The CEW talk – Inclusive Beauty: embracing diversity in the beauty industry – featured a stellar panel of experts examining the lack of diversity in the beauty industry. And came to the conclusion that inclusion has to come from within the businesses themselves, rather than any superficial marketing makeover…
With Free The Birds working in categories so intimately connected with people’s mental and physical individual wellbeing –beauty and healthcare – the issue of diversity and inclusion is always on our agenda. So attending the CEW event Inclusive Beauty: embracing diversity in the beauty industry was an absolute must for us.
Christianne Cavaliere of the London College of Beauty Therapy chaired a panel of experts and advocates: Ateh Jewel, beauty digital comms guru and award-winning filmmaker; Connie Jackson, former head of Fashion Fair UK; Monica Rastogi, Estée Lauder Companies lead on diversity and cultural relevancy; Jada Sezer, life-size model and mental health advocate, and Nafisa Bakkar of Muslim lifestyle site Amaliah.com.
To understand just how far beauty – and indeed – society has come, woman of colour Connie recounted her teenage experience in the 70s visiting an Estée Lauder counter in her local department store. Only to be physically shooed away by a sales assistant, telling her “there’s nothing for people like you here” while wiping off the countertop she’d leaned on… Or even in 2001, when Ateh went to get her permanent role signed off with the head of a notable magazine company she’d been interning with, only to be asked what Ateh (a diplomats daughter brought up in Mayfair) thought about gang culture in South London? And now that she was so educated, did that make her feel more White…?
The mind literally boggles.
"Social media gives people of all backgrounds a voice without having to go via gatekeepers. No single editor or creative director now gets to choose what's the face of beauty."
The situation has definitely changed for the better. The panellists, particularly Jada, Nafisa and Ateh whose mix of campaigning and style-setting has come to prominence through social media, cited blogging, vlogging and instagramming as making beauty more democratic. It gives people of all backgrounds a voice without having to go via the type of gatekeepers mentioned above. No single editor or creative director now gets to choose what’s the face of beauty.
People have the power to choose their own tribe. And it’s opened up numerous avenues for niche beauty brands to go to them directly without huge capital investment. As Connie put it: consumers have started asking, which brand loves me unconditionally? And there is a huge market in those people outside the ‘mainstream’.
Jada recounted how, despite being a fashion fanatic, she was a size 16-18. And there literally wasn’t any fresh fashion geared towards people like her. So she reworked Vogue shoots featuring herself as a ‘role model’. And disrupted fashion in the process, becoming the face of London’s first plus size fashion week in 2013. But it was very much community-led, rather than brands leading the way. Something Nafisa felt was also true of Muslim community representation.
The panel agreed that avoiding tokenisation or inadvertent stereotyping was the biggest challenge for brands even though representation has improved immeasurably. Lâncome’s My Shade My Power campaign and L’Oréal’s #yourstruly foundation campaigns featuring women of various skin tone intensity (and the odd bloke), demonstrates it’s becoming beauty business as usual. Not to mention Estée Lauder appointing African-American ballerina Misty Copeland global spokesmodel for their Modern Muse fragrance and YSL naming Zoë Kravitz Global Make-up Ambassador.
But the panel felt that there was still much to do on numerous other fronts. Those fronts being age, size, gender orientation, class and (dis)ability. It’s still pretty much unthinkable to use older, heavier people of diverse shapes and sizes in a natural way. The recent Lloyds Banking Group’s Reflecting Modern Britain research found that only 19% of people featured in advertising are from minority groups, and of that 19% only 0.06% portrayed are disabled or from the LGBT community, 0.29% are single parents and 6% over-65s. Even though disabled people represent 17.9% of the population, the LGBT community 1.7%, single parents 25% and over-65s 18%. Jillian Mercado, the American fashion model represented by IMG Models is a rarity. As a wheelchair user, she is one of the few professional models who has a physical disability in the fashion industry.
And that’s not even mentioning important, extra beauty nuances like height, body type and hair texture: where the pervasive beauty standard of silky straight ‘princess hair’ still reigns supreme. Enough that Ateh’s curly-haired, mixed-race, young daughters still felt ‘other’ in 2017. Even while the panel roundly agreed that diversity for younger people is not optional, it’s just normal. A new generation of consumers simply demand better. And brands must respond.
"If the companies working on brands aren't diverse, it's far more likely that what they deliver won't be inclusive. And, even worse, offensively off the mark like Baby Dove's breastfeeding ads. That the advertising industry for example skews unrepresentatively young and white, with working mums a rare creature, makes it unlikely a coincidence."
The panel was 100% in agreement that diversity is driven by the level of inclusion within the businesses involved in branding. If the companies working on brands aren’t diverse, it’s far more likely that what they deliver won’t be inclusive. And, even worse, offensively off the mark like Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner/Black Lives Matter and Baby Dove’s breastfeeding ads. That the advertising industry for example skews unrepresentatively young and white, with working mums a rare creature, makes it unlikely a coincidence
As Lauder’s Monica Rastogi put: visuals and campaigns are one thing, but diversity comes from the internal make up of beauty businesses, about the training and composition of visual merchandisers and salespeople and more besides. It’s not about checking a box; it’s about the business actually representing society in terms of its make up and mindset. Connie also made the point that some of the best people she had ever worked with were white and old and male, but definitely ‘got it’. Attitude most definitely matters.
And at heart that is what true inclusion is about. A recognition that we can all do better and think about what work we do, who we hire, how we listen to people who have different lived experience and what impacts we have on the world. It’s something we all can – and need to be – be activists about.