A glimpse behind the curtain of selling beauty by the decade.
Beauty Marketing, Y2K Style
When I started working in the beauty business, it was around the year 2000. At that time, it was understood that beauty’s ideal age was 25 years old. If a model was younger, she was made up to look older, about 25. If a person reading the magazine was older, then she wanted to look like she was 25. At 25, a person was fertile, skin was plump, there was a confidence of moving past the teen years, but not a desperation associated with the notion of turning 30. At 25, chances are you didn’t have graying roots or nasolabial wrinkles. If you were an ideal model, you didn’t have too much sun damage that would cause facial discoloration or unsightly hyperpigmentation. When you were 25 and an ideal model, you didn’t yet have stretch marks or cellulite or varicose veins. Ah, 25. Beauty’s golden age. Back then, the ideal target consumer for beauty products was 18-34. Over 35? You were dead to beauty marketers. No one was interested in targeting you, because you simply didn’t matter. At 25, Cosmopolitan Magazine said you could be a modern single career woman! You could be a fun fearless female! You could conquer the world!
Most of the general public wasn’t aware of the extent of brands’ PhotoShop manipulation until Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty went viral. Two parallel commentaries arose when that campaign was first released. The first was from the general public. It was overwhelming praise for Dove’s unveiling of what the beauty industry had done to manipulate consumers for years. The second was from the beauty industry. It was dubious as to whether Dove’s bold campaign would actually sell more Dove products. And so the beauty industry was slow to follow. It wanted to wait and see if consumers would vote with their dollars to support an ‘anti-beauty beauty company’. It took some time, but soon the democratic diversity appreciation movement called all beauty tactics into question. Why aren’t there more dark shades of foundation available? Why aren’t bigger girls a part of your ad campaigns? Why aren’t boys seen as beautiful? The answers were simple, but never before discussed. The answer was always money. Dark shades didn’t sell as well as lighter shades of foundation, and so they were eliminated. Bigger girls weren’t seen as aspirational, no one wanted to look like them, and they didn’t sell product. Lesbians, gays, transgenders, and alternative lifestylers were too controversial. The Bible belt would be outraged. Too risky. Can’t afford to go there.
Despite the daring artistic culture, at that time, the beauty industry was filled with stuffed shirts and risk-averse businesspeople that for the most part made decisions based on the bottom line. Things were done the way that they were done, and that was understood from the top of the organization on down.
Beauty Marketing, 2010 Style
Fast forward a decade to 2010. The Sex and the City TV series has ended, and its big-screen release in 2008 was considered a commercial success. Western culture began to embrace beauty over 40…albeit a thin, white, urban, fashion-obsessed impression of that beauty. Older women everywhere felt empowered! Forty was the new 25! You didn’t need a man to be happy, but if you wanted one, it would be on your terms! Buy the Manolos, you deserve it! Buy the Louis Vuitton bag, it will complete you! C’mon girls, keep up with the Kardashians! On YouTube, upstart Michelle Phan would revolutionize worldwide beauty culture with DIY beauty tutorials that empowered girls to reveal their bare faces and be their own makeup artists. Instagram made its debut, and a year later Snapchat released. Hello, selfie sticks, selfie filters, selfie blogs, and smartphone apps for just about everything. In the beauty industry, the likes of Sephora saw a different kind of competition in the rise of subscription beauty boxes. Birchbox and ipsy would soon transform the way women sampled and shared makeup, creating a monthly frenzy of trial and churn. This decade was defined by a splintering in the marketplace. Suddenly it became ok to shop prestige, mass, and every retail outlet in between. The supermodel ideal crashed and burned. Everything you thought you knew about carbs and grains and fat in your diet changed. In essence, the media migration from TV and print started flocking to phones and tablets. The individual was better served, and everyone became a content creator. And somewhere, somehow in the midst of it all, you clung onto your sanity. You enjoyed dabbling in the hype, at types getting caught up in the media whirlwind, but something inside you felt empty.
Beauty Marketing, 2020+ Style
Fast forward another decade. It’s now 2021, and we’re finding ourselves in a whole different place. A place precipitated by forces other than Madison Avenue and the consumption machine. In fact, we find ourselves questioning our previous priorities, all the things we thought were so important. The things we bought and the way we looked and keeping up with appearances are now so obviously statements of vanity and luxury. Perhaps some of us had started longing for a different kind of ‘more’ even before the global pandemic of 2020. The rise of yoga, plant medicine, the natural movement, meditation, environmental issues, and spirituality over religion had just started peaking. So many of us had been searching for answers, but our minds were all too often muddled by daily obligations and mundane busy-ness to dedicate the effort to find answers to all our burning questions. We were also faced with news that seemed to reinforce the unpleasant side of humanity rather than its goodness. And so now, we continued to ponder our questions even further. We long to understand our purpose. Why are we here? What does it all mean? Rather than acquiring more, how can I become more?
Perhaps this is the time-out we’ve all been secretly wanting and needing. It seems that this pandemic is a crossroads to test our character to its core. Will we stand in fear or hope? Will our minds be filled with anxiety or calm? Will we allow stress to tear us apart or strengthen our resolve? The line in the sand is drawn. Where will you stand?
Beauty Marketing’s Backlash
The fact is that many of us have a love-hate relationship with the concept of beauty. We’ve become conditioned to rate people’s beauty as a superficial contest. The most beautiful women in the world? The most beautiful men in the world? Magazines used to sell out based on those stories. We would roll our eyes but then also secretly beat ourselves up for not achieving such status or recognition in life. In the past, we beauty marketers would pour through model books and headshots to hire the tallest, skinniest, most asymmetrical models we possibly could. We would evaluate A-list actresses and secretly sneer at the ones who in person had such noticeable flaws – acne, wrinkles, age spots, thin lips, sagging jowls, frizzy hair, ugh! It would drive us crazy. It made our post-production work that much more difficult! Back then, retouching was a given. There would be no way we would have a model represent our brand where the entire photograph wasn’t completely redone. Hair color, skin color, contouring, everything was altered. And when the images came out in the magazines, every girl wanted to look just like that picture. They would paste the pictures up in their bathrooms, on their vanity mirrors. They would bring the pictures to their hair salons to copy the cut. These phake-ographs became the beauty aspirations of a generation.
Now, it seems the pendulum has swung in the other direction, thanks to social media and exploding interest in spontaneous user-generated content. Glimpses into the real lives of real people are the new form of entertainment. Perfectionism has been replaced by authenticity. Inclusion and representation matter. Big planet-killer brands are boycotted and obsolete. It’s cooler to shop indie brands that align with values. Beauty becomes more intrinsically tied to you being the best possible you and not someone else. Real full-spectrum wellness is the ultimate goal.
Now, Inner Beauty is Real Beauty
Today, I sense that there is a greater appreciation for the human being. For kindness, empathy, support, and compassion. Today, I see a movement toward recognition of inner beauty. That which has the power to warm the heart and light up the soul. Today, I see the potential for all people to come together, connected for a common purpose. To be beautiful, and to spread human beauty to all corners of the earth. My wish is for the pendulum to rest in a place where every human respects and loves every other human, regardless of outward appearance. I dream that all humans will find peace with themselves, so that the restless feelings of emptiness, anger, bitterness, and hatred subside, morphing into harmonious resolution, orchestrating a brighter, more mellifluous future. I visualize humans that are unified to solve collective problems, expending precious energy in collaboration instead of competition. When beauty becomes synonymous with love of self and love of others, that’s when I see humans, being.