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Does beauty need a new face? By Mariam Farag

When the beauty industry prioritizes a look that’s more than ‘skin deep’, people and profit finally merge, and everyone wins.

What is the true impact of celebrity-driven beauty advertising? In the aesthetics industry today, popular influencers are commonly used as models to gain consumer buy-in and sales, but the cost is high. Much has been written about emotional and social issues inherent with placing airbrushed and surgery-enhanced women in front of younger consumers. Less has been said, however, about the negative economic and commercial consequences for the companies who tout these pretty faces.

That doesn’t mean the consequences aren’t there, however. In my years as a sustainability advocate uniting brands and consumers for the common good, I’ve observed that in the long run, what’s bad for consumers is also bad for brands.

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Placing healthier role models in front of young women is actually a pivotal step toward higher profits for the industry. The more instability and poverty exists in a society, the less consumers spend. It’s just business sense. When surrounded by healthier models of feminine achievement, young consumers would be more likely to reach their earning potential and have more disposable income to express themselves aesthetically.

The beauty industry is ripe for this kind of shift. Across the Middle East, we’ve seen a change these past ten years from an emphasis on charity initiatives, to social impact and employee engagement projects, to a new term: ‘shared value’. The latter means that a brand incorporates a social impact strategy into its DNA.

I would argue that such ‘shared value’ ought to be the framework driving the advertising strategy of all beauty brands. Shared value is about finding new paths to profitability that serve people rather than siphoning from them. It’s also about no longer making ‘social good’ the responsibility of brands, talent agencies or individual consumers. Everyone plays a role in driving strategy, achieving outcomes and ensuring impact. (And yes, in making a profit.)

The responsibility of brands

From a bottom line perspective, I believe profits will actually increase when beauty companies step away from the traditional ‘influencer’ or ‘model’ to promote products.

Over the years, corporations have learned that it is both smart and is good business to make human connections between consumer and brand.

A humanized beauty brand is conscious of the role it plays in helping women shape their sense of self. Such a brand is as interested in women’s healthy self-image and self-esteem. Humanized brands recognize that real women need to see real women held up as models of beauty and influence, both inside and out. It’s time that we brought this level of authenticity into the beauty industry.

The responsibility of talent agencies

What’s really at stake in this shift is the type of talent acquired. It’s time to move past hiring traditional beauty influencers and source a new generation of models who go beneath the skin-deep perception of beauty. Humanitarians. Business women. Artists. Teachers: these are the real ‘beauty influencers’ our young women need to see model their favourite products.

Like it or not, women worldwide look to beauty influencers as celebrities … so it’s time to place models in front of them who are making a difference. What might happen if a woman becomes enchanted with the beauty of a Nobel Prize-winning scientist? Or a national poet from her home nation? Or an award-winning educator? Agencies must start sourcing talent by their authenticity and contribution, not by their cheekbone structure.

The rise of consumers

With the rise of millennial consumers, we’re seeing a generation who have grown up with a heightened awareness of what’s right. They are more inclined to support brands that promote sustainability. Yet even there, improvement is needed. It’s time to educate youth to choose brands that promote inner and outer ideas of beauty—not just in lip service, but in reality.

I can think of brands that have run body-positive campaigns in one region of the world, while marketing with body-shame tactics in another. Consumers must become savvy about these mixed messages. They must say ‘no’ to double standards and start supporting only the brands that do exactly what they say.

It’s time for all of us to be part of a sustainable development movement where profits are no longer the only object of a brand. If we’re not able to be part of the solution, we will be forced to be part of the problem. In this way, beauty becomes a catalyst for the total health, well-being and accomplishments of young women everywhere. People benefit. The planet benefits. And yes, there’s profit to be made, too.

Mariam Farag is an ex-UN humanitarian, ex-MBC Group media executive, educator and winner of the Humanitarian of the Year award at the C3 Summit during the UN General Assembly in NYC.

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