The Only Norm is Uniqueness

This commentary original appeared in the July-August 2015 edition of GCI Magazine.

The poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay once wrote, “Beauty is whatever gives joy.” This is certainly more true now than at any time in recent memory.

As I write this column, rumors are swirling that MAC, or perhaps another beauty brand, will name Caitlyn Jenner as an official spokesperson. MAC has explicitly denied this as of press time.

In the past, the brand has featured a diverse range of spokespeople, including RuPaul, K.D. Lang, Nicki Minaj and Elton John, and is certainly no stranger to inclusiveness.

The rumors surround MAC arrived in the wake of Jenner’s high-profile coming out as a trans woman, which involved an unprecedented multimedia effort comprising a 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer, an upcoming eight-part documentary series, which will air in the United States on E!, a cover shoot and 22-page feature in Vanity Fair, and an entree into Twitter during which @Caitlyn_Jenner reached 1 million users in four hours—faster than President Obama’s @POTUS handle. (Publicist Alan Nierob of Rogers & Cowan handled Jenner’s overall media strategy—by all accounts a masterful execution—and likely has attracted more new business proposals than he can handle.)

Whether or not Jenner assumes the MAC spokesperson role or ever takes a similar role in the beauty industry, it is clear that face of beauty continues to expand to more fully reflect every type of human experience and background.

In 2014, Mexican-Kenyan Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o became a spokesperson for Lancôme, joining a lineage that in previous times included actresses such as Kate Winslet and Julia Roberts.

In March of this year, L’Oreal Paris named its first Asian-American spokesperson, the Korean-American model Soo Joo Park. At the time of the announcement, Park told, “It’s such an honor, but I also think the world is getting smaller and the globalization of commerce is influencing industries like beauty and fashion.”

Certainly, Park is correct, but this is more than globalization. This is a growing acknowledgement that beauty has no single face or frame of reference. And citing a few examples of “firsts” hardly encompasses what is occurring or what is at stake.

During her GLAAD Vanguard Award acceptance speech in March in New York, “Scandal” actress Kerry Washington succinctly summed up the undercurrents of the present moment:

We must see each other, all of us; and we must see ourselves, all of us ... Until we are no longer firsts and exceptions and rare and unique. In the real world, being an ‘other’ is the norm. In the real world, the only norm is uniqueness ...

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