Exclusive: ‘Forces of Beauty’ Survey Finds Women of Color Feel Excluded from Societal Beauty Standards

Representation matters. From seeing others from similar backgrounds on TV and film and inside the pages of our favorite magazines, the feelings we have about ourselves can be shaped by how the outside world sees us—even more so when they don’t. According to a new “Forces of Beauty” report by The DREAM Initiative, shared exclusively with NewBeauty, only 17 percent of all women feel like their racial beauty is accepted by society. While the numbers are eye opening, they point to a need for more inclusive representation in the beauty and aesthetics.

As part of The DREAM Initiative, Allergan Aesthetics and skinbetter science have come together with Shutterstock and top physicians to create measures that address the lack of diversity and inclusion in the media that many women say promote unrealistic ideals.

A Big Disparity

Of the more than 4,000 women surveyed, one in four Black, Hispanic and multi-racial women said they believe the beauty standards set by society are racist. More than half of the women (52 percent) said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and “anyone can be beautiful.” However, only 11 percent felt that they were considered beautiful by societal standards.

“One of the biggest takeaways from this survey is the way in which society currently portrays beauty is really off the mark with how women actually feel,” says Houston, TX plastic surgeon Rukmini Rednam, MD. “The majority of the women surveyed, about 96 percent, said that feeling beautiful impacts how they feel about themselves, but only 17 percent of those women, regardless of their race and ethnicity felt that their racial beauty is accepted by society. That’s a big disconnect.”

“Historically, the industry hasn’t included all women in its definition of beauty,” said Carrie Strom, senior vice president at AbbVie and president of Global Allergan Aesthetics. “As industry leaders, our goal is to create a more equitable beauty and aesthetics industry that focuses on diversity, representation, and inclusion.”

Access to Diverse Images 

The DREAM Initiative was created to further the principles of racial and ethnic diversity, inclusion, respect and understanding in the fields of dermatology and plastic surgery. New efforts to provide more accurate resources and change beauty standards include the DREAM x Shutterstock partnership, which aims to provide a diverse portfolio of of royalty free images that showcase all genders, races and skin tones. 

“At Shutterstock, we want to ensure that our content is representative of the world around us,” says Meeckel Beecher, global head of Diversity Equity and Inclusion at Shutterstock. “Through the DREAM Initiative, we have curated a royalty-free image set of thousands of photographs featuring beauty across race, culture, gender, age, ability level, and body type, which can be found at Shutterstock.com/explore/dream and are also tagged to show up in searches on our platform. Our goal is to bring diversity both in front and behind the camera.” 

Educating the Medical Community

Other DREAM Initiative efforts include CARE, or the Curriculum for Advancing Racial Equity which aims to give future doctors the tools to address the impact of racism in medicine. There’s also a first of its kind comprehensive, full-color textbook photo atlas of skin conditions that was developed using all six Fitzpatrick skin types to help teach dermatologists to diagnose various skin conditions in different skin tones.

“This is a great start, and I say it’s a start because you have to start somewhere,” says Dr. Rednam who serves as a DREAM ambassador. “Everything starts with education; change starts with education. Part of what this program is set up to do is recognize the impact of structural racism on health and health care, because a lot of times we’re not even aware that it’s occurring.”

Next Steps

As Dr. Rednam explains, some ethnic groups may not feel comfortable going to a physician for aesthetic reasons because they’re not seeing themselves represented from a marketing perspective or by the people taking care of them. “Having more ads, including more people of color in marketing, having products that work on certain skin types and developing products that are for different races and ethnicities are the only ways we’re going to be able to move forward and achieve a real equality across the board.”

To view the full “Forces of Beauty” report, visit DreamforEquity.com.