Putting the words “beauty” and “feminist” together was once kind of an oxymoron. Women have, for longer than we can likely account for, been told by men what being beautiful is supposed to look like. We have shaved, plucked, covered up, and undergone surgery to, not just make us happy, but men happy. These were the standards that were long ago set: a youthful woman is a beautiful woman. Meanwhile, the beauty industry has never pushed onto men such a similar aesthetic.
Today, however, “beauty” and “feminist” are becoming much more intertwined. In the words of Emma Watson, “Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality.”
That means we don’t have to go on strike by not shaving our pits or letting our hair go grey if it doesn’t serve us. And yet it’s about celebrating those who choose not to dye or shave as well. I read Elle’s interview with Autumn Whitefield-Madrano regarding her book, Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives and felt so attracted to her point of view on the ability for beauty culture and feminism to coexist.
“I don’t think beauty and feminism actually were ever in opposition to each other,” Autumn says. “I think they were seen as being in opposition to each other, but part of that has been misogyny doubling back on itself.”
“I think we dismiss beauty as frivolous because it’s something women engage in more than men,” she continues. “I don’t think we can fully understand our relationship to beauty until we’ve untangled sexism, which is going to take centuries.”
Her words made me feel better about my obsession with the newest highlighter, sure, but also, it made me think about all the ways beauty and feminism are intertwined—not just coexisting.
The conversation is no longer that women are joining the workforce. We’re in the workforce. Now it’s about equal pay, about calling out sexual harassment, about starting on top and staying on top.
Did you know that many major beauty companies have little or no female representation on their boards of directors or among their senior management teams? LedBetter, a research group that maintains a database of how many women hold leadership positions at the world’s top companies, uncovered this unsurprising truth, noting that women occupy 34 percent of board seats and 24 percent of executive positions at personal care companies in their database.
So I wondered—where are the women? Have they begun to branch out on their own? While 182 beauty companies fall under the massive umbrellas of seven huge manufacturers, with the CEOs of such, like L’Oreal, Revlon, Estée Lauder, all men, shouldn’t we be celebrating the women, and the brands that are saying “no” to gender inequality? That are paving the path for powerful, successful women? What about brands that make it a priority to support female-geared organizations? If you’ve been wondering the same thing, and have been bothered in a similar way, you’ll appreciate this list of brands to help make your beauty routine ultra feminist!
I will note that some of these brands are still owned by the bigger guys. For instance, Urban Decay is a subsidiary of L’Oreal. But the work to support female empowerment, and the women behind such brands, is totally worthy of shouting out.
Urban Decay / Wende Zomnir
Wende founded Urban Decay in the ‘90s, having teamed up with Cisco Systems cofounder Sandy Lerner. Today, the brand has something of a cult following, from the quality of the products to the out there product names that are equal parts fun, feminine, and a bit on the wild side.The brand has also raised more than $1 million over the past two years as part of its female empowerment initiative, The Ultraviolet Edge.
You Are Amazing
“You Are Amazing is the fun-loving, boldly scented basic bath and body brand giving women a positive start to each and every day,” states the beauty brand on its website. The brand has partnered up with GirlUp, the United Nations Foundation’s adolescent girl campaign, which focuses on developing, engaging, and inspiring the world to stand up for the empowerment of girls everywhere. You Are Amazing donates a portion of every single item sold to GirlUp.
Tarte / Maureen Kelly
Another well-revered beauty brand, Tarte was started by Maureen Kelly in 1999 in her NYC apartment. Maureen was sick of the lack of skin-friendly beauty options, and so came out with Tarte’s iconic cheek stain. The brand also contributes to Step Up, a foundation that inspires professional women to inspire teen girls through after-school and weekend mentorship programs.
Sarah Potempa / Beachwaver Co.
Hairdresser Sarah Potempa founded her own line of tools, Beachwaver Co., that has made a lot of flat manes come alive with wavy perfection. Sarah was constantly explaining the process of getting the perfect beach waves to editors, which ultimately led her to sketch out the idea for the first ever rotating curling iron. Along with her sisters and a team of engineers, Sarah created the Beachwaver brand, with the Beachwaver S1 becoming the official hot tool for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. If you can’t master the beach wave like me, then you’re going to love this product — seriously.
AWP x BABOR Beauty Ampoule Set
Luxury professional skin care brand BABOR has, for over 60 years, been standing up for female empowerment. The brand, which is known for its incredible skincare products like their Rejuvenating Face Oil, has teamed up with All Woman Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping girls and women worldwide feel positive, empowered, and confident about themselves regardless of age, shape, or race. The initiative includes a limited-edition AWP x BABOR Beauty Ampoule Set, along with a creative awareness campaign. Fifty percent of proceeds from the set go to The All Woman Project.
Vapour Organic Beauty
Vapour was founded by Krysia Boinis and Kristine Keheley. I’ve been using their foundation for a while now and I have to say, if you want something that makes you subtly glow, this is the product to try. Not only do I love that I get to support two women, but I love that they only use the purest, active ingredients from the earth. The brand also has an ongoing collaboration with Lipstick Angels, both working on projects and donating to their mission to provide nurturing beauty support services to restore and strengthen the dignity, hope and self-esteem of cancer patients.
This woman has my heart for being able to make my skin feel like I just stepped out of an expensive facial every week. Her at-home chemicals peels are an absolute miracle. Kerstin offers a progressive range of European skincare and beauty products. She came from Sweden to open her first studio in Laguna Beach using her own products. “I am very proud to be a female business owner, both now and when I started—it wasn’t that common 40 years ago!” Kerstin told me. “The successes that came over the years have been extremely gratifying personally, but I think they have also provided inspiration to other women to follow their passions or start their own businesses.”
Acure is all about better for you beauty, and I love that it’s owned and operated by husband and wife team Jon and Kristy Guerra. The company prides itself on its sustainable principles that provide the highest quality natural and certified organic personal care. They’re proud sponsors of an amazing organization, Unite For Her, which works to support women throughout the cancer journey and has a major focus on beauty and wellness.