MAC Cosmetics' Strength campaign.

Earlier this year, MAC Cosmetics released Strength, a new marketing campaign featuring a woman named Jelena Abbou. Ms. Abbou is a figure competitor (similar to bodybuilding, but less emphasis on being huge) and as such is much more muscular that your typical model. MAC has been receiving tons of positive feedback about their choice to feature her.

From Jezebel:

MAC Put A Female Bodybuilder In A Makeup Ad And It’s Beautiful

When I first saw this ad for MAC's new "Strength" collection, it kind of stopped my in my browsing tracks. What an incredible figure that woman has — and what a striking image for a mainstream cosmetics brand to choose as an advertisement.

The woman in the photo is named Jelena Abbou. She is a Serbian-American competitive body builder and fitness model, and she is fucking impressive to look at. I really like seeing her in a makeup ad. Hers is a body that is so different from the usual physical ideal that is shoved down women's throats — the slim, uniformly "toned" but not muscular, waifish model body that we see in every other ad and magazine and T.V. show aimed at women. There's a pretty strong social stigma against women who are "too" muscular, as Samantha Escobar explainsaptly here:

We all know that our society often fat shames people they deem overweight and sometimes body shame those declared too thin, but many men and women consider very muscular women to be "gross" or "unappealing." I find this strange, since — while I don't remotely condone it — fat and thin shamers tend to at least cite health as a typical reason for being assholes. When it comes to insulting muscular females, this logic makes no sense; typically, those women work out frequently and eat incredibly well in order to achieve the bodies they have. Why insult them?

Well-developed muscles are the embodiment of strength, and our culture doesn't value physical strength in women. It might even be a little suspicious of it. A man with a six-pack is supposed to be sexy; a woman with a six-pack is supposed to be "mannish." That stigma is why it's so shocking to see Abbou in a cosmetics ad: she's styled and photographed in a way that glamourizes her and highlights her beauty and her femininity, but the ad also does not camouflage or attempt to minimize her incredible body. (Which is the usual treatment that athletes, particularly female athletes, get in fashion photography — for reference, just consider any time Vogue picks a lovely, slender, female athlete to be in a fashion spread.) In fact, Abbou's muscular arms are the focus of this picture. That's what makes this ad so striking, and so incredibly beautiful.

Here's the copy from MAC that goes with the campaign:

I am a women: fearless, elegant, strong. We love women who strike powerful poses, stand out, redefine the notion of beauty…and do it with an inner/outer strength that’s irresistible and impossible to ignore. Colour is a vehicle for a women to flex their femininity and MAC’s New collection reflects this state of mind and style. It starts with dramatic eyes defined by two Eye Shadow Quads that sculpt and highlight, precision Penultimate Eye-Liner and extra-volumizing Opulash. Lips plump up with vivid colour to project power while Powder Blush in Natural Tones softly chisels cheeks. And, nailing it for overall presentation, MAC’s High Gloss Nail Lacquer.

While I think it's fantastic that MAC has chosen a very obviously muscular woman as the face of their new campaign (and she is very attractive), there's something about it that also bugs me. Perhaps it's the insidious nature of this type of advertising - i.e., MAC is trying to win customers over by appearing progressive, while still promoting a very specific beauty ideal. Or perhaps it's because it's MAC, a company that depends on vanity to make money (not that we're not all vain, mind you). Maybe it's also that Ms. Abbous fake breasts also seem to contradict the idea being promoted here - i.e., that there is more than one beauty ideal. Or possibly it's the fact that Ms. Abbou is still conventionally very beautiful, despite being muscular. Or maybe I'm just full of beans. Feel free to tell me so.

Here's a video clip of Ms. Abbou in action: