~ Posted by Tim de Lisle, February 17th 2012

The new edition of Intelligent Life is on the streets now in Britain and across Europe. It’s our 20th issue, and the first to feature something that is commonplace, verging on compulsory, at many magazines: a cover photo shoot with an actress—Cate Blanchett, probably the first leading lady to turn her back on Hollywood to run a theatre company.

When other magazines photograph actresses, they routinely end up running heavily Photoshopped images, with every last wrinkle expunged. Their skin is rendered so improbably smooth that, with the biggest stars, you wonder why the photographer didn’t just do a shoot with their waxwork.

It’s a supreme example of having it both ways. Publishers want a recognisable person on the cover, with a real career; but they also want an empty vessel—for clothes and jewellery and make-up, which often seem to be supplied by the advertisers with the most muscle. (One cover shoot we spotted this week even had a credit for a fragrance. You would hope that the readers smelt a rat.) The actresses end up playing two conflicting roles: both modern women and throwbacks, both something to aspire to and something to negate.

Cate Blanchett, by contrast, appears on our cover in her working clothes, with the odd line on her face and faint bags under her eyes. She looks like what she is—a woman of 42, spending her days in an office, her evenings on stage and the rest of her time looking after three young children. We can’t be too self-righteous about it, because, like anyone else who puts her on a cover, we are benefiting from her beauty and distinction. But the shot is at least trying to reflect real life. It’s a curious sign of the times that this has become something to shout about.

Tim de Lisle is editor of Intelligent Life

See also:

Cate Blanchett, Theatre Boss

Five views on Cate's cover