The XX Factor

Should Celebrity Body “Struggles” Make Us Feel Better About Ourselves? 

Allure’s May 2012 issue features a “Naked Truth” spread of celebrities meant to inspire confidence in regular women

Photograph courtesy Allure magazine. 

Featuring sexy black-and-white shots of Maria Menounos, Debra Messing, Leslie Bibb, Taraji P. Henson, and Morena Baccarin stripped down and posing in a boudoir spread, Allure’s “Naked Truth” spread hits newsstands today. By exploring how celebrities come to feel confident in their own skin, the annual special is meant to inspire real women to embrace their own bodies. Apparently, Allure believes reading about a perfectly-toned former model who still needed a four-day juice cleanse and Korean spa body scrub to feel comfortable naked will improve a normal woman’s poor body image.

Allure’s feature is only one of the latest in a long line of magazine stories about female celebrities “bravely” grappling with their “physical imperfections.” A growing number of publications are trying to pass off barely-clad celebrities strutting their stuff as an inspiring act of heroism. Whether it’s to justify these as more than celebrities merely flaunting their professionally-trained and obsessively-sculpted figures or to deflect criticism for promoting poor body images, magazines have rebranded these spreads as ways to encourage women to embrace their bodies. The premise is that they’re doing female readers a favor by emphasizing how all women, even unrealistically amazing-looking women, have insecurities.

However, the giant elephant in the dramatically-lit, Parisian bedroom-styled photo studio is that there is really nothing brave about women with perfect bodies posing naked. While some of the women in the Allure are considered old(er) by Hollywood standards (early 40s), all of them conform to the conventional standards of physical perfection. There is nary an ounce of fat, skin blemish, or flabby bottom in sight, which begs the question, why are we supposed to feel better about ourselves when they pose naked? Allure is under the impression that the average woman will feel comforted knowing that, like herself, Maria Menounos has struggled with being “hippy” when in actuality, the average women will end up only further self-scrutinizing: “Oh my god, if she’s considered ‘hippy,’ what the hell am I?”

These spreads reveal just how out of touch the women’s print magazine industry really is. Allure seems antiquated championing Leslie Bibb as brave for posing nude when Lena Dunham is on Girls going about naked with her less-than-Hollywood-perfect body. However, even if women’s magazines aren’t catching up with modern standards of beauty, their readers are: Sales are continuing to plummet this year, which is part of a larger downward trend since 2008. Maybe they’ll win some readers back if next year’s “Naked Truth” spread features someone more realistic, like Dunham.