Buying Into Beauty

Buying Into Beauty

Sam McWhorter


“Easy, breezy, beautiful… CoverGirl” Words that every teenage and adult woman has heard in their life. CoverGirl has done a phenomenal job of branding their company and creating this ideal image of beauty for women ages ten to 90.  When I started the search for make-up ads in general at the beginning of my work on the playlist, I started to recognize certain, relevant patterns in the CoverGirl empire. As much as they choose celebrity models and women that don’t fit the typical beauty norm (minorities, homosexuals, and older woman), CoverGirl make-up ads send a deep subliminal message that a woman should not only be perfect but hyper-feminine; masking any natural and internal beauty.

Photo #1 Drew Barrymore CoverGirl

Drew Barrymore is the classic CoverGirl model. Like a majority of the models used the advertisements, she is a wildly popular celebrity. Barrymore fits the ideal beauty norm in our society. She has long blonde hair, a thin frame, green eyes, and is white. I wonder if it is coincidental that her ads have currently run the longest in magazines, department stores, and on television? In this specific CoverGirl magazine ad, Barrymore is advertising a certain mascara, LashBlast Fusion. However, one should note that her half-dressed shoulder is protruding and she is dressed in a lavish dress. Additionally, this specific ad received a lot of backlash because there is very small print at the bottom that reads “Lash inserts were applied to add lash count to Drew’s lashes before applying LashBlast Fusion mascara.” It is impossible to naively think that advertising think that advertising companies aren’t going to enhance their models in anyway. However, it is reasonable to think that the focus of the ad, eyelashes, should be that – the focus. They should attempt to a realistly create, rather than creating a skewed definition of eyelashes that a “normal” woman will never be able to reach. This is a good advertisement to compare to the other articles to come in terms or intersectionally because Barrymore is pretty much at a baseline for most of the mythical norm in America.



Photo #2 Christie Brinkley CoverGirl

Early in her life, Christie Brinkley was a CoverGirl and later in her life, she was asked back to model again. Brinkley did many magazine covers in the 1970s and 80s such as Playboy, Allure, and Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition.  This is why she makes an interesting candidate for the refined and classy Cover Girl. Does her past modeling jobs just add to the inflated stereotype of makeup ads?  CoverGirl deserves recognition for possibly trying to breaking down this stereotype of sexualized women. However, the quote on the advertising page “Who says you can’t look as young as you feel?” denotes that woman past a certain age lack a certain beauty that woman in their twenties have.  In order for a woman to receive this fervor and youth and happiness again in their life, she must buy and use these CoverGirl products. So, while it is great that CoverGirl is using “older” models, it is not so wonderful that she is likely touched up to look as though she a young mother. According to this ad, it is perfectly normal for a woman Brinkley’s age (59) to feel and act like a woman in her twenties, however she must look the part if she is going to. I think that this is a lot of pressure for people seeing this ad and additionally discrediting to the beautiful process of aging — graying and getting wrinkles and starting to sag — that everyone goes through.


Photo #3 Ellen CoverGirl

Ellen DeGeneres, a beloved comedian and entertainer, is openly Lesbian and married to her partner Portia de Rossi. Around Hollywood, she is known for being down-to-earth, laid back, funny girl. So seeing her — a butch lesbian — dressed in elegant and fashionable clothes, make-up done to perfection, and posing for the camera, is probably somewhat of a shock for most people. On one hand, I think that CoverGirl is almost throwing a wrench into the norm of “the gaze”. Normally, the men “look” and posess “the gaze”. Of course DeGeneres is not directing the ad at men and trying to get their attention and seduce them because that is not the audience she is attracted to. “The gaze” does not belong to men in this case, it belongs to women. However, that is the target audience that CoverGirl wants to buy their products. Maybe the advertising company really knows what they are doing. Maybe they are just targeting a homosexual audience that DeGeneres can reach because she is a notable lesbian entertainer.  On the other hand, CoverGirl has also produced a hyper-feminine version of DeGeneres who does not nearly match her normal personality.  She is standing with a hip popped and arm leaning behind tussled hair. Her make-up is abnormally done up and she is wearing a feminine outfit for her style. I think that CoverGirl chose her to try and show that woman of all sexualities can buy and wear their make-up, but by masking Ellen’s identity, it seems counterproductive. Butch lesbians can be beautiful, too, they just don’t sell make-up.


Photo #4 Queen Latifah CoverGirl

Head back, laughing, the light perfectly hitting Queen Latifah’s face so she glows; this photo captures CoverGirl perfectly (easy, breezy, and beautiful). Models in the make-up industry are so uncommonly women of color because there is a common stereotype that women do no need make-up. There is also the common misconception that make-up products are just not available for them. If one walks down any make-up aisle at any drug store, it easy to see that the color tones match that of a Caucasian person.  Frequently seen as a “mammie” figure, Queen Latifah breaks the mold not only by her ethnicity but additionally by her weight. She is not a thin by the typical ideal, however CoverGirl still asked her to be one of their “CoverGirls”. This ad says “Had it with one size fits all make-up?”. Like the other advertisements, I don’t think that there is a problem with the models in the ads, in fact I think all of them chosen are great picks. I think that the issue lies in the fact that CoverGirl destroys the beauty of choosing diverse, minority models by adding shallow quotes and enhancing the photos to the fact the purity of the woman is skewed. The quote on this ad is indicating that there is always a perfect CoverGirl foundation to cover all your flaws. However, I find it interesting that even though Queen Latifah is modeling the make-up, all the make-up products shown would ideally match Caucasian skin tones. CoverGirl is hinting at encouraging women of color to break from the everyday makeup routine to buy their make-up. I think that they choose to use a “mammie” like figure because she is someone relatable and people of all races can look to trust her.


Photo #5 Sofia Vergara CoverGirl

Most famous for her role as a Columbian trophy wife in “Modern Family”, Sofia Vergara could easily be stereotyped as “sexy spitfire” or “hot tamale”. It is a common occurrence to see her wearing tight fitting dress, with her hair down and flowing, and wearing bright red lipstick. This advertisement is hardly an exception. Here Vergara is wearing a tight dress and leaning against a wall, showing off her curves. Her head is pointed to the side, but we can assume that her face is nothing but stunning from the front.  This again brings into thought the idea of “the gaze”. As opposed to DeGeneres’ CoverGirl ad, who may have been targeting women because of sexuality, Vergara brings into question the idea of internalizing one’s gaze. In this case, a woman sees the ad and begins to objectify herself based on what she sees in this ideal woman. I believe that is what most women would do when they saw this photo of Vergara; thinking that if they buy CoverGirl, life maybe a little happier or they may look a little more like her. Vergara’s quote on the ad, “Go out without my CoverGirl, are you crazy?” makes the reader of the feel like not only is CoverGirl the best product if this beautiful woman is wearing it but that make-up is a necessity. We have a reached a point in our society that a woman can not even go to the gym without “getting ready.” There is a certain standard that a woman is expected to be and look like at all times, and for most this constant, ideal standard of beauty is simply inconceivable.



With all the make-up tag lines flying around in today’s advertising; “Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybeline” and “Easy, breezy, beautiful…CoverGirl” it is easy to see how women living in today’s society can get caught up in externalizing their beauty through makeup. Despite the use of all the minorities, a 59-year old, a homosexual, an African-American, and a Latino, the CoverGirl advertisements are still sending profound concealed, subliminal messages to the viewers that make-up a necessity, beauty is not natural but something contrived. There is more than one problem with this however, this discounts the fact that many women can not afford expensive brands of make-up. Certain social powers come from buying Estee Lauder eye-shadow or bronzer compared to N.Y.C brand. It makes a woman seem more powerful, more classy and sophisticated – indicating that she comes from wealth and power. Women that use the cheaper brands and perhaps over apply or were never taught how to put on make-up like a make-up artist, are presumably “white trash” because they have “clown make-up” on.  There is a very fine line that women walk along between using the “right” amount of make-up and too much or too little. I thought it was interesting that in most of the advertisements ( not just the ones that I chose but other ones that didn’t end up making into the playlist) kept repeating the word “natural.” It was as if the make-up companies were trying to subliminally build-up the idea to buyers and viewers that make-up is obviously something that should be a part of a woman’s daily regimen. Make-up is “natural”. Women, despite their race, ability, or class are expected to wear make-up and look like the models in the ads in the magazines and on television.  Long full lashes, clear shining skin, and pouty lips are a certain expectation along with taking care of the kids, vacuuming the house, and holding a job. The constant internal and external pressure on women is completely unrealistic. To expect that a woman is supposed to wake up and never leave the house without make-up – according to Vergara – and do this until she is aged – in accordance to Berkley’s CoverGirl ad – is a very high expectation and holds women to a certain ideal that only a small minority of a real women can possibly fulfill. Time is not of the essence. In comparison to men, who maybe brush their hair and teeth in the morning, women must look their best each day or else there is a chance that the male gaze will be lost. Women are all expected to fit this norm of make-up applying, male-seeking ladies; thinking that if she applies more make-up, she will look like the CoverGirl, who most likely has a man waiting for her at home. Although make-up ads do a great job of showing how to show off a physical feature, there is so much more to a person than this. And I think that our society gets too caught up in hair color, eye lash length, body size and completes forgets that underneath all of the cover-up, bronzer, and shadow, lies a personality and feelings. Despite the race, class, or age every woman has the potential to have the same emotions which in perspective is very special and connect women on a much deeper level than wondering about what color lipstick to wear.


McIntosh, Peggy. “White privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Peace and Freedom (July/August 1989), 9-10; repr. in Independent School, 49 (1990), 31–35.

Tyson, Lois. “Marxist Criticism.” Critical Theory Today: A User-friendly Guide. 2nd ed. New York, NY:

Routledge, 2006. 53-82. Print.

Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. Ed.

Amelia Jones. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2010. 57-65.

“Drew Barrymore.” N.p., 2010. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

<–m-drew-barrymore–c-a campaign#HKMuQeDH2yNFKJEo>.

“CoverGirl: Sofia Vergara.” CHLRX. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Oct. 2013. <


“Queen Latifah: CoverGirl.” Celebrity Endorsement Ad. N.p., 17 Apr. 2010. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.


“CoverGirl: EllenDeGeneres.” People Magazine. People, 2008. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.


“Christie Brinkley: Cover Girl.” Chatter Busy. Blogger, 30 Oct. 2012. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.


One comment

  1. Johnnie M Heyward-Davis · · Reply

    The fact that you have the audacity to those word out there speaks more to your bigotry than anything else.

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