I don’t often get very angry, but this morning I almost choked on my coffee when the first thing I saw as I opened up my laptop was this:
I’m an avid supporter of UN Women: I interned with them in Bangkok in 2010 and was voted in as committee member for the UN Women UK London Branch in 2011. I think UN Women does great things. And Emma Watson for that matter. Her whole “girl next door” look is what makes her so great – we can all see bits of ourselves in her. She’s pretty yes, but not conventionally stunning. A bit awkward looking even and skinny, but not in an “I’m starving myself” way but because she hasn’t necessarily grown into a full-blown woman yet (no criticism here, I still look like a teenager at 30 so I can totally relate).
So why did this news make me angry? I think you’ve probably figured it out already (although I was desperately scrolling down among the comments on that post without seeing any similar reactions). Do you recognise the woman in the photo? “Yeah, that’s Emma, right,” you’re thinking. “She looks stunning,” you’re probably also thinking. “But perhaps she doesn’t really look like she normally does?”
Head on the nail. A qualified guess is that the photo has been retouched. Not just a little bit but a lot (what on earth happened to her mouth?!). This is Emma as we know her, with freckles, dimples, a wonky mouth with a bigger bottom lip:
You might not think it’s a big deal, retouching is a part of our daily lives. EVERYONE does it. Even you and I when we put that Sierra filter on our photos on Instagram to wash out those drunken red faces. But the whole idea of a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador is to support women around the world by setting a good example. With this photo, they don’t only fail that task miserably, they send the completely wrong message to women:
We have to be beautiful.
We’re not beautiful if we’re not perfect.
We have to be perfect.
How many women don’t struggle with this idea of being perfect? Almost all the women I know do, on a daily basis, whether they voice it or not. It is the number one thing that holds us back.
In this photo, Emma is not the girl next door anymore, she’s not you and me. She’s a famous, stunning, unreachable actress and we can only strive to be as amazing.
Of course, I don’t have any proof to back up my claim that the photo is retouched. None at all. And although my gut tells me that common sense is proof enough, I want to be diplomatic. So let’s say it isn’t, would that change things? Honestly, no. That photo made someone who doesn’t normally get very angry write this post, for a start. Even the fact that one might think the photo is retouched is a problem. That Emma looks “perfect” is all well and good for her, but when conveying messages to women around the world, UN Women, out of everyone, should carefully consider what is actually being said.
You might want to argue here that a Goodwill Ambassador is always a talented celebrity raising the profile of the organisation and it’s work. Yes, that’s fine. But there are tons of opportunities to use this fact in a positive way (especially with Emma Watson, I’m stunned by this missed opportunity!) and we must ask ourselves if we are slowly but surely breaking stereotypes down or if we are reinforcing them? Are we celebrating the beauty, perfection and talent of the girl next door or did we just put her on a pedestal and superglued her to it? Are we making women feel beautiful just the way they are or encouraging them to botox their lips and bleach away their freckles (or find a suitable app that does the same)? You tell me, UN Women and Emma Watson.