Why Are Fat People Absent From Beauty Ads?

by Katie Cloyd
Originally Published: 
Luis Alvarez/Getty

I discovered how much I love makeup very early in my life. My favorite aunt had a lighted makeup mirror and a vanity table full of every kind of makeup a little girl could ever want to use. In the beginning, I would pile on layer after layer of every bright color I could find, exploring how it felt to use the brushes, apply different formulations and change the colors of my face. I felt like one of the women in the beauty ads.

When I came out of her room, covered in every color of the rainbow, my Aunt Vickie would always exclaim that I looked lovely, complimenting some part of how I chose to paint my face that day. Spending the evening with her was always one of my very favorite things.

As the years went on, my love of makeup remained, although diet culture stole my confidence to feel as beautiful as the women in the ads. I got much better at applying it eventually, and to this day, one of my favorite ways to relax is to close my door, sit at my mirror and carefully do my makeup in silence.

As an always-fat person, beauty products have been kind of a safe haven for me.

Trying on clothes has been a source of stress for me since first grade. As a high school student, trips to the mall with my friends were not as much fun for me as they were for everyone else. I couldn’t shop in all the stores, and I didn’t have any desire to try on clothes with a bunch of girls much thinner than I was.

But beauty products never cared what size my body was. As soon as we passed a makeup counter, a fragrance store or a Bath and Body Works, we were equals. I might even have had the advantage. I had knowledge not everyone had because while they chose to express themselves with their clothing, I chose to do so with beauty products.

Even now, I find common ground with my thin friends when we talk about things like skincare, sunscreen, nail appointments, hair removal and makeup. I love discussing things that don’t require my body to be a certain size for me to use them to their full potential. I always have. Beauty is my level playing field.

So, why is it that I don’t see anyone who remotely resembles me when I look at beauty ads?

The vast majority of the time, the models in ads for anything beauty related are thin with glistening skin, a thick mane of gorgeous hair and two rows of big shiny white teeth. They have full lips, big, bright eyes, and medium-sized breasts. They used to be mostly white, but a lot of companies have worked on that. However, beauty ad companies still sometimes choose racially-ambiguous models who they can style to get closer to a white beauty standard.

When a plus-size person lands an ad gig, almost nothing changes. She will still be impossibly gorgeous in every way, only her body will be larger. Still the same shape and proportions as the thin models. Her body might be a bigger size, but she still looks nothing like a regular person.

I am not stupid. I know that ad companies use the women we wish we looked like because they think it will make us buy the product. And it works. As a species, we spend close to 400 billion dollars a year on cosmetics.

We have come a long way since twenty years ago when I was a teenager wishing that someone in the magazine looked like me. We have Dove ads and stuff. Some smaller companies are pretty good about it. I get that there is some diversity in advertising these days if you look for it. Progress is good. Yay for those steps.

But should we keep settling for the idea that people should be allowed to make 400 BILLION dollars by selling us an impossible standard of beauty?

Isn’t the entire point of using the most gorgeous people on the planet in ads to remind us that we are NOT one of them? Why are we still okay with that?

I want to see mid-size women with flat butts, low boobs and crow’s feet in my shampoo ads. I want to see fat women with hanging tummies, lumpy rear ends, and back fat selling me lipstick, and I want to see someone larger than me showing me how amazing her skin is since she switched to a new moisturizer.

I really, really want to see a fat teenager giggling with her friends in one of those ridiculous tampon commercials with the blue liquid.

Where are the fat guys in deodorant and shaving cream commercials? Don’t people of all sizes use soap and lotion and hairspray?

Fat people spend our hard-earned dollars buying all the same things that thin people use to feel attractive and maintain our health and hygiene. I think it’s only fair that ad companies stop omitting our existence from their campaigns.

If they can’t give up on the concept of only using impossibly gorgeous people, well guess what? They exist in large bodies, too.

It’s not hard to find a larger model with all the features we’ve been sold as ideal.

I personally want to see ads featuring all kinds of diversity. Give me all ages, all skin tones, all levels of physical ability. Show me the models whose gender expression is outside the binary. I think we all deserve to see ourselves in the media we consume.

But as a fat person, size diversity just has a special place in my heart. I’ve worked so hard to make peace with the body I inhabit. It has taken years and a lot of energy, effort and tears.

I would love it if beauty and ad companies would make that process easier for other people in bodies like mine by presenting us as worthy of being called beautiful.

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