Keeping it real: why the beauty industry mustn’t ‘sell self-consciousness’

When The Good Place actor Jameela Jamil attacked the Kardashians for ‘selling self-consciousness’ in an interview with UK news reader Krishnan Guru Murthy, the comments section went wild. Add in a controversial magazine cover and thought-provoking Instagram post and it looks like we need to have a whole lotta discussion about body positivity.

Yes, last week, MAC hit the headlines for posting lip pics on its Instagram account without digital alterations, meaning facial hair was clearly visible. Meanwhile, the UK edition of Cosmopolitan debuted its first ever plus size cover star, Tess Holliday. Both essentially broke the internet with trolls galore taunting those who were applauding the Lauder-owned make-up brand and the Hearst-run publication for their contribution to more representative imagery.

Let’s start with the Cosmo cover. Holliday’s fans were delighted; Piers Morgan was not – accusing the magazine of promoting obesity (I’m paraphrasing). Morgan’s comments are problematic on so many levels – perhaps first, because so many people agreed. And no wonder. We’ve all been conditioned to think of fat as bad for so very long, and so very often that it is difficult to take a step back and question our prejudice. But we must.

And here’s why. If seeing fat people in the media ‘encourages obesity’ then why has obesity grown thus far even though the imagery we see is of almost exclusively stick-thin women? You could counter that size zero models are blamed for a rise in eating disorders but I would say that is equally incorrect. No, both are due to our continued, dogged promotion of one beauty standard, and one beauty standard only (and one which is virtually unattainable at that).

“Women are being bombarded with self-hatred and we are encouraged to hate ourselves and hate the way we look and criticise ourselves and think about our aesthetic all day long,” Jamil points out and it’s this, so very this, that is the problem.

Digital alteration of imagery is bad for our mental health. A lack of representation is bad for our mental health. MAC, Urban Decay (another brand recently praised for keeping it real on the ‘gram), Dove and CVS are working to diversify and demystify the imagery we see on a daily basis and they should be applauded for doing so. And Boots has played an ace with its latest ad campaign, which says it all: ‘it’s not just how it makes you look, it’s how it makes you feel’.

As an industry focused almost entirely on the outside, we need to take a long hard look in the mirror. We need to make sure our definition of beauty is broad and that we convey that in our marketing stories. Going forward, we need to sell self-love not self-consciousness. That’s beauty.