In news recently to hand, Kate Winslet is “inspiring”, Kate Winslet is “inspirational” and Kate Winslet has made “women all over the world feel better about themselves”. She is also courageous, brave, so brave and just the kind of figure to whom the UN general assembly should afford its full attention for the marvellous gift of liberation she gave to half the world’s population from her lounge-room last weekend.
If you failed to feel the boom of gender revolution and can’t now be bothered sorting through the rubble, here’s a frontline report: no, Kate Winslet did not balance the problem of uneven wealth nor did she promote global access to reproductive healthcare. She didn’t even say “things should be easier for women!” What she said — or turned out not to say — is that she would like to be “embraced” for the “real me”. Which, for a woman so often embraced for playing fictional characters, seems a little greedy.
Still, this appetite many of us have developed for embrace of “authentic” selves and bodies has become a little greedy. So greedy, in fact, that we didn’t notice that it wasn’t Winslet’s “authentic self” that made these claims at all.
Across the weekend, a Facebook page bearing the name “Kate Winslet”, now changed to “Kate Winslet Fans”, posted a picture online with a caption asking for acceptance of its “makeup free” or real properties. The “real” image was sufficiently “real” for hundreds of thousands of Facebook users to share and like it, for news outlets across the world to uniformly report it as “real” and for me to completely believe it, too. After all, the #nomakeupselfie is offered by many women and it seemed unsurprising that Winslet would be one of a notable few to have had this selfless act of self-assertion widely reported.
However Winslet cannot be held to account for the force of the fuss or for the picture itself. It is us who must be interrogated for our interest in another highly stylised moment of “naked” revelation.
In the much-shared Facebook post, a person said that she wanted to be “embraced” for who she was — as it turns out, someone other than Winslet. This “real” presence was illustrated in what fake Winslet claimed was a “zero makeup” image. It’s worth noting that the real, embraceable image chosen was by an artist, Chuck Close, known for his innovative techniques in high-end portraiture.
This “real” image, not even offered by its “real” source, was hardly “real”.
This wasn’t Winslet’s post and, despite, the insinuation that the picture was taken “today”, the post didn’t feature a recent selfie, which wasn’t even a selfie at all. It was a photograph commissioned by Vanity Fair for its 2014 Hollywood issue. Our eagerness to see and to praise “authenticity” allows us to easily misattribute an “authentic” revelation to Winslet and to perceive a high-end glamour shot as “authentic”.
This was not a record of a candid Winslet moment. It was, on Facebook, an optimistic hoax. In Vanity Fair, it was a cynical construction by a publication whose stock in trade is unfeasible beauty, even if that is the “makeup free” kind.
There is not, let it be plainly said, anything wrong with the presentation of beauty per se; where would we be without artistic promise of the desirably impossible? There is something quite wrong, of course, with mass culture which sells a one-size-fits-most ideal. This is not to discredit ideality itself which, like a lot of things, is just fine until you bring it to the market. Things you just can’t have aren’t bad until their unavailability is actually sold.
If there is something very wrong here, it is in how we have applauded fake-Winslet’s challenge to the mass presentation of unfeasible beauty with an image of unfeasible “reality”. To produce a “proof” of the dangers of artifice through recourse to artifice via the offices of Conde Nast is downright dishonest. And, of course, pretending to be Kate Winslet is just a lie.
But, the production of such “real” images are a lie, in any case. Images created by a notable artist for an expensive magazine under lights that show the “reality” of celebrity skin tone to very even advantage are no more “real” than the persons who claim to be Kate Winslet. That this image, first published in February of last year, could ever lay claim to be “real” is absurd.
None of us schmucks who enthusiastically post our own selfies are going to look one-tenth as good. And, even if we levelled the field to demand 8-megapixel iPhone resolution from fake-Kate, real-Kate or anyone famous, these people are gifted of faces that happens to match the contours of those which are currently held by large numbers of people to be beautiful. We, in all likelihood, are not. The notion that my face stripped of cosmetics in the frozen food aisle at Aldi could be as readily embraced as Winslet’s own lovely mug is hooey.
But, worse is the widespread belief that to be considered a suitable item for trade in the marketplace of images is somehow liberating. As fake-Winslet so generously reminds us, her (misattributed, totally manufactured, professionally shot) “real” image is not just for her, but for all of us! Everyone should be looked at!
It is nice, of course, to be looked at and it is essential to feel occasionally objectified — again, to be transformed into an “object” by desire is not a bad thing per se and is only made bad by the market. I do not wish to have sex with someone who simply wishes to overlook my body and embrace the “real me” and I doubt that there are many who do.
It is nice to be looked at but, it is plain idiocy to think that mass marketed, and not intimately created, admiration for one’s body is a consequence of freedom.
But, the celebration of Winslet’s “inspiring” “bravery”, fake as it was, continued until this morning on social and traditional media with hundreds of thousands of users and content makers sharing, liking and generally praising what now passes for courage.
It is not courageous to follow a tedious trend wherein one seeks approval for looking slightly less polished than normal. It is not brave to deceive one’s audience with moments of false revelation, as Winslet and others did in last year’s VF shoot. And, as good as it might feel, it is not an act of revolution to say, as so many ordinary people and popular stars now do, “fuck the haters”.
If we wish to fuck something, then we might start with a system that not only deludes us that privileged stars are “just like us” (they’re really not) but one that places such high value on an image at all.
It’s not that we are praising the “wrong” or “fake” kind of image. It is that we have such naturalised greed for mass-distributed images at all. It doesn’t matter if these images are “real”, somewhat real or published as real on a fake Facebook page. What is of concern is that we permit the image to be the thing that garners approval, whether this approval is for its perfection or its lack of it.
*Note: an earlier version of this article attributed the post to Kate Winslet herself. We’ve since learnt that the post originated on a fan Facebook page (now acknowledged as such) was not administered by Winslet.