As I am staring at the models and brand ambassadors for Revlon’s spring beauty campaign. I’m struck by how revolutionary they are.
I’m at Skylight Modern in midtown Manhattan, where the campaign launch party is taking place, and they are standing on-stage against a backdrop that reads “LIVE BOLDLY” in proud capital letters. Some of their names — Gal Gadot, Ashley Graham — are familiar to me, however, these women were selected for more than just their celebrity.
“These are women who break barriers and bring other women with them,” Revlon president Anne Talley tells the crowd, to which everyone cheers.
The male gaze is notably absent here.
The Live Boldly campaign intends to highlight diversity in an authentic and empowering way. For once, this doesn’t feel like tokenism, but rather an actual step forward by a major beauty brand.
“They gave a curvy girl a makeup contract, ya’ll!” Ashley Graham exclaims in her launch party speech. “It’s unheard of before today. This is amazing.”
For context, the last time Revlon hired a plus-size model for a beauty campaign was 1988 — yes, an entire twenty years ago. Graham, who has always been an advocate for positive affirmations, body positivity, and inclusivity in the beauty industry, therefore feels like an ideal casting choice.
“Honestly, this isn’t about makeup,” she tells party-goers. “This whole campaign is about empowering women to live boldly. Lipstick is not a size. Beauty is beyond size, it’s beyond age, and it’s beyond race, and we’re all here to show it and prove it to you.”
“Lipstick is not a size. Beauty is beyond size, it’s beyond age, and it’s beyond race, and we’re all here to show it and prove it to you.” –Ashley Graham
On her right stands Adowah Aboah, her fellow model on the campaign and founder of the organization Gurls Talk, which empowers women to speak up and form a community around their shared experiences.
“[Revlon is] representing women of all different shapes, sizes, colors,” Aboah tells the crowd. “They are celebrating what it is to be a woman and the beauty that is being a woman.”
The campaign will utilize language that is more human and less about marketing buzzwords. Revlon’s chief creative officer, Linda Wells, spoke to WWD about her desire to specifically feature women coming together as a group.
“When models become successful they tend to only do photographs alone, they don’t share,” she said. “In magazine days, it’s like, ‘the girls won’t do a double’. As a result, you get the sense that being alone is beautiful.”
Alternatively, Revlon wanted the Live Boldly campaign to promote women coming together and supporting one another. They also avoided shooting in traditional studio settings, which felt like an inauthentic way to represent beauty.
“These are women who break barriers and bring other women with them,” – Anne Talley
“So often beauty is photographed and filmed in studios because it is a controlled setting where there’s no wind to mess up the hair and no natural light,” Wells explained. “It has this feeling of distance from life as if beauty cannot exist in the world but has to be in this hermetically sealed room.”
At the launch party, the speeches conclude and the first commercial for the campaign begins to play. It features the models dancing on tables, embracing each other, and singing along to Dua Lipa’s “Blow Your Mind”. The male gaze is notably absent here. Revlon’s vision of diverse women empowering others to live boldly is clear throughout, however, and it’s profound.
I managed to score a minute with south-Sudanese model Achok Majak, who gushed about her participation in the campaign.
“Working with Revlon has been a life-changing experience for me, just to be a part of a group of women who define this whole campaign of living boldly,” she told me. “It’s also a major life-changing time in the industry for young children to be able to look up and have women they identify with within the beauty world.”
This dark-skinned, natural-haired beauty of a woman stands before me and her words really resonate. I grew up seeing very few black women featured in beauty ads and certainly none with short 4C hair like hers. The message I internalized was that I needed chemical relaxers or weaves to become what was culturally perceived as beautiful. And while I understood that black women could be beautiful, it felt like so many more fair-skinned women had their beauty celebrated.
“It’s a major life-changing time in the industry for young children to be able to look up and have women they identify with within the beauty world.” -Achok Majak
For me, and for a lot of other black girls like me, I think this translated to the belief that being “too black” was dangerous. During the summer, my mom warned me to avoid the sun so that my skin wouldn’t darken too much. Meanwhile, my fairer-skinned friends were hoping that their tans would stick.
I consider how meaningful it would have been to see someone who is beautiful in the way that Majak is on my television screen, someone who is darker than me. I’m even a little envious of the young girls who will. It is powerful for them to see that beauty exists in all shades. I hope they will not learn to shrink themselves or hide to fit a beauty standard that doesn’t represent the realities of womanhood.
It is remarkable that Revlon’s Live Boldly campaign aims to empower women to be true to themselves. It doesn’t promote makeup as a necessity of beauty, but rather a vehicle for self-expression. I like this narrative. Rather than convince us of the things we are lacking, a major beauty brand finally seeks to uplift and enhance the features we already own. In 2018, we certainly need more of this.
*All images courtesy Revlon