A couple of weeks ago I read that the November 2011 issue of Marie Claire South Africa featured several thought-provoking ad campaigns by major advertising agencies on the topic of “Love Your Body.” I thought it would be wonderful to showcase this in my documentary “The Illusionists.” Thanks to the fabulous Jill Greenberg, who’s a Facebook fan of the project based in South Africa, this past Saturday I received a copy of the special issue in the mail. And I have to say, I was in for a BIG surprise.

A more accurate title for this issue should have been: “Please hate your body and buy our advertisers’ products.” Yes, it’s that bad.

To start off: the cover (click on the image to zoom in).

The person chosen for the cover of the special “Love Your Body Issue” is statuesque supermodel Candice Swanepoel, wearing a bikini.

To her left, you can see the following headlines:


And finally, in huge bold letters: Special Issue. LOVE YOUR BODY. 6 TOP SA AD AGENCIES COMPETE TO SHOW YOU HOW.

The first thing that one notices while turning the pages of the magazine is that it looks just like any other issue of a major fashion magazine, full of ads for cosmetics and luxury brands, and showcasing young, extremely thin models – whose pictures are thoroughly airbrushed, even in “candid” photos.

Like this one for instance:

The models’ legs have a plastic quality. They look like Barbie dolls.

After 40-something pages of advertising and galleries showing the latest beauty products and fashion accessories, the special “Love Your Body” section debuts, with various thought-provoking ad campaigns by South Africa’s top ad agencies.

TBWA shows the painting of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. Underneath it, the headline: “Why change a masterpiece, you’re beautiful the way you are.

Next, an ad by Saatchi and Saatchi, showing the corpse of an older woman on a metal table. The headline: “When will you stop worrying about your appearance? Love the body you live in.”

So far so good. Except for the unfortunate placement of several real ads next to the “love your body” posters.

Case in point:

Left: the ad by Canvas Lifestyle, showing a Barbie doll with several markings on her body. “Add cellulite from favorite heavenly chocolate brownies” … “Add caesarian scar from your first-born son” … “Add laugh lines from girls’ night out” …

Right: An ad for the Burberry fragrance “BODY” with a model who looks like a real life Barbie doll. Which is kind of contradictory, no?

Next ad:

Left: a simple message by TBWA. “IMPERFECT. I’M PERFECT. Start seeing things the way you really are.

Right: an ad for the Dolce & Gabbana fragrance “Light Blue” – with flawless looking models whose bodies are thoroughly airbrushed.


Left: a collage of photos by Kristina Stojilokovic that says, “Which part of your body would the people who love you change?” with close-up images of women’s bodies: a woman’s freckles, a big scar, knees, a belly button, a mole.

Right: an ad for L’Oréal Revitalift. With the big headline “FIGHT THE 10 SIGNS OF AGEING, IN A SINGLE GESTURE.
Less wrinkles
Smoother skin
Firmer skin
Rehydrated skin
More flexible skin
Suppler skin
Even skin tone
Radiant skin
Refined pores
Defined facial countours

The rest of the magazine doesn’t fare so well.

There are articles like: “I GREW HAIR ON MY CHIN” – “LIFE AFTER LIPO” and “HOW OLD ARE THESE WOMEN?” which asks readers to guess the ages of six women.

Then: “4 Ways to Get Beach Body” Ready

And numerous photo galleries showing young, super thin models in bikinis.

The final verdict: I would give this special issue a “FAIL” grade – on all fronts. The only diversity it showcases is racial: thankfully there are many African models represented. Problem is: they all have the same age and body type. ALL OF THEM. Every photo is thoroughly airbrushed, giving women a plastic / Barbie-doll-like quality. Including most of the “love your body” ads. This issue is the equivalent of the Big Bad Wolf disguised as Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. And this is quite sad, considering the opportunity Marie Claire had to promote positive body image.

To read more on the topic, check out my April 2010 review of Marie Claire France: “100% Without Airbrushing.

Generous support for The Illusionists provided by:

The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt provides a comprehensive continuum of specialized care for children, adolescents and adults with eating disorders. Our holistic and multi-disciplinary approach to recovery helps individuals and families move beyond surviving to thriving.

  • this is just unbelievable! It almost as though the”love your body issue” is a mere caricature of more serious projects to encourage higher self esteem in women. How do you juxtapose a call to love yourself with ads on how to fix the very things you are supposed to love? And why is it that in an African country the majority of the people in the magazine are still white and with the eurocentric appeal?

  • Great post! If you need more examples for your doco there are (I’m afraid) plenty in Australian media. I use a couple in presentations to young women – my ‘favorite’ is…
    Page 2: Headline reads “Only 1 in every 100 women believe they are beautiful”
    Page 3: Heaadline reads “Get your body beach bikini for summer” (includes diet tips).

  • I guess the truth is that ‘Love Your Body’ is just the latest way to sell magazines.

    When really the message they are giving is, ‘Love Your Body…once you make it perfect’.

  • Looking at the images of the pages in the magazine, if i would have flipped through it I would have not noticed the article on the left. For example I would have thought that the “IMPERFECT I’M PERFECT” bit was tied to the Docle & Gabbana ad. The ads are way more prevalent in the issue than the article. Look at the color contrasts what sticks out. And to me, the right page is the first page I see and pay attention to while flipping through and english language magazine.
    I have long ago dismissed magazines as a source for any kind of information. Same goes for computer magazines, sports, etc. It’s just a brick of ads to me.

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  • Carley

    It seems as if this magazine is presenting a universal standard of beauty. This is just unrealistic since women come in all shapes, sizes and colors. While I think this issue has good intentions, it was a completely missed opportunity. One thing that is questionable is whether or not some of the models in the images are even South African. This issue should celebrate South African women by featuring them in the images. I think that there were some good messages (I especially like I’M PERFECT vs. IMPERFECT). However, featuring these pages next to images of hyper-sexualized Dolce & Gabbana models or very skinny females, takes away all the credibility and meaning.

    Quite frankly, I think this issue of Marie Claire South Africa hurt the image of the magazine and does not benefit any readers. The over all message seemed to be, Love your body…if it looks like this.”

  • that it baby

    I eat more than my father and i’m still model skinny. it’s the way i was born and nothing will change that.
    Women complain about that they are too fat but it’s known that the women Do get fatter these days, more obese women everywhere….
    Just aspire to a healthy body weight and thats it.
    Don’t hate on skinny people, just be healthy and everything will fall in place.

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