I absolutely love beauty products. I’m serious. Nothing thrills me quite so much as a fresh lipstick bullet or an innovative face mask.
But I’m also prone to some fun overthinking ‘n’ overanalyzing of everything, which when snuggled down next to the “beauty world” can make for some uncomfortable bedfellows. I mean, not only are there individual issues with, let’s say, consumerism and misogyny and racism and making-people-feel-bad-about-themselves, the whole beauty industry is built on some problematic terrain.
If “beauty” is, in essence, an aspirational concept — and achieving it is the “aim,” and the means to this end is (basically) buying stuff — then the problem can be seen pretty clearly. People are all encouraged to have the same goal, and to achieve it through the same methods. People are being encouraged to be, and look, exactly the same.
Now I know what you’re thinking: that’s wrong. All anyone can talk about nowadays (aside from “empowerment,” but the less said on that the better) is diversity, right? Weeeeell … kinda.
Diversity is certainly a buzzword at the moment, and on the surface that seems like a Good Thing. People who have spent their whole lives struggling to find public figures who were in any way relatable to them start actually seeing dark girls, and fat girls, and trans girls, and disabled girls, and old girls all included as equally aspirational counterparts to their model sisters.
This is undeniably beneficial, not just to the diverse consumers who feel more validated, but to all consumers who are made to appreciate the beautiful variety of humankind.
If “diversity” is flavor of the month, then that’s the easiest route to money-making. An honest desire to include the beautiful range of humans may not come into it at all.
Well, that’s the hope, isn’t it? Companies wouldn’t just use the broad, vague, abstract concept of diversity to lure in customers, would they? But you have to remember — companies are about money-making first and foremost. Sometimes, they’re not really about much else.
And if “diversity” is flavor of the month, then that’s the easiest route to money-making. An honest desire to see minority representation may not even come into it at all.
Take the recent controversy of L’Oreal and Munroe Bergdorf. I’m sure there are more eloquent summaries of this online, but the gist of the situation is that Bergdorf, hired as L’Oreal’s first transgender model, spoke out after the Charlottesville awfulness saying she believes all white people are racist.
I’m not here to discuss the validity of this claim (so you can all breathe a sigh of relief on that). L’Oreal, however, was not on Bergdorf's side, and fired her from a campaign that was supposed to celebrate diversity.
So, you’ll forgive my skepticism about whether diversity is actually about the promoting of difference, and more about a guaranteed way to make some money, wrapped up nicely in an image of progressiveness and inclusivity.
Be diverse, perhaps. But not that diverse. (All animals are equal, etc., etc.)
Anyone with a skeptical eye towards marketing and brainwashing and needless consumerism is likely plagued with doubts about the beauty industry. Because even if it’s based on art and self-expression, let’s never forget that it’s still just that: an industry.
And while messing around with makeup is fun, and taking care of your skin can make you feel better about being alive, I guess it’s always important to be mindful about the aesthetic choices you’re making. In an industry (or, let’s face it, a world) always intensely focused on the what, every now and then let’s at least try to be cognizant of the why.