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Penelope Cruz

Penelope Cruz (Getty/Reuters / May 9, 2012)

Hillary Clinton doesn’t care if you see her without makeup.”

That’s a real MSNBC headline. About a politician. It's further proof that the media/public fixation on prominent female figures who dare to show their actual, unadorned faces has gone totally bonkers.

Google “celebs without makeup” and find new features annually compiling facially naked celebs. Not, of course, in the interest of anything complimentary. A headline like “10 hottest celebrities without make-up” leads not to an appreciation of natural beauty  but the statement “See how hot celebrities become ugly without makeup” and a story aiming to find the least-attractive photos of celebs like Penelope Cruz and Keira Knightley, widely regarded as beautiful in their made-up state. Perhaps so people can tell themselves that, with the right products, they could be that gorgeous too.

No one will deny America’s overwhelming fascination with celebrity, or the ceaseless need to return huge stars to a plane in which they’re, groan, just like us. “Rihanna exposed in nude photo leak!” “George Clooney shops at Target!” “Justin Bieber goes bowling!” It’s not surprising that people want to narrow the distance between their own lives, which rarely land them cosmetic endorsements or magazine covers, and the rich, famous folks elevated onto pedestals by fortunate genes and big paychecks, and, ideally, talent. It brings us behind the curtain of stardom, as if we’re the friends and family who get to see these fascinating, supposedly carefree creatures in their natural state and habitat.

Yet we simultaneously lose sight of the ridiculously obvious cliché that celebs are people too, and that women don’t wear makeup just to turn us on, guys. Saying that appearing in public without makeup is “brave” speaks to a society that still perceives women as sex objects required to perform, but making a big deal out of it also plays right into the notion that such an action is significant at all. Yes, there are people who will be reported on simply for walking outside and getting the paper. Still, stories about who did or didn’t wear makeup today further perpetuates the idea that the famous person who exists in the public eye is not--and shouldn't be--the same person as the human who spends time hanging out, unkempt, around the house in crumb-covered pajamas. Admit it, supermodels.

If this weren’t enough, photographer Haydon Wood’s “Living Dolls” series and a recent Internet debate over whether a Ukrainian woman who looks like a real-life Barbie is a real person or not  reinforce the idea that people want to escape their humanity—read: flaws—in photographs. Touch-ups are as old as photos; even a talent as natural as Adele barely looks like herself on the cover of Vogue. So why must we constantly analyze how female stars look without makeup, as if they’re some kind of fraud for accentuating themselves in the same way actors receive stylist assistance for hair, wardrobe and, yes, makeup?

Katy Perry and Julianne Hough can promote Proactiv and cop to being human women who experienced human skin problems. A secretary of state and former presidential candidate, however, can’t walk around sans powder without a discussion of what she really looks like. We’re visual beings; we’ll always comment on the appearance of public figures. But the most newsworthy thing that could happen as part of this issue would be to not write a news story every time a famous woman goes outside without makeup, when in reality emerging from the cage of celebrity into the jungle of public opinion in any condition takes a certain amount of guts.

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