The beauty industry may seem like the last place that could ever embrace the message of the female empowerment, but now in 2017, brands are taking the mantra of female strength and diversity to a whole new level. Gone are the airbrushed ads filled with stick-thin models, and here to stay are campaigns that embrace women of all sizes and colors.
To get a better understanding of how beauty brands are taking the female empowerment message into their own hands, we talked to four brand founders and CEOs on what girl power means to them.
1. Jane Iredale, Founder and President of Jane Iredale - The Skin Care Makeup
As the founder of president of her own beauty brand for over 20 years, Jane Iredale has definitely seen a shift in the beauty industry, as she notes that the message now reflects natural confidence, self, expression, female strength, and diversity. She credits the internet in spearheading this change, as consumers are now using social media as a tool to communicate with brands on what beauty means to them.
“When I started my company, impacting women's lives began almost immediately," says Iredale. “In those days, they let us know by phone; now it comes from all directions, including social media, texts, e-mails, and reviews. And it isn't just about the products, it's also hearing from single moms who've been able to keep a family together by selling our line in their workplace. There's nothing like the satisfaction in that."
Giving back is another part of how Iredale's company embraces female empowerment, as she is the largest employer of women in the Great Barrington area, where she works with dozens more through the company's international reach. In addition, her brand partners with Living Beyond Breast Cancer which raised more than $477,000 to help those in need.
But at the end of the day, Iredale says that girl power is all about giving confidence to others, as confidence can help a woman feel like she can conquer anything.
“It's all about confidence," iterates Iredale. “If you can impact that, and we do every time a woman feels better about the way she looks, then the girl power increases."
2. Angelica Fuentes, Entrepreneur, Businesswoman and Founder of A Complete
With the new wave of girl power defying normal beauty conventions, Angelica Fuentes argues that brands are responding to the message by adopting it into their own campaigns. A Complete is no exception, as the brand works with strong, empowering, and inspiring influencers of all ages and backgrounds.
“Our main goal is to show our customers and potential customers that there are no beauty stereotypes, and that gender and age are not something that define you as a woman," says Fuentes. “We believe that all women are marvelous and unique, just for existing, and we want A Complete influencers to reflect that."
In celebrating women, Fuentes' brand has definitely seen a lot of results. A Complete's Mother's Day campaign for example, partnered up with five different influencers of all ages and backgrounds.
“We have seen great results with female-forward marketing campaigns; they have been our greatest growth tool in the past few months," says Fuentes. “Campaigns that encourage women empowerment boost our sales, and considerably grow our social media platforms."
3. Carolyn Aronson, Founder, CEO and Owner of It's a 10 Haircare
Carolyn Aronson Courtesy of Home Business Magazine
Like Jane Iredale, Carolyn Aronson of It's a 10 Haircare credits a new generation of tech-savvy women to growing the message of female empowerment. Through these mediums, women are making their voices heard louder than ever before. Taking the reigns of the industry is another way Aronson sees female empowerment through beauty, as It's a 10 is one of the few woman-owned professional hair-care brands in the world.
“The beauty industry is interestingly mostly run by men, although its products are mainly marketed to women," says Aronson. “I'm all about handing the torch and not only putting women in positions of power, but hopefully inspiring them by example and sharing my path of experience for others to learn from. It's still a man's world, but every step towards women being given opportunities they didn't have before is progress."
Embracing diversity is another way Aronson's brand embraces female empowerment, as the brand caters to all women, regardless of their color or race. The brand's 2017 Super Bowl commercial clearly illustrated this message, as the ad focused on real-life women instead of airbrushed models.
“It's a 10 Haircare made history with our industry-first Super Bowl Commercial, which celebrated diversity," says Aronson. “I could have hired models for this, but instead I hand-picked everyday people I admired, and I shot the commercial in black-and-white, because real beauty doesn't need color. I wanted to show we are all perfectly imperfect in our own ways."
But despite the positive feedback from the recent big game commercial, Aronson assures that uplifting women has been and will continue to be a top priority from the brand.
“I recently bought out my male partner and it was one of the biggest moves I've made as an entrepreneur and brand owner," adds Aronson. “I answer to no board of directors. From the products we develop to the message we share, it is 100 percent done on my own terms, which makes every woman (and every person) feel like a ten."
4. Kay Zanotti, CEO of Arbonne International
Kay Zanotti Courtesy of Arbonne
Encouraging women to become financially independent is a big priority for Kay Zanotti at Arbonne International, as the brand's Independent Consultant sales force is 98 percent female. Zanotti sees this as a great way to empower women, as it gives them an opportunity to have their own business and create their own schedule.
“Our Arbonne Independent Consultants live and breathe the female empowerment message every day through their business of transforming lives with Arbonne's products and opportunity," says Zanotti. “There is no other brand I've ever worked on that inspires positive leadership and provides women, especially, the chance to truly own their lives and decide when they work, where, with whom and how. It's life-changing."
Celebrating Independent Consultants has also been the sole focus of the Arbonne brand's marketing campaigns, as Zanotti sees them as the brand's real influencers and celebrities. In focusing on individual success stories of everyday women, Zanotti sees this as empowering women through beauty.
“This is just one example of the kind of campaigns we do that share the message of female empowerment in a way that celebrates the success of the individual we're spotlighting, and at the same time it promotes the products and opportunity to other women who can relate to the stay-at-home mom or teacher or doctor or even the Amish woman from Ohio who have, each in their own way, started from scratch and built a business and transformed their lives and the lives of people they know," says Zanotti.
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."