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updated 4/13/2010 6:55:11 PM ET 2010-04-13T22:55:11

In the latest salvo in the great photo-retouching debate rippling through fashion magazines across the globe, Jessica Simpson has taken a decidedly au naturel stand.

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The 29-year-old celebrity songstress appears with air-dried hair and wearing no makeup in multiple photographs in the May edition of Marie Claire magazine. And if people don’t like the way she looks in the pictures, well, she doesn’t give a hoot.

“I don’t have anything to prove anymore,” Simpson told the magazine. “What other people think of me is not my business.”

Joanna Coles, editor-in-chief of Marie Claire, said she thought Simpson was brave for putting herself out there in a way most celebrities would never dare to do. Coles added that the whole realm of makeup and hairstyling may seem trivial or even silly on the surface, but the issues raised by Simpson’s photo shoot are actually quite complicated for women all over the world.

“The expectations on young women now are unbelievably high,” Coles said. “You have to do well in college, and get a great job even in this crazy market, and have a gymnast’s body. ... But this can make women realize that it’s fine not to wear makeup. It’s fine to be yourself. It’s fine to celebrate who you are and who you want to be.”

Image: Jessica Simpson
James White / Marie Claire
Jessica Simpson appears on the cover of the May edition of Marie Claire magazine with air-dried hair and no makeup.

‘Obsession with an ideal’
Coles insisted that no discreet makeup application or photo retouching occurred at all.

“In this day and age, it would be very clear if we cheated in any way,” Coles said. “Her hair is absolutely that color ... and the fabric, if you look carefully at it, you can see every single stitch in it.”

The high level of scrutiny the photos are receiving is probably to be expected given several high-profile airbrushing scandals in recent years. One incident that garnered plenty of press coverage last summer was the apparent retouching of singer Kelly Clarkson’s body to look thinner on the cover of Self magazine.

Another headline-generating incident last November involved airbrushing to remove a baby’s fat rolls on the cover of a British parenting magazine. That example of photo retouching gone wild sparked a furor of hand-wringing and finger wagging on both sides of the Atlantic.

“The idea that babies must look more perfect — that they can’t have creases in their skin — shows the obsession with a particular ideal,” Member of Parliament Jo Swinson told the U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper. “Where does this end?”

Image: Jessica Simpson on cover of Marie Claire
Marie Claire
For her part, Simpson has had to reflect on the notion of natural beauty versus manufactured beauty in a big way in recent months. She’s traveled the world for her VH1 show, “The Price of Beauty,” speaking with dozens of women about the efforts they go through to look and feel beautiful.

On the heels of that experience, she launched a new initiative called “A Beautiful Me” in collaboration with Operation Smile, an organization that works to heal cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities in children. The Web site of Operation Smile said the initiative “encourages young people to take a personal oath to identify their inner beauty and unique qualities, recognize their strengths and realize that they can make a difference.”

Simpson’s photo shoot in Marie Claire is accompanied by conversations she had with women on the street about physical features they like about themselves. One woman she met said her mom always taught her how important it was to feel good about herself.

“You’re very blessed to have a mother who taught you to feel beautiful,” Simpson told the woman. “My mom did that for me, too. Not everyone’s that lucky.”

Hairy confessions
The magazine spread also features some funny confessions about hairstyling — and about hair care.

“If I’m in a mood to go out and feel hot and sexy, I want long hair that I can feel on my back,” Simpson said. “But I also like bed head.”

That apparently led to a discussion about hair care with both Simpson and Simpson’s hairstylist and best friend, Ken Paves.

“I’ll usually wash my hair and let it air dry wavy, but if I’m just in a hang-out mood, I won’t even wash it,” Simpson said. “I’ll wait until it smells.”

Paves elaborated in a quote posted on Marie Claire’s Web site.

“She only washes her hair about two to three times a month,” he said. “I told Jess a long time ago that you should only wash your hair a few times a week, and in between, rinse it and condition it. And her hair looks fantastic all the time.”

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