Towards an inclusive beauty industry

(That title sounds drier than I meant it to sound.)

Remember the This Girl Can campaign video that was launched by Sport England right at the beginning of this year? The campaign marked the beginning of a concerted effort from Sport England and a bunch of associated organizations to get more women doing physical activity, despite the naysayers – you know, ourselves and everybody else who says our bodies aren’t (yet) good enough to bare to the public in exercise or fun or a combination of both.

I actually had to look up what the video represented right now to write that paragraph. All I remember from watching it at the time is how I felt while viewing it. For a lot of women, including me, it marked a major turning point in the way we saw women’s bodies depicted doing sports and physical activity onscreen.

In it, we saw ourselves depicted in a wide array of sizes, shapes, gender expressions, abilities, races, ethnicities, classes, states of (un)dress, and – very importantly – sweatiness levels.

For the minute and a half duration of the clip, it occurred to me how absurd in comparison the marketing is for mainstream companies who are trying to sell their workout products to me. Or, more accurately, not to me – I don’t work out regularly and have an overdeveloped antipathy towards depictions of flat, smooth, sweat-free bodies in exercise scenarios, particularly when I smell a huge corporate marketing scheme.

My body will never do that, my body is fine the way it is, I don’t need my body to do that, and most of all I don’t care about how my body looks in these clothes that I’m supposed to want – and want to fit into – at all costs.

Still, I’m unused to fitness marketing that I don’t have to fight against to be included in.

While the This Girl Can campaign is certainly a piece of marketing, it’s a different kind. Possibly for the first time in my life, I wasn’t being told how to look while exercising. We’re being told that whatever we look like, however we feel, and however we do it, is good. The clip aimed at inclusivity, and it succeeded.

(If you define success as motivating me to get off the couch and exercise, then…perhaps it’s less successful. THAT’S NEITHER HERE NOR THERE.)

Similarly but in a much more fun (at least to me) vein, I was stopped in my tracks today by a video that premiered on i-D.

Look, you may not care about makeup or beauty or anything like that, but I want you to watch it, okay?

Made by i-D in collaboration with Sephora and lots of really cool-seeming models and media personalities, not to mention crew and technical personnel, the A-Z of Beauty Together clip amalgamated a whole bunch of scenes, social media movements, socio-economic classes, cultural happenings, and sites of resistance as viewed through these groups’ beauty rituals.

Like the This Girl Can vid, it had an immediate and emotional effect on me. Like the This Girl Can vid, it’s not perfect, but right now it looks like the future. If this is what being marketed at can feel like, then I am game for a bit more of it.

The beauty and fashion industry has been playing catch-up for the last five to ten-ish years, or since Instagram and alternative beauty and fashion blogs taught media-savvy fashion types that they could be the creators and high priestesses of their own dream looks and influence big media, instead of the other way around.

As a teenager I dabbled in reading fashion mags. As a young adult I swore them and high fashion off altogether, believing it all inaccessible and non-inclusive to the many, many different kinds of people who wanted to be included in fashion, who wanted to see themselves reflected at least a little bit in the industry’s hairpin twists and turns.

In 2015, much of this has changed. Fashion bloggers and Instagrammers post their daily outfits for thousands of followers/viewers, some of them designer and costly, many of them inclusive of everything from designer to vintage to Forever 21, and lots and lots of them built from trawls through bargain racks and big box stores. Yes, that’s its own evil, but as far as accessibility goes, social media has spread out influence from the tycoons to the little guys too, meaning that a way wider variety of people have been able to gain success in an elitist industry than ever before.

The industry has started to change in accordance with this. Slooooooowly. (Too slowly.)

Appropriation is still rampant, people of colour still can’t find makeup in shades made for them, differently abled people are usually nowhere to be found, femme shaming is still a thing, men who are feminine and use makeup are questioned about their sexuality and credibility, plus size people don’t have the same clothing options as their straight size counterparts, trans people want to find clothes that fit both their bodies and their genders.

Futhermore, some scenes and subcultures get more credibility and mainstream acceptability than others. People who don’t identify as feminine or masculine struggle to find styles they feel at home in. Queer invisibility exists because of assumptions made based on appearance.

In the A-Z of Beauty Together clip, many of these serious industry problems collapse in the face of subculture takeover. Everyone gets their moment. Diversity finally gets a series of real faces and bodies, all lovely, all different.

It gave me a bit of hope, you know? I mean, I know that these girls and boys exist and are making themselves look exactly as individual as they feel, but this signals that the industry might be paying more attention.

In some peoples’ eyes it’s superficial and of no consequence, but the ability to present yourself exactly as you feel you are at any given moment is a privilege that many Western straight-sized, conventionally abled, white, gender-normative consumers aren’t even aware they rely on for their individuality, even for their mental health.

So even if it’s at the hands of a big corporation like Sephora, the acknowledgement of difference feels nice. It feels like a resistance.

One thought on “Towards an inclusive beauty industry

  1. Sonta

    Awesome post! I too was extremely pumped watching those two ads. Not only was it awesome to see women of all sizes and colours but to see OLD LADIES enjoying makeup and being fabulous made me smile. <3

    Reply

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