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What will it take to change the beauty norm?

Posted on June 12 2020

Muting yourself on Instagram for 24 hours, so you can “learn & reflect” is easy. One click, black box posted & voila – you’ve proven to the world you’re not racist. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh – I’m certain that everyone (including me) who posted the black out post had good intentions and to take a clear stand for equality.  

Great, we’ve established that. Now what?

The beauty industry can have a big impact, if we’re willing to. Beauty is our business and the images & models we use set the norm & pecking order for what we as a society consider beautiful.

I did a quick scan last night on social media. I looked at 18 brands – 6 high-end brands selling products for 100 USD or more, 6 were middle price range and 6 sold products for 20 USD or less. I checked their latest 100 posts & counted how many times they showed a white model, an African American model and how often they shared a post with both. (Before we go on I’m aware that the data is not enough to statistically prove anything, but it gives an indication on what we’re dealing with.)

Looking at all brands combined, an African American model was used 13% of the time. If you divide the brands according to price point you see that the high-end brands only used African American models 7%, middle prices brands 15% of the time & the most affordable brands 18% of the time. (This includes posts from the last 2 weeks, which over all, contained much more diverse images than previous posts).

What does this mean – what are we the beauty telling the world? We’re telling a story that the most desired beauty is white and the less you pay the darker it gets - a grim reflection of reality.

There’s a quick & simple solution to this - use more divers models in marketing. If we as an industry show a spectrum of models representing beauty, the norm and ideal of beauty will shift from white to colorful.

This is now a new idea and my bet is that we will see a change, especially among the indie beauty brands. They’re more agile & social awareness is usually part of their brand DNA. The problem is they have small marketing budgets, and people will expect them to change, so overall this will not push the norm that far.

Real change happens only if & when the large high- end brands change. As long as exclusive brands keep 93% of their models white, it will not matter what the brands “below” do. The message is still - “the most exclusive club is white”, regardless of who’s buying their products.

Will they change? I hope so, but I can’t say for certain. All I know is that 5 out of 6 of the high-end brands I looked at acknowledge the protests by posting one “racism is bad post”, other than that their feeds still look pretty pale.

What’s your view?

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