It was Snooki who started it, releasing a picture of herself sans cosmetics via Twitter in January. Back came tweets saying she looked better au naturel, and soon other done-up stars were sharing their plain selves with the world. By the time Rihanna circulated a barefaced snapshot in April—and a few days later smiled as she was snapped (A1) without her red-carpet enhancements (A2)—a tabloid staple had been subverted. How the no-makeup photo, once a literal money shot for paparazzi, became positive PR:
1. The Pimple Premium
In the nineties, paparazzi find willing clients in the likes of The National Enquirer and The Star, whose editorial standards disfavor glamour. “The worse a star looked without makeup, the more money you could get for the shot then,” says Francois Navarre, co-owner of the X17 photo agency. (A shot of a bikinied Demi Moore, un-made-up and showing cellulite, fetches $15,000 in 1999.) They are “the pictures that Hollywood’s beauties don’t want you to see,” as another agency puts it while peddling a package of images including a makeupless Courteney Cox (B).
2. Us Ascends
US Weekly becomes one of America’s best-selling magazines thanks to saturation coverage of stars (“They’re just like us!”). The deluge dilutes the shock value of candid photos, which canny celebrities begin to stage when the unfiltered exposure suits them.
3. “Photoshop of Horrors”
A July 2007 Jezebel exposé of a grievously Photoshopped Redbook cover pic of singer Faith Hill raises the call for the media to show female celebs as they really are, not in gotcha moments but as a matter of principle.
4. Kathie Lee, Edgy Instigator
On May 13, 2010, Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford (C) do their hour of the Today show without makeup.
5. The Brand Experiment
In December 2010, Russell Brand attempts to show how celebrities can empower themselves while cutting out the paparazzi. He does this by tweeting a photo of his barely awake then-wife, Katy Perry, who is not in on the plan.
6. This Season’s Must-Have Look
Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Demi Lovato follow Snooki’s lead. In Rihanna’s case, the photo conveniently presents a more positive side to her won’t-be-tamed image.
7. Skin Rag
The 2012 edition of People’s “50 Most Beautiful” issue, turning the photos into something to be embraced, features actresses such as Zooey Deschanel and Paula Patton in “not a drop of makeup.”
8. More Effective Than a Wardrobe Malfunction
The selling point of no-makeup photos was that they showed A-list actresses looking ordinary. Now they’ve become a vehicle for up-and-comers seeking greater renown. On May 4, AnnaLynne McCord of 90210 tweets a shot of herself mid-breakout (D): “To all my girls (and boys) who have ever been embarrassed by their skin! I salute you! I’m not perfect—and that’s okay with me!” Earlier this year, a photo posted by McCord that accidentally (?) revealed her nipple generated 88,000 clicks on Twitpic.com. The photo of her pimples gets 140,000 views.
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