How Do We Support Feminism In The Beauty Industry?
An oft-used phrase when discussing physical appearance is, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” And yet only four percent of women worldwide would use the word “beautiful” when describing themselves. Women all over the world are spending untold hours taking pictures of themselves and putting the best filter on those images, yet they still find that individual adjective far from their reach. Why is that?
Well, when you think about what we’re spoon-fed as “true beauty,” it isn’t hard to see why. Celebrities and models—yes, those women who have hair stylists and makeup artists at the ready and the finest products on Earth at their disposal—are whom we’re told are the most gorgeous beings on the planet. They’re strewn all over our magazines, twirling across our television screens, and snapping #nomakeup pictures on social media.
However there are some brands that are helping to combat this instability. Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, launched in 2004, is still one of the industry’s most radical (yes, it’s considered revolutionary to simply be yourself). In fact, it was the four percent statistic above that inspired their April 2015 “Choose Beautiful” campaign. Many called the movement forced and even divisive; the ads are somewhat pandering. But at the end of the day, most of the controversy seemed to come from those opposed to women showing how they truly feel about themselves.
It’s also important to remember that our standard for beauty is not just any old celebrity or model either; much of what we define as universally attractive depends on skin color and size. In September of last year, a critic for the New York Times started a firestorm when she deemed Viola Davis “less classically beautiful” than Kerry Washington. It raised the question of what “classic beauty” truly means; and though the phrase is not something we all ascribe to, it is unfortunately what we are given day-in and day-out with the often white women that huge beauty corporations tend to showcase. Messages uplifting black beauty—like Beyoncé’s “I like my Negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils” and “I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros”—are so few and far between. We are starved for new, unaltered, and uniquely ethnic representations of beauty.
Size has also become one of the most important topics in the beauty industry today, and one that plays an equally critical role in fashion. The term “plus-size” is one that is close to being banned altogether, as many models, brands, and bloggers opt for the term “curvy” to describe their bodies. Models Tess Holliday, Toccara Jones, Nadia Aboulhosn, and Ashley Graham are just a few leading the beauty size revolution, showing everyone that it’s utterly acceptable to be above a size eight and in the public eye. And it’s a strange crusade, given the fact that the average U.S. woman wears a size 12 to 14. If only more companies were willing to differentiate fantasy from reality, like clothing brand Aerie. With their recently launched “No Retouching” campaign, they aim to prove that no woman is perfect and that one doesn’t have to be physically “perfect” to be beautiful. Another instance in which logic and truth beget a seemingly radical concept.
Feminism is about choice, and we have no shortage of choices in 2016; brands are consistently using feminism as a marketing tool. But options are nothing without knowledge and clarity; we may have alternatives for every single process, product, and look on Earth, but it’s important to remember that the beauty industry thrives on our dollars. We’re inculcated with mixed messages, at once imploring us to buy a cream that’ll turn us into the best version of ourselves and encouraging us to embrace our natural beauty. Actresses like Renée Zellweger are chastised for getting plastic surgery, while countless women on Instagram garner hundreds of thousands of likes (and sometimes earn a lot of money) when they display their often doctored and scantily clad bodies. Women like Legally Blonde‘s Elle Woods are seen as stupid, while women who choose not to wear makeup are seen as not taking enough pride in their appearance. Confusing, right?
Well, that’s the point. When we’re unsure, we spend. When we believe our beauty is tied to what’s trending and is contingent on how well we resemble the hottest celebrity of the moment, we spend money to get that look. It’s an expensive race that’s ultimately exhausting. So try to use your dollars wisely. Best revenge is your paper.
Supporting brands that are looking to empower, and affirming ourselves and our varied definitions of beauty in the media are the ways to facilitate progress. And if beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, then we also need to be a little kinder to our own reflections. Beauty isn’t one-dimensional or a singular vision, but instead a multifaceted and kaleidoscopic sight—as different and awesome as we all are.
Main image by Kathryn Chadason. Additional image via I Heart Berlin.