The media told us we weren’t supposed to. For years, they fed us-the public-on a steady diet of myths and lies about who Michael Jackson was, and what we were supposed to think of him-and most notably, what we were supposed to think about his appearance. We were supposed to believe he was “Wacko Jacko.” We were supposed to believe that here was someone who had literally “carved” his face into something unrecognizable, even sub-human. Tabloids, TV shows, and medialoid sites routinely compared photos of the young, Thriller-era Michael, or Jackson 5 era Michael, to current photos, always emphasizing how much his looks had changed and, what’s more, implying what we were supposed to think of those changes.
We were supposed to think either one of two things. How sad and tragic, or, on the flipside, how “Ew.” (Usually, these outlets hypocritically professed the former, while reading between the lines, it was blatantly obvious that the latter reaction was their true intent).
What they didn’t bargain on was that anyone would ever consider that face to be beautiful. But you know what? I discovered something interesting after I became a diehard fan. I discovered that millions of people-including women all over the world-considered this face beautiful. And by that, I’m not talking merely a kind of acceptance, as in “we love Michael, warts and all” kind of acceptance. I am talking a genuine, sincere belief that Michael Jackson was just as sexy, and just as physically beautiful, post-vitiligo and post-cosmetic surgery, as before. In fact, perhaps to some, even moreso.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Allow me to back up just a little, back to those horrific “Wacko Jacko” days, and my own personal journey as I went from a sheep following the herd, to actually having my own eyes opened wide to what true beauty actually is. And as the old cliche’ goes, beauty is not only “just” in the eye of the beholder, but is also internal as well as external. True beauty that shines from within can make even the most hideous exterior a thing of great beauty. Just look at Mother Theresa. Certainly this woman would never have been mistaken for a pinup girl. But to me, she was more beautiful than any Playboy bunny could ever be.
However, I’m not exactly talking about that, either. My own change in perception as to Michael’s mature beauty is something more than just an acceptance that he remained inwardly beautiful. It has more to do with an actual altering of my aesthetic perception of his physical appearance-as well as the discovery that the media had been feeding me a lie for years!
Like so many, I came to believe that Michael Jackson was a very handsome, young BLACK man who, through whatever insecurities or mental breakdowns, had literally transformed himself into “a freak.” People made jokes about him having turned himself into “a white woman.” There were jokes about him looking like some alien drag queen. We’ve all heard them, at some time or other. Maybe we even laughed at them ourselves. I came to believe that he was someone who had had countless cosmetic surgery procedures-so many that his face was literally disintergrating! There were stories that his face was caving in; that his nose was falling off. Every photo we saw in the media seemed to emphasize these gross exaggerations. We saw photoshopped pics of a Michael with only a hole in his face for a nose. We saw a barrage of unflattering photos that always seemed to purposely accentuate the worst angles, or photos obviously taken on his worst days, when his expressions would register anger or sulleness or depression. Photos would be lightened or darkened to accentuate a bad makeup day, or a bad hair day. And despite what I now know were thousands of far more attractive and flattering photos from this era at their disposal, media outlets continued to deliberately choose only the most unflaterring photos to accompany every (usually negative) story. The intent was clear. This was a deliberate campaign to foster the “Wacko Jacko” image and to sell the myth of “the freak.” It simply wouldn’t have had the same affect if, say, TMZ ran their latest “Wacko Jacko” story only to accompany it with a photo of mature Michael looking healthy, handsome, and gorgeous. You would never see, for example, a TMZ or National Enquirer story accompanied by something like his Vogue or Ebony photos (granted, they may not have had copyright freedom to use those particular photos but that is still no excuse, since that still left many others they could have easily chosen from). Instead, media outlets would deliberately choose photos meant to accentuate the image of “the fallen” Michael Jackson. Images of him in court, or arriving and leaving from his 2005 trial, became especial favorites, since these images tended to enhance the public belief that Michael Jackson’s life was now more about scandal and legal issues, than performing and music (even though, ironically, it was one of those very photos that would turn around my whole perception of mature Michael). They loved to show his 2003 mug shot; that photo must have been their crown jewel. It encompasses everything the media wanted us to believe about Michael Jackson’s appearance. In that photo, his makeup is unattractively harsh (giving him that exaggerated, “drag queen” look that the media so loved to poke fun at) but, what’s more, he looks haggard and worn down. Mug shots, by their very nature, are never pretty. No one is happy being booked, finger printed, arrested (especially on false charges!) and put through the grill. In that photo, Michael looks disheveled, angry, but also beaten down. “You have me,” his expression seems to be saying.
And that’s exactly what the media loved most. If anyone doubts that there was a deliberate media conspiracy to present Michael in the most physically unattractive light possible, just consider the words of Aphrodite Jones who was there at the 2005 trial, and witnessed the conspiracy first hand. She not only wrote in her book Conspiracy, but also confirmed when I interviewed her in person in 2010, that paparazzi and reporters covering the trial would intentionally try to get the worst angles of him, or to capture him in the worst possible lighting, so that the photos would look appropriately hideous. So it wasn’t as if these photographers were simply getting bad shots because it just happened that way; they were deliberately being instructed, and going out of their way, to get the worst shots possible!
Granted, Michael Jackson’s case isn’t unique. The media has done this same number to many celebrities. They did it to Whitney. They did it to Kirstie Ally with all of her recent weight issues. They’ve even done it to Oprah. And practically every celebrity who’s had a weight problem, or a botched cosmetic procedure, or a major illness has at some point been under fire. But I think we can safely say, none ever had it so consistently, or with such especial venom, as Michael Jackson.
Since, like many, I didn’t know much about Michael Jackson other than what I saw reported, I had come to believe the lie myself. There remained a lingering image of a once beautiful young man who had turned himself into a freak of nature. I am sad to say that this false belief persisted for me even sometime after his death. I even recall going on Youtube and leaving what I thought at the time was a very innocent and sincere comment on one of his early videos, Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough. I remember looking at that clip, and seeing that gorgeous, young black man with his natural hair and dazzling smile-so cool, so confident, so suave. And I typed into the comment box that it was a shame he felt he had to resort to surgery, when there was nothing wrong with his natural face.
Days later I went back only to discover that the fan who had posted the vid had deleted my comment. I was puzzled; baffled, even a bit hurt. I didn’t think I had posted anything trollish or mean. I was expressing what was, at the time for me, a sincere comment. Why did that fan consider it offensive? In my mind, I was only expressing what I assumed everyone thought. I even pm’d this fan, asking for an explanation, but I never heard back. Although I still don’t approve of censorship as the most mature way to handle disagreement, I can say now that I fully understand why my comment was probably perceived as trollish, and why that fan perceived it as offensive. For years, MJ fans had been sitting by and taking it while the media labeled this man a freak and a “wacko” and criticized his every move. Michael had just died, and no real fan was in the mood to hear it anymore. Not from anyone, well intentioned or not.
Fortunately my curiosity to learn more about Michael did not end there. I started going to the fan forums, at first just as a kind of curious passer-by. I was curious about the man, and curious about how his diehard fans were reacting to the loss. And of course, as I’ve written here many times, I was trying to make sense of my own overwhelming feelings of sadness and loss over this death; trying to get my hands around why his death had hit me so hard. Like so many, I was grieving without any real idea of exactly why I was grieving so hard. My journey of discovery would eventually lead me to become a full-fledged fan.
But in those early days, I started to notice something very interesting. It struck me-and I have to add, deeply touched me-how so many fans displayed Michael’s mature photos proudly as their avators and signatures. What’s more, that they not only proudly displayed his post-vitiligo, post-surgery photos, but openly GUSHED over them; even had entire threads dedicated to them!
This really opened my eyes in a new way, as I realized these fans (most of them female) not only accepted Michael in his maturity, but openly celebrated it; openly declared him beautiful and…yes, sexy.
At first, something within me still resisted. I thought it must be attributable only to the old “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” or “love is blind” or a way of saying their love for him simply encompassed full acceptance. Or maybe like Belle in the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast,” they had simply come to realize, as I said earlier, that beauty from within transcends all.
But then one day I saw a photo that made my heart melt. It was the photo I posted above. By this time, I had started to slowly realize that what the media had fed me for years regarding this man’s appearance wasn’t altogether true. But this was the first time, perhaps, that I really “got” why he was still a beautiful man to his legion of devoted female fans. This photo, taken during his 2005 trial, completely drew me in. There was something whimsical about this face; an indefinable, quirky charm. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, but I knew instinctively-the way a woman just knows-that this was someone I would have had no problem being phyically attracted to (and yes, here I am putting aside everything else I know or admire about Michael, and am speaking purely from a physical standpoint!). Maybe it was that little devilish glint in his eye; maybe the slightly mischevous smile; maybe the inner strength, resiliency of spirit, and inner beauty that comes through so clearly in that picture…whatever it was, I knew something within me had perceptibly changed.
I was physically attracted to mature Michael. I had fallen in love with the face of mature Michael. I was..dare I say it?…even a bit in lust with mature Michael. How did this happen? And how could I have been so blindsided all those years? That’s the question that still puzzles me. Obviously, as I quickly discovered, I wasn’t alone in this transformation. Hundreds of fan stories have revealed similar experiences. It was as if tens of thousands of us, all simultaneously, were making the same discovery. Many of us were seeing, for the very first time, the photos that the media had never shown us, or at least not on a widespread scale. Perhaps the loss and the collective grief had also made many of us more attuned and perceptive than we had allowed ourselves to be before. We saw emerging from these images-some of which many of us had never seen before- a mature man who was suave, svelte, fashion savvy and-with the right makeup and hairstyle-stunning.
My God, we gasped. This man was gorgeous! And not just the younger incarnation of him. How had we allowed ourselves to be so blind? Okay, enough with the rhetorical questions. Let’s try to examine the answers.
If there was a deliberate media conspiracy to make us believe that mature Michael was a freakazoid, it begs the question: Why?
That Michael Jackson was sexy and had enormous appeal to female fans was never any secret. Even as a child in The Jackson 5, the late Don Cornelius said that the adult women were all over him-okay, maybe not in a sexual way (let’s hope!) but still, it was a way of saying, this kid was already driving the women wild. As Michael matured and became a solo artist, his appeal was still a given, even though the media tended to play him up as “cute” rather than “sexy.” However, we would see the media machine’s attempt to play down his sexuality become even more accelerated as his commercial success broke the records of white icons, and as his sex symbol status became global. Perhaps for the first time in history, we had a black performer who was being desired by women of all races and nationalities all over the world.
Was he too much of a threat for some?
That question has been raised many times before, and one of the best analytical responses I’ve seen has been provided by Dr. Willa Stillwater and Joie Collins on their excellent blog, Dancing With The Elephant:
One thing that Willa and Joie have touched upon in their articles-and a sentiment I fully agree with-is that there seems to have been a definite media conspiracy to keep Michael Jackson, the Black man, “in his place.” How else to explain why a man of such obvious and enormous appeal to women of all races, nationalities, and ages was continuously denied sex symbol status? The most it seemed the media was ever willing to concede was that Michael Jackson in his youth, before surgery and before “changing” color, was passably cute. Yet we’ve all seen the concert footage where hundreds of girls are weeping, fainting; hysterical. Every concert, the paramedics were on standby, attending to hundreds of faints. We’ve all seen the videos where female fans weep hysterically in his presence.
In the 1950’s, it was no problem to believe that millions of girls could be driven to weeping and fits of hysteria by Elvis’s gyrations. In the 60’s, the media had no problem swallowing that millions of American teenagers were crying hysterically over The Beatles. Yet, despite all the documented evidence that clearly shows how females reacted to Michael Jackson, we can still hear the disbelieving scoffs in the media whenever someone happens to mention Michael Jackson and “sex” or “sex appeal” in the same breath. How many times have we heard some disbelieving TV host say condescendingly to a guest speaker, “You really think Michael Jackson was sexy?”
Now, as to what extent these hosts are part of the conspiracy, or simply a victim of it the way so many of us were, is hard to say. But the end result is the same. It continues to feed into the cultural belief that Michael Jackson (aside from the pedophile allegations) was somehow asexual and devoid of any but the most childlike appeal. I haven’t yet quite figured how these people have all somehow missed the very blatant message of The Gold Pants or those highly suggestive dance moves, but anyway, that is all subject matter that has been hashed out before. The bottom line is that it simply seems evident that the media did not want to give Michael his due as a sex symbol. And the only logical reasons for that seem to be grounded in pure racism.
In any event, what the media instilled in us was a deeply ingrained belief that it was simply not politically correct to think of Michael Jackson as attractive post-Thriller era (or at the very least, up through the early Bad era). There seemed to be a deliberate and almost defiant media backlash against the “whiter” and more seemingly “feminized” or androgynous Michael of the late 80’s, 90’s and beyond. (Perhaps it’s also not surprising that most of the uproar over his changing appearance, especially over the skin issue, has come loudest and most vehemently from whites, when you would think it would be African-Americans who would have the most concern over whether Michael had “betrayed” his race. But ironically, while African-American fans remained loyal for the most part, it seemed to be the whites who were making the biggest hoopla over it, which again begs the question: What were they so afraid of, or so threatened by, if Michael was, in fact, becoming lighter? Let’s just put aside for a moment that Michael had vitiligo and couldn’t help losing his skin color. The fact was, there were many who saw him as an imminent threat, and who perhaps viewed his apparently lightening skin color as the refusal of a black man to stay “in a black man’s place.” One could also wonder about the apparent timing of Michael’s lightening skin color happening just about the same time as the purchase of the Beatles catalog and Thriller surpassing all records to become the top selling album of all time).
Whenever fans discuss their preference for one MJ era over another, it inevitably raises a sensitive issue that is always the unspoken white elephant in the room: Does one prefer their MJ black, or white? Now honestly, I don’t think any fans see the embracing of one as a rejection of the other. Rather, most fans (at least the ones I know) look as it as an embracing and celebration of ALL eras. Part of loving who Michael was means accepting him fully and embracing all eras, regradless of those few who will proclaim The Jacksons era Michael as “my Michael” and someone else who will say, “Well, I fell in love with him during the Dangerous era, so for me, that is MY Michael.” However, I’ve heard some criticism leveled at those fans who prefer mature Michael, or who actually think that he improved his looks with cosmetic surgery. That they are, in fact, somehow contributing to the rejection of Michael’s “blackness” and feeding the very insecurities that led him to alter his appearance in the first place.
Personally, I think the notion of rejecting Michael’s “blackness” is ludicrous since there was never a time when he wasn’t black (as if being a Black American were merely all about the amount of pigment in one’s skin cells, and nothing else). As for the rest, I don’t think finding him even more attractive post-surgery is anything fans should feel particularly guilty about. After all, it’s no worse than all of those male fans of Pamela Anderson who just happened to find her much more attractive after her boob job. Although Michael was beautiful just the way Mother Nature made him, let’s face it, the truth is, he did go through a very awkward stage in adolescence. His first nose job, in my opinion, was a major improvement and gave his self-esteem a much needed boost.
But did Michael carry cosmetic surgery too far? If someone had asked me that question three years ago, my response would have been a resounding yes. But now I honestly don’t think so. Is it simply because the mature face of Michael has grown on me? Or simply because the more I have looked at that face over the last three years, the more I have realized that the stories of excessive surgeries were largely exaggerated?
Although I believe Michael was honest for the most part in stating he had only had work done to two areas of his face (his nose and chin cleft) I do believe, looking at photographic evidence, that he definitely had more than two nose jobs. However, his was never a case of “facial mutilation” as the media tried to portray.
Back in November, sanemjfan at Vindicating Michael posted an amazing 5-part series entitled “How To Recognize and Refute The Fallacies Used By Michael Jackson Haters.” Part two of that series dealt specifically with refuting the media lie that Michael had become a victim of “facial mutilation.” With permission, I am reprinting here an excerpt from that piece (the article, also, in turn quotes from Dr. Stillwater’s article, which I am also reprinting with permission):
From How To Recognize And Refute The Fallacies Used By Michael Jackson Haters, Part Two, by sanemjfan:
Let’s look at MJ’s so-called “facial mutilation” to see how the media used the big lie technique to say that MJ butchered his face! In this video, you’ll hear Fox News “journalist” Juliet Huddy call MJ a “freak”, in an attempt to dehumanize him just a few days prior to his memorial (and pay attention to O’Reilly’s use of ad populum techniques to bolster his claim that only blacks care about MJ):
First, let’s look at this photo, which consists of 2 photos taken 20 years apart and merged together. One photo is from MJ’s cover shoot of the December 2007 issue of Ebony magazine, and the other photo is from 1988. Look closely at the photo, and try and guess which photo is from 1988, and which is from 2007:
Pretty tough, huh? You can barely tell the difference! And this proves what MJ said all along, that he only had surgery on two areas of his face: his chin, and his nose! The rest of his face is completely structurally sound!
Below is the photo from Ebony magazine’s December 2007 issue:
Below is the photo from 1988 (you can easily tell because of his Bad attire):
Here are those same two photos merged with a photo from either 1980 or 1981. Once again, you’ll only see t change in his chin, nose, and the overall size of his face (as he had grown and gained weight over the years). I want to acknowledge LunaJo67 for creating the following 3 photo comparisons. You are amazing!
Let’s look at this excellent photo comparison of MJ from the “Thriller” era and during his trial! This was shared by the magnificent Karen O’Halloran, who authors the MJ Pop Culture blog!
While we’re on the subject of plastic surgery, let’s look at what Dr. Willa Stillwater wrote in her amazing article “Rereading Michael Jackson”, which is now posted on her new MJ blog “Dancing With The Elephant”. Open the article and scroll down to the section titled “I’m Gonna Be Exactly What You Wanna See” (a lyric taken from the song “Is It Scary?”), where Dr. Stillwater eradicates the “facial mutilation” garbage by analyzing photos of MJ throughout the years that actually MATCH each other, which is the opposite of what the media did to portray his face as a science experiment. Here are a few excerpts:
So why was it so commonly accepted that Jackson had extensive plastic surgery? I think partly it’s because he defied accepted notions of race and identity by changing the color of his skin and the shape of his nose, so both the media and the public became obsessed with his face. The tabloids, especially, were constantly photographing and analyzing his face, searching for additional changes. He also had a very angular jaw line and prominent cheekbones that could look quite different depending on camera angle, lighting, and the expression on his face, providing the tabloids with plenty of material for speculation.
However, the occasional odd photograph by itself could not have caused the media hysteria that came to surround Jackson’s face. There was more going on than that, and the explanation lies in the nature of perception itself, and how our beliefs shape our perceptions: we see what we expect to see. Once the media and the public became convinced that Jackson had had numerous plastic surgeries — that he was, in effect, addicted to plastic surgery — they began to interpret the photographic evidence in ways that supported their preconceived ideas.
However, that was not the explanation that was presented in the tabloids, and it was not what the public came to accept as true. The dominate narrative in the tabloids, and eventually in the mainstream media and the public mind as well, was that Michael Jackson was born with a cute pointy chin, rounded chipmunk cheeks, and a narrow jaw line, and then completely changed his face through obsessive plastic surgery, making his chin wider and more masculine and his cheekbones sharper and more prominent. And because that’s what our minds came to believe, that is what our eyes began to see. This progression as we imagined it looks something like this:
In effect, we highlighted and prioritized the images that fit the narrative we believed, and mentally edited out the ones that didn’t. And each time we saw a new photo, we evaluated it in terms of the pre-existing story line. If it fit the narrative and somehow suggested additional alterations to make his face more masculine, it was accepted as yet more proof of plastic surgery and was added to the “changing faces” photo series that sprang up like mushrooms all over the web. If it didn’t, it was largely ignored.
Notice how she referenced the media’s use of anecdotal evidence, which is the fallacy of only using evidence and research that supports your claim, while IGNORING anything that refutes your claim. (This is also known as “cherry picking”.) As Dr. Stillwater asserted, any photo that didn’t “fit” the facial mutilation meme was ignored and tossed on the cutting room floor.
Please, PLEASE take a moment to read that section and look at the photo lineups that she presented! It was excellent research that only a true MJ advocate could accomplish!
Let’s look at some additional photos of MJ to and see how the media really did a number on him. This photo below, taken in the early 2000s, is actually photo-shopped in order to make MJ’s skin even lighter than it really is, so that people could say to themselves “Yuck! He looks like a freak! I think he’s guilty!”
It’s similar to what Time Magazine did to O.J. Simpson in June 1994 (before he had his day in court!), when they intentionally darkened his complexion to make him look guilty! (Newsweek magazine ran the exact same mug shot, but without altering it.)
This is what’s MJ’s skin complexion really looked like!
Here is a comparison photo of MJ in 1996 and 2005; by the way, the 2005 photo is on the left, and the 1996 photo is on the right! When you look at the photo, you naturally assume that the older photo is on the left:
End of Excerpt
Most of the changes perceived in Michael’s appearance seemed to have more to do with his loss of skin pigment than actual cosmetic changes. Also, the media often failed to take into account such natural changes as those having to do with the ageing process, fluctuations in weight, and even something as simplistic as a change of hairstyle!
As many have noted, it’s amazing that once Michael had donned his curls again for This Is It, he looked amazingly like his Dangerous-era self, only perhaps a little older:
What this tells us is that Michael had had relatively little, if any, major cosmetic procedures done from the early 90’s to 2009, and that the bulwark of any major work he may have had done was probably completed by the late 80’s with the addition of the chin cleft. This is certainly, however, in stark contrast to the myth the media continued to foster upon us, which would lead one to believe that Michael had practically disfigured himself with countless procedures!
I have finally come to the conclusive opinion that, for whatever reason, the media needed Michael Jackson to be a freak, and they were determined to sell us that image at all costs, even if it meant foistering a lie. I don’t think it was as deliberate as that they sat down collectively and planned it out. But what happened in the case of Michael Jackson was a clear case that if you continue to feed people a lie long enough-and manage to manipulate enough evidence in order to get peoples’ eyes and brains to see what you want them to see-you can create almost anything.
I think that one reason so many of Michael’s fans openly and proudly embrace his mature image is also precisely for that very reason. We were basically told from on high that it was okay and acceptable to love the young Michael, the iconic Michael. But that somehow, the face of mature Michael was supposed to be something that repulsed us. We were told it was not supposed to be a face we could love.
I believed the lie for too many years, until one day I looked into that face and realized it was beautiful. What’s more, I realized I wasn’t alone. All over the world, fans of all ages continue to celebrate the mature beauty of Michael Jackson. And to reject the false illusion we were fed. Sure, when I look at images of the youthful Michael, I see a very gorgeous and handsome young man. But when I look at the face of mature Michael, I see so much more. I see a face of true character, reflecting the quiet, inner strength and resilient spirit that had enabled him to endure so much.
What I don’t see is “Wacko Jacko” the “self-multilated freak”. I stopped looking for him long ago because I came to realize he never existed at all. Except as a product of some very vivid and twisted imaginations.
ETA: This video was recently brought to my attention, and I wanted to add it here. It beautifully captures so much of what has been said here. As Michael matured, and especially as he endured some of his darkest, most troubled times, his beauty shone through more than ever. Lovely mature pics, and perfect song choice to accompany: