magazine, even the gorgeous super models in the world, they retouch you to get rid of the normal flaws that human beings have. That’s what they do in the magazine business. They didn’t do it for Governor Palin.”
The cover was particularly grating to Tantaros when compared to Newsweek‘s cover shots of Barack Obama. “After Newsweek has done so many favorable covers of Barack Obama that make him look presidential, that are clearly retouched. He looks flawless,” she says, adding: “He looks perfect, Julia. He looks perfect.”
“This is reality,” countered Piscitelli, after noting there was no evidence that an Obama cover had been retouched, either. “Demanding that political figures get retouching like super-models on the cover of news magazines is going a little far. What’s wrong with showing women the way they actually look, especially a woman as beautiful as Sarah Palin?”
I agree with Piscitelli that it’s absurd to ask news publications to adhere to standards set by fashion magazines. Photoshopping women’s bodies and faces—-a process that takes even the most beautiful women in the world and distorts them to flawless, often anatomically impossible Barbie dolls—-is out-of-control in women’s magazines; we don’t need Newsweek reinforcing an absurd standard of beauty on politicians, too.
But Tantaros raises an interesting point when she describes Obama’s photos as “flawless” and “perfect” (even though my guess is that Obama wasn’t Photoshopped, either). Obama and Palin are two of politics’ most beautiful people, but the playing field for political playboys and girls is uneven: When women show flaws, they’s called unattractive; when men do, they’re called “rugged.” (And when they’ve got spit on their mouth, they’re called “Internet Gold.”) So even without a delicate post-shot softening, Obama is a lot closer to “perfect” from the get-go. It’s not because Obama is implicitly more attractive (though he is, for the record, extremely, achingly attractive). It’s because he’s a dude.
Still, let’s take a moment to remember why the standards of beauty for women are so absurdly, unnaturally high in the first place. Oh, right, it has something to do with Photoshop (Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C).
There is one point where Tantaros and I agree. Tantaros objects to the headline “She’s One of the Folks (And that’s the problem),” saying it’s an “insult [to] the folks of America [to] call that a ‘problem.'” I think Newsweek did well in putting a real Palin shot on the cover. But by pairing that “real” photo with the assertion that Palin’s “realness” makes her unqualified to be president (true), Newsweek also implies that Palin’s physical realness is a “problem” (problematic).
To recap: Showing real women, flaws and all—-good thing; using a woman’s physical flaws to illustrate flaws of character, politics, and experience—-bad thing.
More on Nigel Parry: Parry also shot Palin for Newsweek during the Republican National Convention, alongside McCain. For the July 16 issue of Newsweek, Parry shot Barack Obama (the photo is in black-and-white and not-so-close-up). Check out Parry’s other work here.