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Beauty Disruptor Series: Chloe McCullough on Harnessing Beauty’s True Potential

November 27, 2022
November 27, 2022
Chloe McCullough

In the Beauty Disruptors series, BeautyMatter speaks to those breaking the mold of the traditional beauty industry, from shining a light on controversial issues to paving an alternative discourse of its themes.

Conversations around beauty are certainly a treasure trove for authentic and engaging conversations, with topics ranging from its value as cultural capital to a spotlight for marginalized communities. But every spotlight can also come with a shadow, such as perpetuating the patriarchy and driving personal insecurities.

There is perhaps no better medium than the podcast to really dive into the complexities of the subject through long-form conversations. Beauty-specific podcasts are a booming category, with 4,000 fashion and beauty podcasts launching on Spotify in 2020 alone. One of the category’s most exciting new entrants is Scenes Of Beauty, founded by Chloe McCullough in April of this year.

McCullough knows beauty from the inside out, previously working as Global Communications Manager at Coty and Assistant Brand Manager at The Inkey List. With Scenes Of Beauty, she is channeling that industry know-how into a wider conversation about not just any type of beauty, but authentic beauty, pushing for a more diverse and inclusive brand and media landscape when it comes to the subject, as well as lifestyle and mindset discussions.

“Beauty was born from a desire to feel good in our own skin and I want to bring some of that back to today's global beauty community. We live in a world where judgement and cancel culture are so prevalent and often leave us feeling like we have to be something outside of what is our true selves,” she proclaims on the Scenes Of Beauty website.

Episode topics include revolutionizing intimate skincare with the founder of sexual wellness brand Luna Daily, Katy Cottam; the secrets of self-love with personal coach Roxie Nafousi; and the importance of humanizing your brand with co-founder of low-waste beauty brand UpCircle Beauty, Anna Brightman. For its second season, interview guests include founder of hair color brand Shrine, Jenna Meek, content creator Danny Defreitas, and founder of ILIA Cosmetics, Sasha Plavsic.

In addition to the podcast, Scenes Of Beauty also has an online publishing platform entitled Scenes Edit, with content including how to build a better relationship with one’s body, practical everyday mood-boosting tools for tough days, and how to embrace individual ideas of beauty. Between episodes and articles, BeautyMatter spoke to McCullough about how the diversity conversation needs to evolve beyond shade selection and why vulnerability and relatability are the key to empowerment.

What began your interest in beauty?

Ever since I was younger, I remember being fascinated by “beautiful” people. I was a bit of a chubby kid and was picked on for being bigger, which made me idolize the girls I saw in magazines and beauty campaigns. I was fascinated by how beauty products have the potential to change your whole being and how you feel, so I was keen to be a part of it and be closer to the storytelling of brands and products. I went on to build a career in beauty which I never thought was possible. Now the agility and power that beauty has fascinates me.

You mention your discontent at brands not resembling reality being a starting point for the podcast. Would you care to elaborate on this statement?

I was disconnected from beauty as a kid because I craved realism. Most of the faces used in beauty are idolized for being “perfect” when there’s really no such thing. A lot of brands tend to use models as opposed to real people showcasing “real” skin and issues such as diversity and representation.

However, I do think some brands are starting to get it right and the industry as a whole is slowly moving in the right direction to becoming inclusive. Most images in the industry are still retouched and heavily edited, especially in makeup, giving a false sense of realism to the consumer. I think it’s really damaging for people to see a constant level of perfection and we need to see more “real” beauty in the industry.

What is the key to making your mark in the highly competitive podcast landscape?

I pride Scenes Of Beauty on being a real and relatable voice in both the podcasting and beauty worlds. The podcast is dedicated to empowering people to be and feel comfortable in who they are. I do that through conversation with some of the industry’s biggest names to deliver relatable conversations.

I think we have a misconception that “the people at the top” are these perfect beings that never face insecurity or lack of self-belief. The podcast shares a raw version of them that consumers and listeners can relate to. I’m also really open to being on this journey with my listeners, being open to ask the questions that most of us might not ask and being vulnerable enough to learn, which in turn will help listeners to connect and gain insight and perspective. I offer a safe space for guests and listeners alike.

How would you define authentic beauty?

Authentic beauty is something that stands true to you and who you are any day of the week. Whether that’s a perfected makeup base, full glam, or a simple skincare routine, beauty is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s all about the use of beauty to make you feel the best that you possibly can.

Who are the most powerful influencers on how we define beauty today?

I recently interviewed Estée Lalonde and found her extremely refreshing for the sheer fact that she keeps it very, very real and remains true to who she is, which is something I think a lot of influencers tend to lose as they grow.

Rihanna feels like an obvious choice, but what she is doing with Fenty Beauty is really challenging brands on how they behave towards diversity and being inclusive. Their shade range is accepting of all skin tones, and the way they represent in terms of the models that they use is really making consumers feel welcome and accepted.

"Authentic beauty is something that stands true to you and who you are any day of the week. Beauty is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s all about the use of beauty to make you feel the best that you possibly can."
By Chloe McCullough, Founder, Scenes Of Beauty

What are the biggest areas of growth that the media and brands can adopt to be more inclusive and diverse, outside of the traditional points of increased representation and less negative messaging, e.g., terms like pro-aging instead of anti-aging?

Consumer and social listening is something I really think can make a difference to the beauty landscape. I’ve spoken about representation previously on the podcast and think it would be such a powerful thing if brands actually sat down with their consumers and listened to what they wanted.

How has the reaction and feedback been to your community-building mission?

The reaction has been incredible. The listeners are really engaged and relating to the conversation, and the guests I have had on are huge but all really aligned to the messaging in its entirety. Guests and brands alike really think the concept of Scenes Of Beauty is refreshing and necessary.

On the community side, it’s still small but growing every day. People are loving the podcast. The most common feedback I get is how the conversations are relatable and real, a lot of women face the same thoughts and feeling, yet very rarely share or speak about them. I think the podcast feels like a bit of an outlet for this. Authenticity is trending at the moment, but I think consumers crave connection and depth, which is what I’m aiming to deliver, sharing topics that aren’t currently being spoken about in such a raw and honest way.

What is the most overlooked topic in the beauty conversation?

Diversity is by far the most overlooked topic in my opinion. Yes, it’s spoken about a lot and I think brands have a really hard job of getting it right, but there is such a long way to go in offering more diversity in beauty. I can only speak to this from having conversations about it with friends, colleagues, and guests that have been on the podcast, [but] diversity isn’t just offering a few darker shades.

It’s looking at the wider scope of the beauty consumer and figuring out how to meet the needs of wider groups, including skin types, genders, ages, as well as ethnicities. Brands need to take in information about diversity and adapt it into their culture. How many decisions on products for diverse skin shades are made by white people who have no experience of darker skin? I would predict it’s the majority, which completely blows my mind.

What content and activations do you have planned for the future?

Right now the focus is on the growth of the podcast and delivering a really strong lineup of guests and interesting conversation. Moving into 2023, I really want to bring people together through events: wellness events, live podcasts where the Scenes Of Beauty community can come together, hang out, learn, and leave feeling empowered to be themselves. I also really want to start writing and sharing more of my thoughts, stories, and experiences.

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