The famous body positivity movement has developed and grown in influence over the years. But what is its impact on the very industry it is trying to change?
What is the beauty industry?
What is now known as the beauty industry was not always the case. This sector started developing through African American women making small commerce of hair products in the late 19th century. By the Roaring 20s, big brands such as Elizabeth Arden and Max Factor were commonly known, especially in the United States.
Today, the beauty industry is not just a term used for the cosmetic sector. It finds its place in a larger context within the fashion and modelling industry. The term ‘beauty industry’ is also a term used by authors to describe in the general industry, having at its centre, capitalising on physical appearance and beauty.
Companies like LVMH or Kering Group along with L’Oréal, Unilever and Estee Lauder figure in CAC40, FTSE and NASDAQ – the industry as a whole valued at $507 billion in 2018 and is not expected to slow down: experts predict a value of $758 billion in 2025.
In recent years the beauty industry has been criticised for imposing a single idea of beauty: the beauty standard. The standard is slightly different depending on cultures and countries, but the largest companies in this industry are mainly European and American, so the western idea of beauty is the most widespread.
Studies have shown that 53% of thirteen year-old and 78% of seventeen year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies.
Body positivity grew as a response not only to the euro-centric beauty standard, but beauty standards in general. The movement originally created in the 60s sought to bring awareness to the bias that fat people face.
It has expanded over the years and now seeks to promote the acceptance, who face of all bodies regardless of size, age, skin colour, gender, ability and scarring.
It focuses on deconstructing the idea that the beauty industry has implemented: the existence is an ‘ideal body’ for men and women, and more than that, that this unrealistic expectation is and should be attainable.
The scandals and inevitable decline of the brand Victoria’s Secret is a crucial example of the criticism the movement holds against the beauty industry. In 1995, the famous lingerie brand had started an annual runway show featuring “Angels”, which were to be the representation of beauty.
Since the introduction of their show, the brand faced scandals and disapproval such as accusations of cultural appropriation, transphobia and general criticism of the exclusive promotion of tall, lean, athletic body types. Such reprisal led Victoria’s Secret to eventually discontinue its fashion show in 2019.
The metamorphosis of the industry: steps towards body positivity
Victoria’s Secret is not the only brand that has been impacted by the movement. Brands such as Abercombie & Fitch followed a similar path to Victoria’s Secret, as people claimed the clothes stores only sell small sizes and exclude bigger sizes from their collection.
The fall of these giants instigated a general desire of change in the beauty sector. Vogue proclaimed that it was “time for change in the industry” and that it should start promoting body positivity.
This was mainly done through advertising with the noticeable decline of perfect highly polished, re-touched images and the rise of inclusivity.
Companies like Savage X Fenty were built with the message of body positivity as their brand and have been met with particular success. Dove released huge billboard advertisements featuring women of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities.
The movement is vastly prominent on social media. Up to now, more than 15 thousand posts have been uploaded to Instagram with the #bodypositive attached to it.
A growing presence of body-positive influencers and content creators are on social media, building their entire image on the promotion of larger, less perfect body types.
These include Lizzo, Ashley Graham, Winnie Harlow, Spencer Barbosa, and more. In their posts and videos, they promote self-love, intuitive eating, plus size brands and advertise clothes on different body shapes.
On a large scale, the beauty industry has and is changing towards a more inclusive and representative future.
Is this change for the good?
However, the public is still doubtful of the movement, its impacts, and its deeper motives. The first issue expressed on the movement and brands’ adaptation to it is the fact that companies adopt the body positive logic in the unique goal to follow the ‘trend’ and get more sales.
Kyla Brathwaite, a doctoral student in Ohio University explained her fear that “body positivity content coupled with advertising might make viewers wary about the movement—or see the movement as something that’s appearance-centred”, and that “companies recognise this and are trying to piggyback off the goodwill of the movement to help themselves.”
A potential exploitation of the movement is understandable since companies’ ultimate goal is profit. Many fear disingenuous campaigns and minimal efforts to truly change the consensus.
It is clear that body positivity has impacted the beauty industry and will most certainly continue to do so in the future. However, there are still issues and criticism of the movement itself which might refrain such drastic change.