It’s no shock that advertising is a universe of smoke and mirrors. The perfectly polished pictures we see in magazines and commercials take multi-talented teams to pull off. Images and ideas are often as manufactured as the products being sold.
On a recent shoot for an aftershave product, I ran my paws through Patrick Dempsey’s hair and caressed his skin, as he joked between takes, while slipping in and out of a seductive character, repeating the phrase, “What makes a modern man?”
The answer to Patrick’s question: apparently an astronomical budget and a crew of 102 lighting experts, prop masters, art directors, special effects technicians, wardrobe and hair stylists, makeup artists, and more….
Mr. McDreamy had all the things an idealized “modern” (or archaic) male would want: expensive cars, clothes, women…even a bomb, slated to explode under a bridge as the ‘martini’ (final shot set-up) of the day.
In reality, Patrick Dempsey is a super friendly, down to earth guy, married to a lovely makeup artist, Jillian Fink Dempsey, who have 3 children…and if I’m not mistaken, he’s no surgeon.
The amount of effort required to produce a few saleable seconds on film still astounds me. Yet, sometimes I’m even more impressed by the magic of mere makeup…
I suppose it’s only fair for me to include my fresh face. Ah heck, here’s my ungroomed mug in the morning…
Whether or not a celebrity is involved in an advertising campaign, the pitched product is the real star. Much of my work involves “tabletop” production, where a professional crew works around a perfectly-lit table, focusing on meticulous details, while transforming the most mundane foods into objects of mouth-watering beauty.
Before the camera rolls, food stylists place raisins methodically upon a bowl of oatmeal with tweezers, while syrup is served with a syringe for precise placement, and hot steam is pumped through plastic tubes for a ‘home-cooked’ feel.
Products and people are often further enhanced in post-production through the superpowers of Photoshop.
A touch of trickery and a dash of deception are necessary ingredients in fantasy-making, though sometimes these fabrications seem to fuel insecurities.
Recently, I met a sweet gorgeous girl named Ashley at a shoot for Glamour Magazine. She was from Wisconsin and had only been in the big city for 2 weeks. When I asked her why she chose to settle on the West Coast rather than New York, she explained that at 5’9”, she’s not tall enough for runway modeling, and is working on getting her “size down.”
She then asked if I had kids, adding, “You’ve got a rockin’ bod.”
Coming from a 21 year old who eats apples and cigarettes for breakfast, that’s about as good as when I’m asked, “You model more than just hands, right?”
Later that day, I met another beautiful blond named Ashley.
Ashley #2 and I sat alone in the makeup room and had a conversation I won’t forget. When Ashley #2 said she was “too short and fat” for runway work, I told her most people would probably be as shocked as I am by that statement, adding how “gorgeous” she is. Looking at the floor she said, “Thanks, but I don’t feel it.”
When I asked her what would make her feel more beautiful, she paused, looking a bit confused, and then said, “I’ve always wanted to be 5’11”.” Apparently she’s an inch shy from fulfilling this dream.
At 5’6”, god knows I’ve never measured up to the high standards of high fashion, which is why I only had a hand in the shoot. Even so, I could write an entire article on the fuss over a few fingers.
I found the openness of both Ashleys refreshing, and a bit disturbing. Rather than seeing them as simply shallow, I empathized with the painful chase after impossible standards of “perfection”. I used to wish I was tall and blond (etc.) – A bit ironic, considering Glamour gave our Goldilocks blunt brown bangs….
When it comes to fashion, I’ve always fell short. Add Choid to the mix, the rude robot in my head who has fun finding fault, and clearly I’ve spent too many years relentlessly picking myself apart.
While some may have little sympathy for beautiful biatches like the lovely Ashleys, I can assure you that having every part of yourself scrutinized on a regular basis can make any mortal a tad neurotic. As Ashley #2 said, “We’re judged all of the time.”
The public is trained to expect a model to walk through the door, wind blowing through hair, looking like she does after hours in the hair and makeup chair.
I’m guilty of first focusing on the zit on Ashley’s forehead, before noticing her endearing inner beauty. Truth is, it takes work to transform a human into an Angel.
I once hand-doubled in a L’Oreal commercial for Doutzen Kroes, the Dutch Victoria Secret Supermodel. She walked into the makeup room looking chicly disheveled, wearing more than one designer scarf, holding a large latte and pausing briefly to examine my hands before saying, “You have beeautiful hand,” to which I thanked her and replied, “You have beeautiful face.”
Doutzen’s “beeautiful” face was not totally unlike other attractive women. But after an afternoon of beautification with the best in the biz, I did a double-take as she emerged from her trailer, transformed into the lovely lingerie star we’ve all seen in stockings, leaving behind the tousled woman who arrived earlier in support-hose (a common trick used to combat veins and bloat during trans-Atlantic flights).
To survive this business with sanity intact, you gotta see through its illusions. Fashion is like fantasy. Fantasy is fun, as long as a person doesn’t feel bound to emulate, or use it as a measuring stick to compare one’s regular ol’ life.
I’ve learned to take the biz less seriously because it’s not serious! Reality, compared to unattainable fantastical fantasies, can be dull. Companies don’t spend millions of dollars to have their oatmeal look like the mush I make in the morning, nor can they produce eye-popping/jaw-dropping images without a few creative and skilled hands.
Photoshop artists are like contemporary painters, and advertising is a modern mythology (without the morals of great storytelling). While the beauty biz clearly presents narrow notions of “perfection”, everyone has the choice as to what they buy into, or not.
I once felt a lot like Ashley #2, until I learned that true “beauty” comes from an appreciation of self that is measured by far more than a few inches. Owning our uniqueness is key to finding comfort in any skin. Sure, I still find myself obsessing over my perceived short-comings, but more than ever, I see value in the whole imperfect picture…the sum of all parts.
With every part and all my heart,