Redefine Pretty – Tackling diversity in the influencer industry

Diversity within the fashion & beauty industry (or lack thereof) is never far from the centre of industry discourse. Following the new wave of intersectional feminism, we have seen female consumers in particular, demand increased realism and diversity in talent casting from brands; however influencer marketing is now also under the microscope. 

Em Ford’s new project ‘Redefine Pretty’ is acting as a corner stone of this conversation. Em, a beauty influencer who blogs under the name My Pale Face, rose to fame when she shot a YouTube video entitled ‘You Look Disgusting’. The video looked at some of the comments Em (who developed acne in her early twenties) had received about her appearance on social media. The refreshing and honest video went viral, achieving nearly 30 million views.

Three years on, Em’s new project, backed by YouTube Creators for Change, focuses on the negative impact the current beauty and fashion industry is having on the female psyche due to the lack of diversity presented by brands. Alongside the compelling societal narrative Em describes in her project, she has also enlisted a Professor of Human Brain Research, who echoed the work of Dr Anjan Chatterjee (The Aesthetic Brain). The key discovery has been that we are psychologically predisposed to find pleasure in seeing the faces of those we have been socially conditioned to find attractive through advertising, celebrity culture and the trickle-down effect this has in our lives. Conversely, seeing faces deemed to be less commonly or conventionally attractive causes psychological distress – even in some instances echoing neurological patterns of trauma.

We therefore need to consider the responsibility of brands and influencers in ensuring that their audiences are exposed to diversity. Our current perceptions of beauty as a society are based on false realities, to the extent that less conventional aesthetics cause us distress. It is only through activism in aesthetic change, driven by brands and influencers, that we can begin to combat the socially conditioned perspective of ‘attractiveness’ and form a collectively more inclusive view of modern beauty. 

Victoria’s Secret CMO and the Gen Z backlash

Despite this compelling scientific evidence, it is disappointing to see that so many brands have yet to understand the societal responsibility implicit in their casting choices. Em’s video coincides with Ed Razek (Chief Marketing Officer of Victoria’s Secret) coming under fire for his comments about trans and plus size models, and how he had not included them within the renowned Victoria’s Secret Fashion show because they are not part of the ‘fantasy’ that a modern-day audience wants to consume.

His archaic and offensive comments are totally at odds with the trends that are being noted about Generation Z, the very people he is trying to target with his show. The Future Laboratory commented in a recent report that ‘Generation Z are showing up their forebears with their activist and conscious attitudes towards each other and to the world at large. They are fighting back against social injustices to address the causes of their anxiety’. In another report they site that Generation Z are ‘dissatisfied with the world they have inherited’ and ‘rather than succumbing to passivity, Generation Z are intent on setting a new activism-inspired agenda’. In order to survive in a contemporary landscape, Victoria’s Secret will need to consider the consumer at the heart of their business model. 

New activist attitudes

Indeed, the consumer is increasingly taking on a greater role in marketing planning; with brands having to consider their audience as active participants in their narrative, rather than passive recipients of messaging.

Em’s video ‘Redefine Pretty’, which aims to negate the idea that only women deemed by society as ‘perfect’ should be included within advertising campaigns and championed by brands, is a perfect example of the rejection of passivity in place of an activist attitude. ‘Redefine Pretty’ aims to combat the blind eye that has been turned to the lack of diversity within an extremely lucrative market.

This issue is particularly prevalent in influencer marketing. Brands are being accused of selecting influencers that conform to western standards of beauty, thus creating influencer campaigns that are not reflective of people of varying colour, sexuality, age or those with disabilities. Clothing brand Revolve recently found themselves in hot water when their annual influencer ‘Revolve Around The World’ trip to Thailand (which featured the likes of Aimee Song, Camila Coelho, and Sincerely, Jules) did not include any plus size individuals or women of colour. Immediately, social media users expressed their collective activism creating the hashtag #RevolveSoWhite, voicing their outrage and concern that these individuals are still marginalised within influencer marketing.

But what does this mean for brands, and what can be done to improve the reflection of diversity within the fashion and beauty industry? Debika Ray, founder and editor of Clove, asks the question: ‘In this globalised era, should brands be thinking of minority and diasporic groups less as niche markets and more as a new global mainstream?’. Of course, this should be the aim. Rather than this statement being seen as a ‘progressive view’, one would hope that this will eventually become the norm within the industry. 

Influencer Marketing and inclusivity

Looking at influencer marketing specifically, brands should strive to embrace a variety of influencers as part of their campaigns, making a conscious effort to seek out diversity regardless of ‘brand ideals’. It is important for influencer proposals to be challenged in instances that the roster of talent is not representative of the many faces of ‘beauty’, contributing to a positive impact on the mental health of today’s generation, who have been raised in a social media obsessed era. Jessica Smith, Creative Researcher at LS:N Global stresses that this approach must be holistic and fully incorporated into a brand’s business model. Jessica also urges brands to be careful that campaigns promoting inclusivity are genuine, rather than profit driven, which activist consumers in Generation Z are likely to pick up on.

Fenty Beauty is a brand that has received much praise in embracing a more holistic and inclusive approach to not only casting, but also product development. The brand’s creator: singer Rihanna, strives to champion diversity through her product offering, advertising campaigns as well as the brand’s influencer marketing strategy. Producing an extensive range of 40 foundation tones to accommodate a variety of skin colours, ranging from a pale shade that can be worn by Albino women to shades that suit darker skinned women (who have often been forgotten and excluded when it comes to beauty products), Rihanna’s makeup is helping to pave the way for a more inclusive beauty industry.

Hopefully, a reflection of diverse cultures, sexualities, religions and body types within advertising campaigns specifically pertaining to the fashion and beauty industry will help to revolutionise the way the current generation perceive beauty. Dr Anjan believes that more diversity reflected in society will help to expand ‘our concept of facial beauty’, because we will be ‘exposed to a breadth of images, both in real life and through the media’ which illustrate more normality rather than just perfection.

By Mila Brislin, Influence Manager at Cream