Plus Size Models in Beauty Campaigns: How Ads Are More Inclusive

But while the demand for size inclusivity has disrupted both industries for the better, the effect feels much greater with beauty—mainly because, in fashion, a curve model is still that, a model, with her above-average height and ideal proportions. (And we all know, bodies come in all shapes and sizes—not just hourglass figures.) The difference with beauty is the lack of body politics and, more important, its accessibility. “Everybody has a face, everybody wants makeup, so everybody should be represented when it comes to any product,” says Marquita Pring, who in her 12 years of experience as a curve model landed her first beauty campaign—L’Oréal’s True Match Foundation—this year. “I had done tests here and there in the hopes the beauty industry would be open, but it never actually clicked. I can’t tell you why it’s taken so long, but it was by far, the most exciting, incredible experience for me.”

“It’s happening now because there’s been a buildup in demand from
consumers who don’t want to see something unattainable or
unrelatable.” —Evelyn Wang, senior VP of Wet ‘n’ Wild

From the business side, Wang offers an explanation as to why the industry’s been so slow on the uptake: “It’s the fear of doing something differently. What if you do it and no one responds? It’s happening now because there’s been a buildup in demand from consumers who don’t want to see something unattainable or unrelatable. And the brands that are brave enough to do it are getting the acknowledgement and positive responses on social media.”

Social media, as you probably suspected, has been a reckoning force in pushing the issue along. Like with fashion campaigns, it’s a way for people to voice their concerns and be heard. And brands are finally—finally—using that feedback to rethink antiquated marketing strategies. Those that are being more inclusive are reaping the rewards, both in consumer feedback and in sales. Fenty Beauty is one shining example of just that—its foundation shades (specifically the medium-to-darker shades) are continuing to sell out in Sephora stores and online. For Wet ‘n’ Wild, Wang claims there are too many variables to determine whether casting Garcia directly impacted sales, but “we’re having our strongest year ever—we’re up almost 14 percent in sales year to date, so we’re one of the fastest growing brands in the category. Diversity is a part of the fabric of our country, and I can only think it has to be good for businesses to reflect that.” And the brands that aren’t? “They’re getting backlash for it,” says Sammy Scharg, assistant manager for public relations at Julep.

That means, for the first time, consumers hold all the power, from dictating what products they want to see to who they want represented. “I want to support brands who are being more inclusive—we have an opportunity as consumers to vote with our wallets,” Mason says. “I’ve also stopped shopping from brands that aren’t inclusive in their messaging. It’s a really big turnoff for me—to see brands using their platforms to reinforce the old idea of beauty that’s only aligned with being light-skinned and having Western features, especially in our political climate. It’s just so important to validate people in all their forms, for people to see a reflection of our world.”

“I grew up with shame surrounding my body. If I saw more women who
looked like me in campaigns, everything would have been different.”
Brianna Marquez, plus-size model

Pring, too, stands by brands that are committed to being more inclusive: “If it’s not a diverse company, then I have no interest in trying your products, especially as a woman of color—I need to know I’m going to have options.”

Diverse, yes, but brands have to be authentic about it too, which begins with casting—as in, casting more than one plus model in a campaign. Plus-size model Brianna Marquez, who is one of the five featured in Wet ‘n’ Wild’s #BreakingBeauty campaign, says tokenism is still a major problem. For her, “it sticks out like a sore thumb” when she’s cast as the only curvy model in a beauty campaign with a dozen people. It’s why the Julep foundation campaign she starred in, which featured more than one curvy model out of 18, and Wet ‘n’ Wild’s #BreakingBeauty campaign (where she was given a platform to share her journey to becoming a weight lifter) both really resonated with her. “Brands are trying, there’s a shift happening, but we’re not quite there yet. We will be when it’s more equal.”