Barefaced: Ageing women stars, ‘no make-up’ photography and authentic selfhood in the 2017 Pirelli calendar

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Celebrity culture has long been driven to seek out and appraise signifiers
of authenticity. For women celebrities, a willingness to share
photographs of themselves make-up free has become a hazy but
provocative marker of a certain ‘barefaced’ daring, in which they
(seemingly) come closer to imparting their ‘real self’. In practice, these
images are still heavily mediated, often contested, and have become
part of the celebrity machine itself; indeed I argue here that, for all the
staging of candour and spontaneity they can enact, they are increasingly
even an expected component of women’s celebrity performance. What
happens to women’s star status or signification, then, when they forego
the comfortingly illusionary and perfecting properties of cosmetics for
‘make-up free’ photography? And how are the stakes entailed in such
photography more challengingly laden, more hazardous, but also more
potentially gratifying, for ageing women stars? This analysis looks most
particularly at the widely debated 2017 Pirelli calendar as a preeminent
example of the contentious cultural currency of such star-imagery,
photographed ‘make-up free’ by Peter Lindbergh and featuring mature
woman actors including Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman and Robin
Wright. Constructing a brief critical timeline of the escalation of the
make-up free movement across popular culture and social media in
recent years; incorporating extant research drawn from disciplines
including cultural and celebrity studies and cultural gerontology;
undertaking textual analysis of the 2017 calendar and critical discourse
analysis of its promotion and media reception, the work brings
interdisciplinary approaches together with a breadth of allied cultural
artefacts. Interrogating how ageing women stars may effectively marshal
make-up free photography to signal their growing gravitas, I forge new
insights into both the polemical meanings of the repudiation of make-up
in contemporary visual culture, and the import of make-up for
conceptualising the nexus of ageing, gender and stardom.

© 2020, The Author(s). This is an author produced version of a paper published in EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF CULTURAL STUDIES uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self- archiving policy. The final published version (version of record) is available online at the link. Some minor differences between this version and the final published version may remain. We suggest you refer to the final published version should you wish to cite from it.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Cultural Studies
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


  • Ageing celebrity; make-up; stardom and authenticity; Pirelli calendar; #nomakeup; gender and celebrity

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