Most people are probably more familiar with the women looking like this (in the same order):
The images are useful for showing the extent to which makeup, stylists, and photoshopping alters what the celebrities we see on TV and on magazine covers look like, but it’s more than that. While we see leaks of before-and-after photoshopping videos, or photos of stars caught without their hair and makeup done, or looking less than glamorous at the beach or grocery store, fairly frequently, it’s rare for celebrities to consciously allow themselves to be shown without makeup or photoshopping, as we have here. The only other example I could think of off the top of my head was when Jamie Lee Curtis famously posed in More magazine in 2002 and insisted that some of the photos show her un-touched-up:
Unfortunately, these moments when stars are willing to show themselves without all the “improvements” of stylists and technology are few and far between and don’t seem to inspire others to do likewise; everyone said how brave and awesome Curtis was for her photo shoot, but then we go back to showing perfect, blemish-free photoshopped images. So appreciate the Elle cover while you can–it’ll likely be a while until you see another one like it.