Officially on the books as having been around since the 1890’s, feminism is not exactly a new topic. But what we’re seeing currently is what’s being described as ‘fourth wave feminism’, which is redefining how we see it, and ourselves as women. And along with a whole host of other equality points and questions, the fourth wave feminism brings with it more monumental effects on the beauty industry than the subject ever has before. But is the beauty industry really anti-feminist?
Well, there are the obvious reasons why one might think so. The beauty industry is largely based on telling women that they need to change themselves to fit a man’s ideal; to be thinner, to be prettier, to have smoother skin, to have a more youthful glow, to have rosier lips, to be more tanned. Western beauty ideals have been in place for a long time so there’s the argument that the patriarchy is internalised at this point. So then comes the interesting part, is it more feminist to go against the tide or to do whatever you want, regardless of whether it fits the ideal or not?
Depending on which side of the argument you settle on in regards to the beauty industry is largely due to your own take on feminism. Although it can mean a whole host of things to different people, it can mostly be split into two ideas. Do you think that feminism is about abolishing the standards for women that have always been in place and therefore going against the stereotype, or is it about gaining power for women to the point where they have the freedom to choose (be it that they want to be an investment banker or a stay-at-home mum)?
If you agree with the first interpretation then you could say that the beauty industry is anti-feminist. It’s about making women look better for men, it’s about undermining a woman’s confidence for commercial gain and it’s a set of complicated ideals that only women are held up against (the beauty industry for men is pretty much about staying clean and groomed). Whereas if you find yourself believing more along the lines of the second interpretation of feminism, then you could argue that the beauty industry is a vast and exciting world that gives women the choice to change, enhance or decorate their own bodies in whatever way they wish.
Whichever version you agree with, there’s no question that the beauty industry as a whole is trying to make steps in the right direction. Sure, there will probably always be a bigger pressure on women to look good, but that doesn’t mean having to look a certain way. More and more brands are including plus-size women in their adverts, leaving out the airbrushing of skin in their tanning adverts and including a wider range of skin tones in products like foundation and concealer to properly reflect the diversity of the world we live in. The beauty industry may not be a perfect one, but it’s making strides that reflect a modern mindset.