This may come as a surprise to some, but Christina Aguilera has a face. On it, there are blue eyes (2), eyebrows (2), at least 20 freckles, and a mouth (at least on weekdays — we don’t see her on off-hours). Covering the latest issue of Paper Magazine, the singer and Voice coach’s face appears make-up free, or perhaps, sporting makeup that gives her the appearance of being makeup-free. Then, like me, the media did what media does and covered Paper’s cover (LOLs in bold):
“In the makeup-free shots, Aguilera interestingly has freckles which fans have not seen before as they are always covered up. “ — The Daily Mail
“She looks like a teenager showing off what we call our weekend face – the one just for when we decide not to leave the house.” — Metro UK
“[The article] leaves readers wondering whose picture they’re actually seeing — until a few shots show up featuring Xtina’s eyelashes laden with rich black pigment, and then others with some glitter on her eyes, and all is right with the world.” — L.A. Times
If you weren’t aware, you are now: Aguilera is this news cycle’s designated celebrity rebel. The almost embarrassing speed and fervour with which Aguilera’s de-contoured cheeks have been elevated as a symbol of anarchy, of course, says more about us than her. The woman whose most recent publicity credit is “Akiko Glitter” in The Emoji Movie doesn’t have designs on heading up the first makeup-free march on Washington. She just hasn’t caught up with the times, and it’s not entirely her fault: Back when Aguilera first got famous and encountered public scrutiny, the pop landscape was covered in an inch-thick layer of sparkles and neoprene. The 2000s were peak artifice, and thus, our cultural bar for controversy was considerably lower: Britney Spears has had sex? Jennifer Lopez wore a translucent pashmina to the Grammys? Ricky Martin is gay?
It makes sense, then, that present-day Aguilera finds it “liberating … to be able to strip it all back and appreciate who you are and your raw beauty.” Forgive her. The closest touchpoint for “reinvention” she had was Madonna (whom the diva name-checks in the Paper article), a woman who has not left the Pope alone since 1989.
But back to us: It’s abundantly clear that, at this moment in history, the media world (and its consumers) aren’t quite sure what’s activism and what isn’t: Black dresses and white roses are good. Teens taking on the NRA are incendiary. Retweeting still counts, for some reason. But public breastfeeding, getting bangs and fully nude shockmongering spreads (especially if you’re Kim Kardashian) are all now verging on passé. And yet: The big sell of Paper’s latest issue is Aguilera’s rare lack of falsies, not the actually insightful nuggets of wisdom she gives on motherhood, witnessing domestic abuse as a child, or her status as a very public LGBTQ ally long before Queer Eye got picked up for a second season. Contrast that with Vanity Fair’s most recent choice of cover star: Lena Waithe, a black, queer, self-made woman — with nowhere near Aguilera’s profile, yet — snapped by Annie Leibowitz giving a defiant Mona Lisa smirk to the masses.
She’s not wearing makeup either, but VF has established that’s not where Waithe’s controversial currency lies. She’s “changing the game.” Yes, the face of change is itself changing, even if the majority of mass media won’t totally let it: Elsewhere in the Paper spread, Aguilera is back to her made-up ways, with red eyes and smudged-up lips, albeit applied messily, as though she was trying to cry it all off.