According to a recent report, 60% of people felt that the beauty industry did not truly represent them. But how fair are the participants’ responses, and is comprehensive representation actually possible?
THE CONTINUING PROBLEM OF REPRESENTATION
You can’t deny that the issue of representation in the beauty industry has been on the agenda for quite some time. Giving credit where it is due, though, the industry has been responding in a positive way. Now, the beauty space can probably offer a strong argument that it has, and still is, doing more than any other market to promote inclusive and diverse representations. However, a recent report still said that 60% of people did not feel personally represented by the health and beauty industries.
What does this response actually mean, though? It seems reasonable to assume that when people respond in this way, what they are saying is ‘that doesn’t look like or represent me and people I associate with’ It is about a lack of inclusion for their particular self-image and physical body type. Considering the strength of the movement towards a body-positive approach in the beauty industry, this is a worrying response. Not so much because of a concern about a continued lack of representation of diversity but because the efforts being made seem to be still leaving people feeling isolated.
THE PROBLEM OF BEING TOO DIVERSE?
To represent a diverse group of consumers clearly means that you need to feature them. Practically speaking, that necessitates featuring parts of our diverse culture in campaigns. The continued development of, for example, products for specific skin tones means the imagery surrounding the marketing must reflect the appropriate consumer. Similarly, when trying to promote products that support the needs of consumers from a specific gender, it’s not unreasonable to show how those products will feature in the lives of the consumers that identify with the brand/product. Diversity-based campaigns require diverse representation. The perception of inclusion or exclusion by the individuals responding to the report is therefore bound to be linked to personal exposure, confirmation bias and many other factors.
Despite all the positive moves for change made by the beauty industry, though, it would seem that there is still room for more. The report does make a very clear request for increased representation of age, disabled, and larger body types, for example. This is a reasonable expectation, and again, to be totally fair to the industry, the beauty sphere is trying to respond with positive representation, as recent campaigns by many of the larger brands have shown.
Underlying all these responses is a series of bigger questions about issues such as corporate responsibility, social change, whether brands should address these problems, and, to some extent, the question of what the ideal of ‘beauty’ means to consumers. Interestingly, the report showed that ethnic minorities were less inclined to feel under-represented than white respondents. That does seem to upend the expectations of representation bias.
So, there seems to be no winning here. Anyone involved with the beauty industry knows that it has taken monumental strides towards inclusive and diverse representation and could be forgiven for wanting to throw in the towel. They shouldn’t, though. The report shows some rather contradictory results, but importantly, it said that 58% of people wanted beauty brands to be ethical. Climate change, body-positive representation and diversity and inclusion were all high on the agenda. Here at Lavandi Talent, we think that seems a positive testament that the work done so far is raising awareness.
Is there still work to do? Yes, of course there is. Will that work ever be finished? Well, in a world with an infinite variety of consumers, it seems that the old adage about not being able to please all the people all the time is always going to be true. However, there is the target of changing the perceptions of a significant amount of that 60% to aim for. That will take time. So, perhaps we need to accept that there is only so much that can be done at one time and celebrate just how far things have come.
The beauty industry, as everyone who works in it knows, is one of the most challenging spaces to be in. It is frustrating and delightful in equal measure. Most importantly, it is filled with people who want to make a career in this exciting industry. If you are one of those people, call us.