Fashion Has Started to Embrace Disability — and Beauty Needs to Catch Up
Point-blank: The beauty industry has a lot of work to do when it comes to inclusion of the disabled community.
For far too long, this demographic has been overlooked when it comes to products that cater to their specific needs, inclusive campaigns, and just being involved in the beauty conversation in general.
But the good news is, there has been some progress in recent years, with brands like Gucci Beauty featuring model Ellie Goldstein as the face of a major campaign, and Dove tapping blind YouTube star Molly Burke. Companies like L'Oreal have made widespread corporate efforts to ensure that their disabled staff accounts for at least 2% of their workforce, and have made that an internal requirement and standard that they are holding themselves to. As of June 2021, they have employed 1,381 people globally with disabilities, and have accounted for about twice that number within their external suppliers. Other major household brands like Estée Lauder have made efforts to respond to this demand by hiring consulting firm, Accenture, to help develop strategies for their brands that specifically help customers with disabilities use and shop for makeup. Plus, the cosmetic giant is prioritizing the online shopping experience for their disabled customers, as well — putting both of these large corporations ahead of the curve.
However, there's still quite a long way to go.
According to a research study conducted in 2019 by Proctor & Gamble, just 4% of beauty and personal care brands created products that address the needs of those with physical disabilities. So even as more brands focus on responding to increased consumer demands for diversity, equity, and inclusion-related efforts, those with disabilities — both physical and non-physical — are often afterthoughts.
"Oftentimes, people don't want to be the model, but they can be in any of the jobs that are in the industry," disability activist, speaker, and consultant Luticha Doucette shares with InStyle. "What does it look like from a hiring perspective? What does it look like from a retention perspective? What does your job actually look like, and how are you making sure that from the MUA to the producer to the photographer to the stylist, etc. all of these can be disabled individuals?"
Now that we know what the problem is, what exactly is the solution? Below, Doucette shares her insight on how beauty can become more inclusive, and finally embrace those with disabilities.
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What do you think the beauty industry currently struggles with when it comes to catering to people with disabilities?
Overall, there's just a lack of representation in the beauty industry as far as skin color, but also disability type. Many different types of people wear makeup, and I often find we see a variety of different faces. What if there is someone with cleft lip or some other facial disability? When you think of the universal design and product packaging, this should just be the norm. We shouldn't have to have specialty products that are often more expensive.
Who do you think is doing a good job?
I'm biased because my friend Mama Cax, may she rest in peace, was in the Fenty campaign when it was released, and I remember just being so proud because it wasn't really any like announcement, it was just let's have diverse bodies representing this brand and that continues to happen on the forefront. It's just a part of doing business, and you can see that representation on the website and in all of the modeling, that was just a really great moment to highlight. To have Cax there representing a Black-owned brand was just pretty amazing for me, and a huge win for disability representation. Aerie has also been featuring disabled models, but again I think their misstep is that there isn't that diversity in skin tone.
What would you like to see happen in the next five years?
I would love to see just diversity — especially of Black disabled bodies — be at the forefront in the beauty industry. When we really think about what that means, it's not just those with features that are pleasing to European standards. The unique bodies that we have, the shapes that we have, I think that needs to be celebrated. It would be amazing if that diversity was also seen as beautiful and worthy. That's why I love Cax and her legacy, Jillian Mercado is also just wonderful, Aaron Phillip is just downright gorgeous, and I really loved the latest fashion show that they were in. We're seeing a lot more YouTube videos of blind individuals teaching their techniques on how to apply makeup, and I would want to see at all different levels.
There seems to be a gap in what brands and companies think inclusivity and accessibility look like and what actual disabled people describe it looking like. What would a truly accessible beauty industry encompass to you?
All body types, shapes, faces, sizes are worthy. Everyone wants to look good and feel good, I don't care who you are. So what does that look like within inclusivity? It means that behind the scenes, how are you actually making things inclusive? From the accessibility standpoint, understanding different body needs, do you have extra help in and hands-on deck available? What does it mean when your staff is interacting with disabled individuals? When you're touching up photos, are you doing it from an inclusive standpoint or from an ableist and racist standpoint? And what does it look like for your company? My cousin works in the fashion and beauty industry and she's killing it behind the scenes. Oftentimes, people don't want to be the model, but they can be in any of the jobs that are in the industry. What does it look like from a hiring perspective? What does it look like from a retention perspective? What does your job actually look like, and how are you making sure that from the MUA to the producer to the photographer to the stylist, etc. all of these can be disabled individuals? If we don't see those faces, that leads to this reinforcement that we don't exist, and don't have a right to access this industry. And oftentimes, the discussion is about the models themselves, which is true, but I really think holistically about all the different types of jobs that are within this industry.