Over the past week, I have mentioned the April issue of French Elle - whose cover features European celebrities without makeup or Photoshop retouching - to nearly every woman I know. Each of them has echoed the sentiments ringing from every corner of the fem-blogosphere: "What a refreshing response," they say, "to the airbrush culture that has become synonymous with American fashion magazines." "How great it is," they gush, "that we can celebrate natural beauty and provide a healthier standard for women."

But Matthew Yglesias of The Atlanticquestions the assumption that the "Stars Sans Fards" (translation: "without rouge") on Elle's cover are somehow more "real" or even more "empowering" than the typical fare. He even considers this a step back:

A lot of people have done a lot of work over the years to get people to understand that images you see on magazine covers are not images of actual human beings. They're complicated collaborations between photographers, hairstylists, makeup people, and digital image-retouchers that use real people as an important element of source material. The results have an extremely vivid hyperreal quality to them that we intuitively respond to as if we're just looking at pictures of people, but we can come to understand what's really happening and that nobody ought to beat themselves up over not looking like a computer-retouched image.

So, now that we have "real" models to compare ourselves to - models who are still abnormally beautiful, professionally styled, and photographed in flattering light - might this standard of beauty be just as harmful as its hyper-stylized counterpart?

I think it is. We too often throw praise at the first thing that challenges a negative reality without stopping to think that the response might present its own set of problems. It reminds me of the celebration of Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty" ads, in which the company celebrated "natural" beauty but ended in allegations of airbrushing. Perhaps this fits with Yglesias's hypothesis: To look to fashion magazines for "real beauty" is to further distort the blur the lines between fantasy and reality the medium has taught us to create.

What do you think about the Stars Sans Fards approach? What does it mean to embrace a healthy standard of physical beauty? It is okay for Christians to celebrate physical beauty alongside the inner beauty that the Father looks for?