NARS Cosmetics is using the above image on a gift box called “Splendor in the Grass Blush Palette,” part of their “NARS x Guy Bourdin Gifting Collection” which will be sold in department stores this November. The name is likely a reference to the 1961 Elia Kazan film Splendor In the Grass (or the Wordsworth poem from which that film got its title), but regardless, this image of a naked woman, apparently bruised and face-down in the grass, is now being associated with cosmetics and “beauty” products. As a result, NARS is glamorizing violence against women (tellingly, another set in the same collection is titled “Crime of Passion”).
Using seemingly battered or dead women is actually a disturbingly common theme in fashion photography. And we’re #NotBuyingIt.
Click here to Tweet NARS and let them know how you feel.
Kazan’s Oscar-winning (if problematic) original film can be read as a challenge to sexual repression in America in the 1920s and 30s, but NARS imagery doesn’t really retain any of that critique. Instead it is directly inspired* by the work of photographer Guy Bourdin. According to Temptalia.com:
As a child, NARS Founder and Creative Director François Nars discovered Guy Bourdin’s work in the pages of French Vogue. It was then that Nars was first inspired to become a makeup artist.
It’s important to point out that Bourdin is actually famous for using disturbing images of seemingly dead or abused women. More on Bourdin from Utata.org:
That casually sadistic treatment of women wasn’t limited to the photograph. His behavior toward his models, his wife, his girlfriends was neglectful and dismissive at best, cruel and abusive at worst. He was often at his worst. Bourdin wasn’t simply unaware of their suffering, sometimes he appeared to enjoy it. On one occasion Bourdin wanted to cover the pale bodies of two models in tiny black pearls. He had his assistants cover the models with glue and attach the pearls. The layer of glue interfered with the skin’s ability to regulate temperature and exchange oxygen; both models passed out. As his assistants hurried to remove the pearls and the glue, Bourdin is reported to have said “Oh, it would be beautiful to photograph them dead in bed.”
He passed away in 1991 but his influence has, unfortunately, been ubiquitous in fashion photography since. One imagines that François Nars and other creative directors find Bourdin’s blatant misogyny edgy and/or thrillingly controversial. But in reality this (lazy, dangerous) trend has now been around for decades (or one could argue, forever) and has become so terribly normalized that this November they’ll be selling it at Sephoras across the country.
Please come up with new, less awful ideas people. K, thanks.
Thanks to @RaquelEvita on Twitter for the tip.
*UPDATE: More than inspired, the photo here seems to have been actually taken by Bourdin in 1997 (if slightly edited here). This is actually fairly significant, because this means the photo doesn’t feature any NARS makeup. Whatever your interpretation of Bourdin’s original, we know it was not intended to sell NARS makeup. So the company’s decision to use the image – representative of Bourdin’s long fascination with “violence, sex and death” – for this purpose, is perhaps even more troubling.
Imran is the Director of Social Media and Outreach at MissRepresentation.org. Follow him on Twitter @imransiddiquee