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Beauty brands the world over have the goal of selling relatable dreams and hopes to mass audiences in order to grow their business.  For a long time, they sold fantasy-based aspirations of beauty by using celebrities as brand endorsers and ambassadors.  Movie stars are the most favoured type of celebrity because they are the reigning queens of aspiration, especially when it comes to beauty – looks, face, figure and personality.  It’s almost a law of beauty marketing that you need to have a face for the brand and that face is the celebrity.  The hope and belief from the business that the celebrity’s face will sell millions of units of the product and hence the ROI on her endorsement fees is very well worth it.

Thus, movie stars are one of the main symbolic anchors of beauty culture.  As a symbol or representation of emotions and values, they connote multiple ideas such as perfection (is possible), fandom, feminine power and confidence, glamour, seduction and aspiration to improve and do better for oneself. 

A second pillar of the beauty sector is the beauty pageant or beauty contest.  Miss World, Miss Universe and their various offshoots sit at the top of the beauty pyramid.  India found its place in the global beauty world only from 1994, the year when both Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai won the titles.  Since then, six young Indian women have gone on to win the titles.  The Femina Miss India contest has been the stepping stone for young Indian beauties to aspire for International titles.  The success of two Indian women, Aishwarya Rai and Sushmita Sen on the global stage in 1994 gave a huge boost to the beauty contest as a cultural product/artefact.  Very soon, beauty contests became a part of every school and neighbourhood activity and became embedded into the lived culture.

When we think of the beauty contest as a symbol in the beauty landscape, we can unpeel many referents and meanings for it.  As a contest, it is a search for the best of the best, the most beautiful woman that nature and human effort together can create.  Undoubtedly, the modern beauty contest is a showcase not just of the looks that a girl is born with, but also the combined efforts of a large team of professionals and experts.  These professionals and experts include hairstylists, fashion stylists, make-up artists, public speakers and photographers/videographers. 

Today, big beauty contests, run at a national or international level are a production eco-system in themselves, giving employment and opportunities for a vast array of professionals to showcase their expertise.

These experts themselves have now become cultural symbols in the world of beauty.  This is most manifest in the make-up sector, where makeup artists have spawned a large set of ‘professional’ and ‘expert’ brands of which M.A.C is the most reputed and Huda Beauty the latest in line.

In the last decade, with the explosive growth of Instagram, there is now a third pillar of the beauty sector that is also a well-recognised symbol and that is the beauty influencer.  The beauty influencer can range from a professional makeup artiste to a professional consumer (prosumer). 

It is the prosumer who is a new entrant into the beauty world.  She is a regular consumer but one who is passionate about beauty and fashion, who learns about products and services, tries them out herself and offers her views and opinions on them.  She also invites audiences into her world and her life and shares her opinions and points of view on life itself, expressing a life philosophy that her audience could find inspiring, not just entertaining.  She is often good looking, but not at the level of a celebrity or a beauty pageant winner.

Thus this prosumer influencer has now become a cultural symbol of ‘accessibility’ and ‘accessible beauty’. 

Accessible beauty is the regular girl on the street, every young woman and an older woman who is a member of society.  A few beauty brands have featured this ‘every-girl’ in their advertising, in a user testimonial format, describing her experience of the product and its superiority.  Dove is the brand that is the most famous for the use of ‘every-girl’ and ‘every-woman’ in its advertising.  Dove then developed its ‘every-girl’ association into a beauty philosophy or stance opposing fixed and singular standards of beauty and perfection, as well as beauty contests, articulated as the campaign for ‘real beauty’.   However, despite Dove’s efforts at championing ‘every-girl’, she has not become a cultural symbol in the beauty world.

Until now, with the prosumer, beauty influencers – regular girls/every girl has also become a beauty semio-type/archetype, a recognisable symbol.  Unlike the celebrity and the winner of beauty pageants who are out-of-reach, ultra-aspirational symbols, pointing to the peak of what is possible, the every-girl is the symbol of what is within reach for everyone.  The celebrity and winner of beauty pageants are symbols of exclusivity with access restricted to a chosen/select few.  Whereas, ‘every girl’ is a symbol of inclusivity, the democratisation of beauty, someone who every woman in the world can aspire to emulate.

The latest development in the world of beauty is that beauty brands are now holding contests to identify young girls with the potential to become beauty influencers.  They select them and sign them on to speak for the brands and their products as Influencer-Ambassadors. 

Brand-run contests to select influencer ambassadors (Plum, L’Oreal, Nivea are just a few) are a new hybrid format and hence an emergent symbol in the world of beauty.  As a symbol, influencer-ambassadors represent a new amalgam of values already considered important in beauty culture – good looks, talent and expertise, with a new layer added – that of inclusivity instead of exclusivity.

For beauty brands that are considering adopting this latest trend of influencer-ambassador contests and finding their own, the primary consideration is the inclusive-exclusive binary and the position they wish to occupy on the binary.