Why Are We More Connected to Inclusive Brands? │ Article

The benchmark and diversification of beauty has shifted exponentially in the last decade, but the subtle endorsement of one highly exclusive beauty standard is still fed to us from every angle of the media. Today, a wider scope of body shapes, skin types, hair textures, genders and disabilities are acknowledged & celebrated than ever before, yet an unspoken prototype of what is ‘acceptable’ is held together in part by the casual glamorisation of eating disorders branded ‘heroin chic’. It’s unsurprising, then, that many marginalised groups (or any person falling short of this impossible standard of beauty) still feel underrepresented by the media and disconnected from those brands contributing to this implicit message that many of us (most of us) don’t belong.

The past decade has also bore witness to an epidemic of conscious consumerism. It’s no longer enough to buy a brand’s products… we want to eat, breathe, belong to, represent, and bond over brands. Brands have become an extension of ourselves and a reflection of our values, and so the purchase decisions we make today hold more weight than ever before. Because of this, more and more of us are taking a holistic approach to our shopping choices; holding a brands’ ethical and sustainability standards almost to the same regard as price and quality. We are more vigilant to diversity and inclusion in brand campaigns, the impact production has on people and the planet, and the knock-on effect of brands capitalising on our insecurities and ostracizing groups of people in the process. Today, a brand’s success or failure lies in in the reputation of its ethical conduct.

Bridge Agency's Curtis, a plus size male model with vitiligo, poses for campaign with SmartWater.
Curtis in a social campaign for SmartWater. Curtis is a Big and Tall Model, signed with BRIDGE
Bridge Agency's Brittany-Leigh, a plus size female model, poses for campaign with Skims.
Brittany-Leigh in a campaign for Skims. Brittany-Leigh is a Plus Size Model, signed with BRIDGE

These notions have picked up momentum with the birth of what is arguably a more ethical, considered and liberal generation than any that has come before, Gen Z. A brave and audacious generation who are answering back to the patriarchy and leading a beautiful epidemic of individuality; holding space for a wider variety of shapes, sizes and appearances and championing people to get loud and proud about their quirks and perceived “flaws”. Yet, it is human nature to want to feel like we belong; to identify with others and feel held, considered, included, and understood. This is no different when it comes to the brands we consume… in order to feel accepted, we must first feel seen. When a brand appears to completely exclude us (our size, race etc.) in campaigns, we unsubscribe from its message, creating a pattern of disconnect.

Bridge Agency's Gayoung, a plus size female model, poses for campaign with Sainsbury's Tu.
Gayoung in a campaign for Sainsbury's Tu. Gayoung is a Plus Size Model, signed with BRIDGE

So, the lesson to brands is this: to connect with consumers in an authentic and impactful way… acknowledge the importance of inclusion, understand the depth & variety of your audience, and mirror this in the models, influencers, and ambassadors you choose to represent your brand. If you want more people to see themselves as a consumer of your products, then represent them as consumers of your products. Branch out from the carbon-copy stereotype of beauty we have all subscribed to, and instead be a part of the movement of brands pioneering for change in this space. The progressive brands acknowledging their influence and power and taking ownership in the part they play in attesting the idea that we must conform to anyone else’s expectations in order to be worthy of being seen.

Authenticity is beautiful, individuality is sexy, and imperfections are HUMAN. That’s how we see ourselves, and it’s ourselves we want to see at the forefront of the brands we love.

Written by guest editor, Rachel Pepper