Business Categories Reports Podcasts Events Webinars
Contact My Account About

Insights on Evolving Beauty Beyond the Binary

July 28, 2022
July 28, 2022
Very Good Light

Our “Evolving Beauty Beyond the Binary” webinar sparked a conversation with a lasting message; therefore, we felt compelled to put it into print. From the history of non-cis experiences around beauty to touching personal anecdotes, read on for insights from our three panelists—editor Dominic Cadogan (they/them), Very Good Light founder David Yi (he/they), and Ultra Violet Agency founder Anna Butterworth (she/her)—and key takeaways for the beauty industry.

Talking Point #1: The non-cisgender experience and discussion around beauty has existed since the beginning of humanity.

“It's a conversation that has been happening for a long time, but now we’re having it at a mainstream level. Right now feels like the best time to be talking about it because we're finally kind of getting the language and people are understanding what it means to be non-cisgender or exploring your gender identity in a different way than the norm.”
– Dominic Cadogan

“This is definitely something we've seen cyclically. If you look back to the ’80s, with that direction of apostrophe.  there was a real movement in lots of different kinds of people wearing lots of different kinds of makeup. I really hope that this time around, it's here to stay for a bit longer, rather than something that comes through as a part of the fashion and then disappears. And actually we're seeing this change in the way that we talk about ourselves and each other and in the way that we identify. We are seeing that lots of different kinds of brands in a range of different industries are looking to diversify how they communicate with people. Hopefully that means that this is going to be sort of a longer-term change.”
– Anna Butterworth

Talking Point #2: Genuine allyship and representation takes on many forms.

“It's about creating a dialogue with the communities that you're trying to reach. If you don't have people within the decision-making sphere who identify as the customers that you're trying to reach, then bring them in as an advisory board. Speak to those communities, get people in positions of decision-making or in advisory roles, and by God, please pay them when you do as well.”
– AB

“It's such an important thing to have the communities that you want to reach out to as a part of the process. That should be a natural thing for any modern business in 2022.”
– DC

“I coined the term ‘gender inclusive’ last year because I felt ‘genderless’ was very 2010 in terms of semantics, and words do matter. ‘Genderless’ is lumping everyone together—it was a blanket term that wasn't seeing and honoring people's lived-in and well-fought-for experiences.”
– David Yi

“[We’re seeing] lots of brands using ‘gender’free’ or ‘genderless’ as a stopgap between what they should be saying and trying to not rock the boat so much. For a brand to be really gender inclusive, a lot of brands could learn about changing their mindset when they are creating products, and thinking about being inclusive rather than just saying, ‘This is for everybody because we made it green because this is a color that anyone can like.’”
– DC

“We don't have to focus necessarily on the fact that something is gender inclusive, we can just focus on the product itself and what it does and the functions. We should hopefully reach a point where we don't have to talk about gender and don't have to think about it in such a way, and we can just say however that person identifies, that's the product for them. There's a time where you have to bang on the door and call yourself a gender-inclusive brand because we need to break down those boundaries, and then there will come a time where we won't need to do that.”
– AB

“A lot of my resistance around wearing makeup in the first place was because it was so marketed as for only women. There was nobody in marketing campaigns or influencers or people on any level who looked like me. It was something that concerned and worried me. Fenty Beauty for example includes the pronouns of everyone they work with in their Instagram posts, which I think is a really easy win. That should be the norm for all brands.”
– DC

“Especially [with] bigger brands, there's a lot of hesitancy because they know that people are really banging down the door to be having these conversations but, at the same time, they're scared about alienating this core group of people who they've been marketing their beauty products to for decades. It should be more seamless across the whole brand: if you're doing a huge billboard national campaign, you should be using the same faces in those kinds of projects as you do working with a platform like Dazed Beauty.”
– DC

“Outside of beauty, we're seeing a little bit of movement. We've seen trans men in period pant campaigns, but I still don't feel like I'm having enough brands come to me and ask me to have these conversations and how can they be more inclusive in their language. I'm having to push them to think about how they're using their language and who they're marketing to and why they're marketing to certain people, and either including or excluding certain communities. We are seeing small changes happening, but I wish more brands would come to me and ask me that question.”
– AB

“Brands need to be doing things like the Byredo mascara campaign fronted by Arca, where it doesn't feel tokenistic. It doesn't feel like they're just doing it because people are demanding it, but because they want people to be seen and want to create amazing beauty images and products that people love.”
– DC

“It comes down to equity. We have so many brands who are like, ‘Okay, it's great to be gender inclusive, now we're gonna have nonbinary folks and trans people.’ Well, where were you five years ago? We need to see the intention, impact, and equity behind the scenes. Are you capitalizing on the community and their pain for your gain? Who are the ones who actually benefit from you utilizing a trans or nonbinary model or being gender inclusive? Are you using Black and Asian models because you need to sell or are you really doing the work? Where's the money going to? How are you impacting? How are you giving back? Who is actually making the decisions behind the scenes? We have to be very cognizant about that moving forward.”
– DY

“A good way of being able to see whether brands actually care about representation or not is in the Pride coverage that they do. People are very strategic about where these campaigns are being shown. So territories where they are notoriously anti-gay, these campaigns wouldn't exist, but they will be really pushing them in places like the UK and the US and Europe, places that we see as being more liberal. If it's something that you truly care about and you want people to feel represented, it should be a conversation that you're having globally.”
– DC

“The beauty industry has a real and very small window of opportunity to get onto this now. Whoever does it first, there's going to be a true winner when you do value and recognize this community.”
By David Yi, Founder, Very Good Light

Talking Point #3: Beauty beyond the binary isn’t just about products and branding.

“It's very jarring when you walk down the shop aisle and it's hypermasculine in one section and hyperfeminine in another section. For a person like myself, where do I go, where do I belong? I do shave, but sometimes I want an eyeshadow. Marketing today is very much on that binary structure and it needs to change because the world has changed. Gen Z has really led the way when it comes to what they want, and they don't shop by gender anymore.”
– DY

“When you're looking at pop culture, from Euphoria to the biggest stars like Lil Nas X to men like Harry Styles, painting their nails and being more expressive, it's so obvious that we're coming back and recalibrating to who we were and who we are as humans. At the core of every person we want to be loved. We want to be celebrated. And we want to be seen. I wrote a book about the history of masculine and nonbinary folx and the relationship to masculinity and beauty called Pretty Boys that delves into how we have all beautified from 50,000 years ago. Did you know Neanderthals ground up pyrite as highlighter? Did you know that the Vikings who were the roughest kind of, the most burly of men, had grooming kits with separate brushes for their beards and their hair, right next to their swords and shields? Nonbinary folx have existed in tribes for centuries. We're talking about the Faʻafafine of Polynesia, two spirit folx of Native America, the Bakla. We need to let go of being so afraid. We need to have more of these conversations and call people in and let them know the history of humanity.”
– DY

“The pandemic has been such a transformational period for lots of people for lots of different reasons. We've seen this great resignation, and people have used the time being away from their hectic schedules to really reflect on everything in their life. I've seen a lot of people coming to terms with their gender identity. People need to let go, surrender to it. We should be having these conversations more, to let them know that it is okay to have those conversations with your friends and family. Hopefully people who are nonbinary and trans feel that they can have these conversations too with cisgender people to educate them if necessary, or if they are in a position to do so, to make it less scary for people who are worried about doing the wrong thing.”
– DC

“It's exciting to see the way that cis people identify and present is changing as well. The more that we start to see that people like Harry Styles, who doesn't identify as trans or nonbinary, is really pushing forward this idea that cis men and heartthrobs no less can still present in feminine ways and embrace lots of different parts of their sexuality and their identity—it's a really exciting movement. We've always erred on the side of caution in terms of gender inclusivity, but slowly the boundaries are being pushed, and people are being called into this. But there's still a long way to go. Changing the conversations that we're having with each other but also forcing big business to change the way that they support their communities is going to be a really important thing, from social media right through to big beauty big brands and global international organizations.”
– AB

“When it comes to movement, it doesn't happen overnight. LGBTQIA people have always been at the forefront of these movements. People were imprisoned as men or masc-presenting folks who dressed in feminine ways, they were badly beaten and incarcerated. Drag culture is now celebrated and men in makeup is now becoming more commonplace, but it took 200-300 years, and the repercussions were real. Now when people are trying to create anti-trans bills in Texas, we need to understand the resistance is still here. We have so much work to do, but we can't do it alone. We need allies, we need people with bigger platforms to speak up. And we cannot be afraid, because it is a dark place to go back to where we once were.”
– DY

“It's important to remember that we are very liberated in the UK and the US, and there's a lot of countries where not only is it not legal to be gay, but even if it's technically legal, it can be very, very unsafe to present in any way that is sort of outside the binary.”
– AB

“People imagine this army of nonbinary people coming to completely change life as it is, our language, and all these other things. People who are so used to seeing themselves reflected everywhere all the time, I don't think it's possible for them to understand how isolating it feels to not see yourself represented. That is all we're asking for, is to look at these beauty campaigns and see the same beauty up there that we hopefully will see in ourselves, rather than completely overhauling the entire industry and every single brand has to have the nonbinary flag printed on it. At the core of all brands, they want to make people feel beautiful, included, and part of the community. That should include people who are trans and nonbinary. It's as simple as that.”
– DC

Talking Point #4: Practicing beauty beyond the binary isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.

“[As a brand looking to be more gender inclusive], you start from education and representation. It comes down to being authentic and how much you are putting an effort into changing and for what reason. It's very apparent right now online, what brands are authentic and which are not and capitalizing, we can all tell just by your Instagram posts. We can Google who the founders of the brands are, we can see into what organizations the money is flowing into. We must be hypervigilant, and hold brands accountable. When you want to pivot [as a brand], you have to ask yourself, why, what are we going to do with this pivot, and what's our mission? 
– DY

“Having hypermasculine or hyperfeminine brands is still okay. We don’t have to completely do away with gendered or feminine or masculine products either. Not every brand has to be gendered. We don't have to target everything to everyone. What we need is also opportunities for people who don't want to buy into those sorts of brands to have a space to go and to have places and products that are designed for them too. This is simply a new way of making people feel included and actually providing a safe space for people. It’s simply the way that people are going and the industry has to go.” 
– AB

“There are a lot of great, successful fragrance brands that have done away with gendered language and products. I didn't really see it [gender distinction] as something that is necessarily very important, even for cisgendered people. There are women who like to smell a bit more masculine and men who like to smell a bit more feminine—whatever any of those words mean. That’s a more modern way of looking at the word ‘fragrance.’”
– DC

“The beauty industry has a real and very small window of opportunity to get onto this now. Whoever does it first, there's going to be a true winner when you do value and recognize this community.”
– DY

“If they feel like the brand is doing this for the right reasons, then people will feel comfortable in engaging with that brand. It’s also making sure that whatever the language that other people are using on social media, you're active in calling it out and making people speak in an inclusive and positive way. Just deleting comments is not going to help people feel included. You have to be actively supporting a certain community and being very defensive or aggressive if people are creating a negative environment online. Brands are often quite keen just to ignore it and it'll go away, and if you actually want to create a safe space, you have to be active in the support that you're giving.”
– AB

Key Takeaways

  • Don’t use the terms gender free or genderless in your branding; instead focus on being gender inclusive.
  • Onboard members of the community that you are trying to reach as part of your company. Make sure the benefits you are offering in terms of inclusivity extend beyond mere representation in your ad campaigns.
  • As a retailer, consider moving away from gender-specific aisles and merchandising.
  • As a fragrance brand, focus on promoting the scent of your product, rather than marketing it to a specific gender.
  • Be active in speaking out against injustice, whether it is in your own comment section on social media or calling out other brands if they are being non-inclusive.
  • If you are doing Pride campaigns, don’t solely publish them in more liberated LGBTQIA+ countries. Be willing to take a risk to stand up for your inclusivity beliefs and advertise in more conservative countries as well.
  • If you are a hyperfeminine or hypermasculine brand, don’t feel pressured to completely overhaul your company to be all gender inclusive, unless it is a genuine and authentic part of your brand journey and inline with a greater ethos shift. Avoid performative or tokenistic action.
×

2 Article(s) Remaining

Subscribe today for full access