In 2016, Adweek published a cover that showed Kerry Washington sitting in a graphic black-and-white dress with her legs crossed and a dreamy expression on her face. The problem? Washington didn't recognize that face. "I was taken aback by the cover," Washington wrote on Instagram. "It felt strange to look at a picture of myself that is so different from what I look like when I look in the mirror. It's an unfortunate feeling."
Adweek ended up apologizing to Washington, but since then, she has naturally been hyper-aware of the dangers of digital alteration, especially when it's done without your permission. "I have hands-on experience of seeing a picture of myself where somebody else decided that I should have a differently-shaped face than what I have because that would be better," Washington tells Refinery29. "It was such a confusing and disorienting experience." That's why Washington is especially excited that her latest campaign for Neutrogena features no major digital retouching.
In the new campaign, which shows the actress wearing minimal makeup, you can see pores, light facial hair, and skin that looks like, well, skin. While this has been a rare thing to witness from a mainstream beauty brand in the past, you'll be seeing plenty more campaigns like this in the near future, largely thanks to CVS Pharmacy.
Last year, CVS announced its Beauty Mark initiative, a commitment to strict Photoshop guidelines for the original beauty imagery it displays in its stores, website, marketing materials, emails, and even social media accounts. In an act of transparency, it also planned to watermark images from outside brands with "Beauty Unaltered" to indicate they had not been digitally, materially altered (meaning no changes to individual characteristics like wrinkles, skin texture, and proportions). Photos that had been heavily retouched by outside brands would be required to bear a visible label that read "digitally altered."
CVS aimed to have disclaimers on most of its imagery by 2020, and wished for many of the major brands it stocks to get on board, too. But as it started speaking to brands and even celebrity brand ambassadors about this project, the retailer realized it could actually pull off this initiative much quicker than anticipated.
Now, by mid-February, nearly 70% of images in CVS stores will be watermarked to indicate whether they had been digitally altered or not, including Washington's Neutrogena campaign. (CVS forecasts that the majority of those images will be un-retouched.) Thus far, other brands that have agreed to this level of transparency by the end of 2020 include CoverGirl, Revlon, Olay, Almay, Aveeno, Rimmel, JOAH, L’Oréal, Maybelline, Unilever, Burt’s Bees, and Physician’s Formula.
"When we announced this effort, we were very much encouraged by all the letters and emails we got from customers," Maly Bernstein, the vice president of beauty and personal care at CVS, says. "This is something that the customers have been asking for. So we’re not surprised to see these brands and celebrities go along."
Brand ambassadors featured in Beauty Unaltered campaigns in addition to Washington include Ayesha Curry for CoverGirl and Ashley Graham for Revlon, with more to follow in the coming months. It is important to note that while this is certainly a step forward for a brand as big as CVS, the images that have been released so far still feature women with clear, luminous skin to begin with. As more companies sign onto this initiative, we hope CVS takes the Beauty Unfiltered pledge one step further to include other forms of beauty, including people with more visible pores, pimples, facial hair, and deeper lines and wrinkles.
"I think people are so hungry for truth and authenticity," Washington says. "Me and my toolbox of makeup and skin care are enough. I am enough. We don’t have to rely on a digital toolbox to make sure we’re beautiful."
Looking ahead, the goal for CVS isn't necessarily to be 100% Photoshop-free. What it is hoping to encourage, however, is more truth in advertising.
"What we’re intent on doing is promoting transparency," Bernstein says. "We’re not about judging. We’re about making sure customers know how to get the look. They know that if it’s digitally altered, they can take a selfie and boot up the computer. If it isn't, then they know exactly what products are used."
Because really, it is everyone's right to edit an image however they want. "To be honest I love a good filter on Instagram," Washington says. "This isn't about policing beauty. It’s about empowering the consumer to understand what they’re looking at. You can adjust your own expectations of your truth and who you want to be in the world."