Diversity experts say the mainstream image of beauty has taken a sharp multicultural turn. Curlies are in demand!
Take the November issue of Lucky, the shopping and style magazine. Teen star Vanessa Hudgens (of "High School Musical" fame) graces the cover with her raven curls. Inside, an eight-page advertising spread for Dillard's department store features all curly models, and Dove chooses an African-American model with springy spirals to sell its body wash.
"Some 20 or 30 years ago, the standard image of beauty was the blond, blue-eyed woman with straight hair, which was reflective of the majority of the population that was relevant at the time," says Fayruz Kirtzman, diversity expert and director at Global Lead, an international diversity consultancy headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. "As the population changes, though, we're seeing the image of beauty change, with an increased focus on people of color, including women of color, and depicting these women of color in their natural state."
In the 1980s, supermodels with traditional Barbie-doll features dominated advertising for cosmetics, with Christie Brinkley depicted as the fresh face of CoverGirl and Kim Alexis chosen as Revlon's ultimate look for its Ultima II makeup line.
Fast-forward two decades and CoverGirl now prominently features African-American and Hispanic celebrities as spokesmodels, such as Halle Berry, Salma Hayek, Rihanna, Brandy, and Tyra Banks. The face of Revlon also has expanded into a more multicultural image of beauty by signing influential superstar women of color, including Jessica Alba, Eva Mendes and, once again, Halle Berry to represent its beauty products.
"Literally, the complexion of the country is changing and that's going to happen more and more," says David Morse, president and CEO of New American Dimensions, a Los Angeles, Calif.-based multicultural market research company.
In fact, the Census Bureau's latest projections show that minorities will make up 54 percent of the U.S. population by 2042 — and the term 'minority' will no longer literally apply to African-Americans, Hispanics, and other people of color. The biggest change is expected to be found among Hispanics, with its share of the population expected to double to 30 percent.
"As a consumer-product company, you want to capture that market, and you want to capture it as authentically as possible. [Advertisers] can't ignore it because the numbers show the buying power is so strong," Kirtzman says. "The only significant increase in U.S. buying power is now occurring in ethnic minorities."
In its annual report on minority buying, the Selig Center for Economic Growth projects the buying power of Hispanics to top $1.2 trillion and African-American buying power to exceed $1.1 trillion by 2012.
"Larger advertisers, little by little, are getting it. They're seeing the numbers and hearing them over and over again," says Michael Persaud, President of Brand Development for Muse Communications, a Hollywood, Calif.-based multicultural advertising agency. "Multicultural is the new mainstream and because of that, the smarter general market agencies have begun to address it, and when you look at their work, you're seeing it."
Persaud also points to a strengthening multicultural influence emerging from leaders across many industries. In television, the powerful force that is Oprah continues to get people across the country to do good deeds and rush to buy books she recommends. In drama, the hit show Grey's Anatomy showcases a diverse cast of characters and a melting pot of rich (and relatable) story lines. In politics, Barack Obama is now our President-Elect, winning with a groundswell of support for his historic campaign. And in sports, Tiger Woods dominates golf and the Williams sisters are household names in tennis; both sports were, at one time, considered non-traditional for people of color, Persuad notes.
"I think all of that affects where we're going in terms of diverse images in advertising, marketing, and messaging," he says.
Despite the progress in celeb-driven circles, though, Persaud says the fashion industry is still lacking significant diversity on the runway.
"When people think of image and beauty, what do you think they're going to gravitate towards? Fashion," Persaud says. "The [leaders in that] industry have the most work to do and, in a sense, they're the ones in charge of the largest images. But a lot of what is done is driven by numbers. So when people get analytical about it, they can't ignore it."
"The whole ethnic identity of our country is changing," adds Morse. "There's a real trend to show people in all their diversity and people are embracing that. It's the curly hair, but I think it's also more about having one's own unique style and identity. Whether you straighten your hair or just let it be in its natural state, it's an expression of personal style."