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.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.