"We’re living long healthy lives. We’re reinventing ourselves and our careers. Yet, our attitude to beauty is stuck in the 20th Century," said Andrea Q Robinson, the author and beauty entrepreneur.
As we gear up for S/S 17 Fashion Week – a frenzied time of year when the way women (and men) present themselves is never more scrutinised or commented upon – whether that’s the models or the fashion front row's (Frow) best dressed, I wonder whether those in the fashion pack would agree with this sentiment?
I definitely did, but don’t anymore – but maybe for different reasons to those on the Frow...
So let’s be clear, we all know fashion trends come and go but one word that is always synonymous with the way women look is femininity – we see designer’s collections aptly named, The Modern Feminine Mystique, Super-Feminine and even Masculine Femininity.
But despite seeing more and more women walk the corridors of power, or leading some of the world’s largest organisations, this doesn’t mean women must turn their back on femininity in order to get there. In fact, according to our Female Tribes initiative, 86% of women globally believe their femininity is a strength not a weakness.
Within this context of female progress, the notion of femininity is evolving too. Femininity is no longer just a means of seduction but a means of power and influence in its own right. Women are using their femininity to express their own agency, demonstrating to the world their own female capital, the worth that they can bring to the world as women.
According to the Female Tribes initiative, 86% of women globally believe their femininity is a strength not a weakness.
The shift from femininity solely as seduction to power and autonomy means our notions of beauty are being reframed, and a new language is being created.
A clear example of how femininity and beauty are evolving is in Asia. A recent manifestation of this was from SK-ll, the international skincare brand, which, in April 2016 created a viral film supporting Chinese women who are refusing to be pressured into marriage before they turn 25.
This brand sponsorship of such a contentious and deep rooted societal issue clearly demonstrates this shift from beauty as currency to bag a husband to beauty being for a woman. It's beauty on our terms, thank you very much.
But when taken to the extreme we are also seeing how femininity as power and influence can take a more assertive approach. Through our Female Tribes research, (a repository of global proprietary female insight used to create 15 Tribes to help us better understand women above the tired "busy working mum") we explored the idea of the "modern courtesan", those women who are actively using their beauty as a way of entering "social arrangements" for financial benefits.
This tribe personifies this post-modern take on beauty as a means of sexual power and assertiveness, demonstrating her hyperawareness of her own beauty and the power that she can wield with it.
Also, the rise of the "revenge body" phenomenon (the notion of spending hours in the gym to get ripped and Instagramming the results – instead of pining at home alone) demonstrates how beauty can take on a more muscular and aggressive idea.
Both GHD’s "Modern fairy tales" and Oriental Princesses' "Murder mysteries" have toyed with this idea of the assertive femme fatale using her beautiful power for herself, again highlighting how beauty brands have responded to this shift in mind-set.
Yet fundamentally, the beauty of beauty, pardon the pun, is its ability to transcend societal norms and conventions. As we watch Gen Z’ers grow up, we see more and more of them subscribing to the idea that gender is fluid and not a hard and fast construct, with only 48% of them identify exclusively as heterosexual.
For our teen activists, (defined as female Gen-Z’ers who are driven by the desire to change the world for good) we see that beauty to them is not about putting on a mask, but being true to and asserting who they really are and what they believe in.
The recent use of teen transgender activist Jazz Jennings by Clean & Clear demonstrates the importance of diverse role models in beauty, and using the hashtag #seetherealme galvanised a community, 40% of which believe technology has empowered them.
What these various examples demonstrate is that beauty is not passive. It is an important and active tool in our armoury, not just as a means of seduction or prettification but enhancing our own innate Female Capital, in whatever form we wish for it to take, be it power, assertion, aggression, persuasiveness, success or subversion.
The latest ad by fashion and beauty brand Kenzo perfectly highlights this shift, being lauded for breaking away from the traditional tropes of perfume advertising to an expression of contemporary femininity through the medium of dance. Here’s to more beauty brands celebrating beauty on our terms.
Lucy Moody is the planning director at J. Walter Thompson London.
Sources: JWT Women’s Index Study, JWT Intelligence, report by Shepherd Laughlin, https://www.jwtintelligence.com