As a recovering MAC addict, I couldn’t help but applaud MAC Cosmetics for their recent ad, featuring Jelena Abbou, a figure competitor, a model, and a personal trainer. MAC Strength collection for Spring 2013boasts the tag line “Flex your femininity” and features products with names like “Posed”, “Brains and Brawn”, “Inner Strength”, and “Absolute Power”.
Jezebel posted a glowing review of the campaign, although erroneously referring to Jelena as a bodybuilder. While both figure competition and bodybuilding require immaculate diet and intense training, figure competition emphasizes muscle tone over muscle size. Figure competitors are judged on a number of aesthetic qualities, and facial beauty and curves are ranked highly. If Jelena was a bodybuilder, we would see significantly more muscle mass and more definition.
For example, here’s an early shot of Juliette Bermann, a champion Dutch female bodybuilder, who went on to win the title Ms. Olympia.
MAC has never been the one to avoid potential controversy when it comes to advertising campaigns. The running list of MAC ambassadors includes names ranging from Dita Von Teese, Lady Gaga and Ricky Martin to the fictitious lilac-haired character of Dame Edna and RuPaul, the famous drag queen.
In 2006 commercial for MAC PlushGlass lipglass, Sandra Bernhard created even more controversy than intended by referring to a hypothetical woman who would disagree with her as a “…little, freaked out, intimidated, frightened, right-wing Republican thin-lipped bitch”. Right-wing Republican women, thin-lipped women, and perhaps, bitches, were not very impressed. The company apologized for the ad, and edited the offending sentence out of the video, but the original can still be seen here.
Rodarte Makeup Collection for Fall 2010 was inspired by the Mexican town of Ciudad Juarez. This little town has been called the most violent zone in the world outside of declared war zones, struggling with issues like sexual violence and unresolved murders (especially of young women). Awed by the scenic views of the sleepy town, the designers created the collection, including products named “Juarez”, “Factory” and “Ghost Town”. The blogosphere lashed out, claiming the product names were offensive. Despite the official statement and giving portion of the proceeds to those in need in Juarez, the outpouring of protests continued and the company was forced to rebrand the whole line.
As any ad worth its salt, Jelena’s photo has elicited various reactions, ranging from “awesome” to “gross”. Some were inspired, some were appalled. Some blamed Photoshop.
This campaign will not appeal to everyone. It is not meant to. After all, I found the MAC Barbie campaign with its pink packaging and the doll profile on all products annoying on a good day, and simply revolting on a bad one.
Jelena does not look quite like this in real life. She is flexing and posing, and the black vinyl intentionally juxtaposes the breadth of the shoulders with the thin waist. Still… her body build will not appeal to everyone. Not everyone is into muscles. Just like not everyone is into blondes. Or big breasts. Or small breasts. Or breasts.
That’s ok. It’s not outrageous. Or shocking. Or brave.
Unfortunately, the very act of featuring a figure competitor in an ad is viewed as an act of defiance, a PR move, a way to get attention… Women in male-dominated sports are often seen as gender outlaws… Female bodybuilding is still illegal in a number of countries (insert WTF moment here).
Kudos to MAC for showing that muscles and make-up can and do often go hand in hand.