The beauty industry has long prided itself on making people feel good, but there’s one problem: Traditionally, the industry has also had a reputation for setting unattainable standards. Up until a few years ago—when the skin positivity movement on social media pushed “real” beauty to the top of marketers’ minds—nearly every skin-care and makeup ad in the glossies featured some version of a “conventionally” beautiful model with her pores Photoshopped to perfection.
Now, thanks to filters and editing apps, the rest of us can emulate these images with the flick of an iPhone screen, blurring away our own zits and scars before they ever make it to our Instagram feeds. These practices have been proven to have problematic effects on people’s mental health, which is why Selena Gomez—who has been outspoken about her own mental health struggles—decided to create Rare Beauty, a makeup brand that puts mental health and wellbeing at the forefront. And now, she’s asking other brands to do the same.
“People have felt trapped by unrealistic beauty expectations that are impossible to achieve, and Rare Beauty is about celebrating who you are and what makes you different,” says Elyse Cohen, the brand’s vice president of social impact. “We’re using makeup to shift the narrative to shape a positive conversation around mental health.”
A quick look at the data surrounding the impact that filtered images (like the ones beauty brands have traditionally used) paints a startling picture of just how important Rare Beauty’s mission is. A 2016 study of 144 girls aged 14 to 18 found that exposure to “manipulated” photos—pictures in which women had been retouched and re-shaped—directly led to lower body image. “The pervasiveness of these filtered images can take a toll on one’s self esteem, make one feel inadequate for not looking a certain way in the real world, and may even act as a trigger and lead to body dysmorphic disorder,” declared another study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“Beauty industry messaging—especially in the earlier days of Instagram and social—has [historically] promoted a barrage of images that encouraged a comparison or ideal standard,” says Katrina Gay, the national director of strategic partnerships for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). “Depression and anxiety are common for young people, and there is evidence that, at least in the past, the beauty industry has contributed to this challenge to confidence and competence, at least in the past.” She adds that accurate storytelling on social media—for example, brands speaking out about mental health and portraying diverse, real-life imagery—has “huge potential to be helpful of others’ mental health.”
Gomez, for her part, is leading the charge. She launched Rare Beauty in early September with the primary goal of “breaking down unrealistic standards of perfection.” The products—including a lightweight foundation, bold lip shades, and sparkly eyeshadow palettes—are designed to make people feel good and have fun with their makeup routine, versus feeling like there’s something about themselves that they need to change. Its first advertising campaign features un-retouched photographs of a diverse cast of real women testing the brand’s 48 foundation shades for themselves, and its Instagram page is filled with the same type of shots. Plus, in addition to using its platform to de-stigmatize mental health, the brand has committed to donating $100 million over the next 10 years (including one percent of its annual sales) to help combat loneliness and give people access to mental health services through The Rare Impact Fund.
“Selena has stepped up as a pioneering leader in the beauty industry to extend this effective way of combating stigma through inspiration, authentic experience, and introducing The Rare Impact Fund,” says Gay. And as a “pioneering leader,” Gomez is pushing for the rest of the industry to join her on her mission. Through The Rare Impact Fund, Rare Beauty partnered with NAMI to create a “StigmaFree Pledge” for the beauty industry, asking brands to come together to help end the stigma surrounding mental health. So far, 16 brands—including Drunk Elephant, Kosas, Supergoop, 25 Black Women in Beauty, Maybelline, and Josie Maran, among others—have all pledged their support.
Through the pledge, NAMI will work with brands to make internal changes that will ultimately come through in the materials they present to the public. “It’s not a one-to-one for every brand, because every brand will be on their own unique journey, but the reason why [Rare Beauty’s mental health initiatives] has been so seamless is that it’s so much a part of who we are,” says Cohen. “And the brands that have joined us so far have said that this is so much a part of who they are, and what they strive to be.” Real change is afoot, and we can’t wait to see it reflected in our Instagram feeds.
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