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Diversity in Beauty Modeling

The Beauty Industry Needs to Catch Up and Employ More Diverse Models

Historically, models have rarely been representative of the average woman. More frequently than not, since the advertising industry began marketing products in the mid-20th century, models have often displayed the same uniform features: proportional faces and bodies, glowing skin, sharp cheekbones, and flowing locks of hair.

It's no surprise why models have looked a certain way: advertisers want models to appear perfect so that the consumer has a goal, a standard to aspire to. By preying on the customers' insecurities, advertisers suggest that one requires their product to be beautiful — or more latently, to look like the posing model. But more recently — particularly in the fashion industry — agencies have been hiring more diverse models, and brands have been booking more women who represent what we actually look like. Models like Ashley Graham, Philomena Kwao, Iskra Lawrence, and Barbie Ferreira are revolutionizing the fashion world with their bodies and even diverse faces. Counter-intuitively, though, the beauty industry is lagging behind its catwalking cousins, specifically when it comes to curvier models.

The New York Times recently explored the lack of plus-size models in the beauty industry and boiled it down to one origin: "the commodification of beauty." For at least a century, the idealized woman has shared the same features, and being thin was traditionally paramount. But even as the standard has slowly shifted in fashion, beauty ads remains in the past. As The Times points out:

"Fashion companies may garner publicity and good will when they feature curvy models. Ostensibly, beauty companies would not get that same bottom-line boost, because bodies aren't involved in their advertising imagery."

So why aren't beauty campaigns treated with the same veneration when they employ women who do not necessarily fall within the industry "standard" of beauty? Likely, it is simply because an atypical model is not what the consumer expects, which would potentially be deterring.

Or perhaps curvy women are not hired because there isn't an incentive. One suggestion made by The Times is that curvy models do not have as much recognition and therefore are not as marketable. Of course, there are exceptions, but most are well-established models. Graham may be frequently employed but still not to the same degree as her svelter colleagues. Still, she scored a nail polish line for Sephora, and the colors are named in celebration of her curves.

Regardless of why there is a lack of inclusivity in beauty, the only way it will change is if we, the consuming public, embraces it. There are some brands making strides forward, and we hope their competitors will follow their leads. Clean and Clear hired Jazz Jennings, a transgender teen, for a national campaign. However, she (like Graham) was already widely known before she was hired. Katie Meade, who has Down syndrome, was named as the face of Beauty & Pin-Ups for its Fearless campaign. Though Meade is not as widely known as Jennings, she is a Special Olympian and an ambassador for a Down syndrome nonprofit named Best Buddies International.

When you book a beauty campaign, it's a sign you've made it in the modeling industry. If we're seeing more diverse models in fashion who have "made it," why aren't they also booking beauty campaigns? I don't have an answer, but there is hope in social media. As more beautiful women of all shapes and sizes have a platform to showcase their personality, more brands will take note. After all, the success of a beauty campaign comes down to profitability. Surely companies will start to recognize that hundreds of curvaceous Instagram models boast hundreds of thousands of followers who would celebrate and shop a collection from their favorite plus-size star. Take Barbie Ferreira, who has 315,000 loyal Instagram followers and starred in several fashion campaigns, like ASOS and Aerie.

The beauty industry, for its part, has been progressive in some aspects of diversity — just not as progressive when it comes to body types. Nor is it totally to blame: cultural notions of beauty need to change before the advertisers will fully adapt. But it will take a renegade beauty company to realize that size standards are actually transforming as is evident in the fashion world. At the end of the day, women want to see models who look like them also sell their cosmetics — not just their clothes.

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