Cosmetics and curves: one size fits all?

Cosmetics and curves: one size fits all?

An interesting piece in The New York Times ‘Why Does the Beauty Industry Ignore Curvy Models’, written by Crystal Martin gave me pause for thought this week.

While – rightly – much has been written on the lack of diversity in both beauty advertising and product provision for different skin tones there has been very little discussion on size. Curious, given that beauty products are the great leveller; mascara is mascara whether you’re a size 20 or a size 0.

Of course, Dove has forged its path based on embracing ‘real women’ but, when it comes to spokespeople, models, celebrities and ambassadors, the industry is dominated by skinny.

Sure, MAC has collaborated with Beth Ditto and Queen Latifah is the face of CoverGirl’s range for women of color but they are the exception, rather than the rule. Why?

The classic resposte, of course, and one mentioned by both Martin and Hayley Wilbur, whose article ‘Where Are the Plus-Size Women in Beauty Ads?’ precedes The New York Times piece, is that beauty ads concentrate on the face, and therefore, there’s less pressure to put different bodies under the spotlight. Essentially, the model’s waist measurement (I’m paraphrasing here), is irrelevant. Certainly if Philomena Kwao was ever to secure a beauty contract, you’d be none the wiser from a shot of that face – ‘made for make-up’, as Martin puts it.

But that’s not the whole story, for the beauty industry is so much more than make-up. And it’s no secret that several perfume ads have been banned for featuring ‘unhealthily thin’ models. Yves Saint Laurent’s Black Opium ad was ruled out by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority last June. A simple look at the controversial spot tells you all you need to know. Yes, some people are ‘naturally thin’, as Ian Twinn, Director of Public Affairs at advertising trade body ISBA put it. And who knows, maybe Kiki Willems sinks three tubs of Ben & Jerry’s a night. But people are naturally fat too. Where are they?

Perhaps it’s a case of pressure – and with that, perhaps as consumers, we should turn that question back on ourselves: why aren’t we asking for more plus size models? After sustained pressure, the fashion industry is at last embracing ‘plus size’, although their interpretation of that is somewhat different to the rest of the world’s. Can beauty get there too?

I hope so.