The beauty industry has been selling the notions of desirability, youthfulness and “perfection” for as long as it has been around. But now get excited because L’Oreal has decided that the hegemonic reign of young, white beauty is no more. That’s right. Now, thanks to the #BeautyForAll campaign, slim, able-bodied, cis-gendered people of all ages and complexions can be considered beautiful…as long as they still adhere to traditional quips like clear skin and symmetrical features that we already categorize as beautiful.
This ad claims that at L’Oreal, they believe in the power of beauty. I definitely see truth to this statement but I challenge who holds the power. Who holds the power to determine what is beautiful? Who holds the power to control whether they are seen as beautiful? While there is an illusion that consumers can choose to buy products and manipulate their appearance, it is ultimately the cosmetic companies who tell consumers what they want to buy. Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly 4 summarizes this idea nicely in the quote “ads sell more than products. They sell values. They sell images. They sell concepts of love, of sexuality, of success. And perhaps most important, of normalcy.”
The 2 minute clip specifically makes an effort to include stories of characters’ lifestyles and relate them back to the so called power-of-beauty. But I think the term beauty is being misused here. It’s problematic to accredit beauty as the sole source of success for each character. If feeling beautiful is synonymous to a content, confident perception of yourself – I am all for that. However the current monopoly over beauty is not conducive to building an internal feeling of beauty. Instead, it is made to work from the outside in. Change your appearance externally and you will feel better internally. But what happens when people realize that makeup cannot change you? The way beauty effects each character in this ad also shows some interesting trends to note. Beauty for women relates to romance (presumably with a man), weddings and motherhood. Contrastingly, for the two male characters, beauty is about moving up in power or seeing a woman as a literal object of desire. These mini narratives on each character are meant to strike our emotions as viewers but I can’t get over why the person beauty can help be the “chosen one” had to be Pierre, the one white male in the over-exhausted powerful businessman image. I’m confused as to why little Carolina is taught so young that for her to have a good first impression at school she must conform to be beautiful, a struggle that girls continue to face all their lives, especially as youth slips away. Then Paolo and Louise remind us that old age need not be celebrated in its own right for enduring and growing wiser but rather the most important goal is really “to feel twenty again.”
To speak on the inclusion of cross-cultural actors, I say thank you L’Oreal for trying to be diverse. It’s nice of you to decide to share beauty with the less fortunate Eastern World. Unfortunately I fear your depictions are unrealistic as the Asian, African, South American and South Asian people you are supposedly targeting in your commercial likely live in cities that look more similar to the urban backdrop than the exotic landscapes that were chosen for filming. Sorry to disappoint. It is a common misconception that people of colour each have a distinct homogenous culture to which they belong. Through all the reinforcements of this belief, it has become hard for the public to separate individuals from the background we are stereotypically inclined to imagine them in. For example, the Asian woman in the serene forest or the Indian people surrounded by golden temples dressed in bright fabrics. What can we notice about the white characters? There was no distinctive background they had to match. Each white character seemed to have their own distinct identity, undefined by their skin – a freedom not enjoyed so readily by people of colour. There were also no repeats. By this I mean in the one advertisement, there we several distinct “normal” white characters but no repeats of any “other” race. The idea of East vs. West is simply put from the very start. “Where ever you are from; here or there.” This statement while meant to unify two groups only reinforces the imagined belief that there are two separate groups.
I believe in beauty for all.
But unlike L’Oreal, I don’t believe it needs to be offered in a package.
I believe in reminding all people of the natural beauty they already possess.
That is where the real power of beauty lies.
“A little Consideration, a little Thought for Others, makes all the difference.”
― A.A. Milne