The Real Beauty Aisle

This week drugstore chain (and recipient of a fair share of my money) CVS announced that is will no longer allow photoshopped images on the beauty products it sells.  Any brand looking for shelf space will have to use images that are not retouched both on their products, and in-store marketing.  CVS’s own house brand will also meet the same standard.

Picture your local CVS (Rite-aid, Walgreens, whatever money-sucking hygiene and health store you use) Aisle after aisle of products that are supposed to keep you healthy stock the shelves.  While you decide what soap or shampoo is best, a woman gazes out at you, shiny and sunkissed with nary a wrinkle or blemish.  She is more simulation that sister. The hope is this replicant-alien will communicate to me that if I used this product I’ll look like her.  I don’t have to hang around the aisle all day to know I’ll never look like her.  She doesn’t even look like her.  Shame and shampoo drop into my basket together.  By the time I get to the counter, a hundred dollars worth of face cream and mascara and nail polish seem insufficient weaponry in the fight to look like the replicants poking their perfect faces out of every beauty ad. Trading dollars for disappointment isn’t a good value proposition for any business.


Magazines, long the primary purveyor of the beauty ideal, are making some occasional concessions to women wanting more realistic images of women on their pages.  But magazines make up only one aisle at CVS.  This latest move by the chain will create 9,600 stores where women will look like women.  Time will tell if this will result in a better shopping experience that translates to real dollars, but if the fashion industry in any indication, inclusivity pays. Size and age inclusivity is helping fashion brands like Eloqui and Universal Standard reach underserved markets.  The wild profitability that results from inclusive sizing and marketing is making even traditional retailers take notice.  Can the same happen for hygiene products?

With CVS’s move, the same ads will still be full of women.  I’m pretty sure they’ll still look amazing and beautiful, but now their faces will occupy the same physical reality that mine does.  The material consequences of time and air and life might show on their faces.  My trip to maintain my own face will be a little less fraught with angst. And together we’ll all just be women.

Author: Susan X Jane

Susan X Jane is a diversity educator, speaker, and trainer and coach. A former professor and media literacy activist, she now consults with organizations looking to make sense of our current cultural shift. She thinks a lot about media and race…a lot...and writes and speaks about media…and race... and encourages everyone she meets to think about the way our identity shapes our experiences, ideas, and beliefs about the world. If you're reading this, she wants you to think about it too. Want to talk about it? Let's go.

One thought on “The Real Beauty Aisle”

  1. I recently watched a few European movies – they featured real people with skin that reflected their age, lines, spots and all; a bit of cellulite, a bit of belly….you know, the way we really look rather than the thick mask of makeup that makes an actress look like an immaculate doll. Refreshing and honest. I’ve recently seen the work of some women photographers who take “honest” photos of how women really look like. We need to see these images so we can wipe away those ridiculous and unrealistic beauty images that only exist thanks to photoshop.

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