In a world characterized by increasing interracial cultures and a simultaneous backlash against manipulated photography, honest beauty champions the idea that beauty can be found all around us in its natural form. The quasi-imperial ascension of artists such as Lady Gaga and Adele punctuates our desperation, as a society, to embrace role models who represent an honest portrayal of their own unique brand of beauty.

At its core, the honest beauty movement is also rooted in frustration with modern society. It’s another backlash against mainstream manipulation and our seeming lack of ability to stop it. An important facet to honest beauty is the advent of imagery reflecting women as they are, without reliance on visual distortion. As such, there is an entire movement against falsified imagery making its way around the globe.

The manifestation of honest beauty

Loving what you’ve got

How does honest beauty manifest in our everyday lives and in what we see? French publication Elle routinely features models without makeup, while the South African extension of Marie Claire recently published a “body issue” full of ads that were all about “loving your body.” German magazine Brigitte made waves back in 2010 when it declared that only real women (not models) were wanted for editorial imagery. Meanwhile, the 2011 film MissRepresentation, which debuted at Sundance and went on to air on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), took a stand for young women who develop unrealistic beliefs about beauty and self worth after exposure to modern day imagery.

Excessive airbrushing

Despite the momentum toward accurately representing models and spokespersons, companies continue to receive complaints about improper manipulation of imagery. In July 2011, Maybelline and Lancôme (both owned by L’Oreal) were forced to pull ads featuring actress Julia Roberts and model Christy Turlington on grounds that the campaigns were excessively airbrushed.

Cover Girl’s unconventional beauties

Conversely, U.S. based cosmetics company Cover Girl has successfully leveraged spokespersons such as actress/musician Queen Latifah and comedian Ellen Degeneres to promote its makeup line. As recently as a few years ago, these “non-traditional Hollywood glamour” women might have been considered unconventional selections as spokeswomen. Today, the imagery connected with these relatable brand ambassadors is unapologetic, celebrating the unique sense of beauty these women represent.

Make Up Forever’s battle against Photoshop

American cosmetics brand, Make Up Forever is directly combating image manipulation with advertisements that feature real women sans any form of post-production. The company’s self-declared “Battle Against Photoshop” exemplifies confidence that the brand can deliver both functionally and in the spirit of honest beauty. This particular campaign suggests that any woman can feel like a supermodel without abandoning her sense of self.

Reclaiming control with honest beauty

As demonstrated by the examples above, showcasing a broader, more honest representation of beauty again enables us to reclaim control over our lives. Global research firm, Mintel predicted an increasing level of honesty in the way personal hygiene products would be communicated in its December 2010 release of global CPG trends. Another avenue towards achieving greater honesty in visual communications involves celebrating diversity, different body types, age groups and skin tones. By doing so, companies articulate a more contemporary and healthy interpretation of beauty.

Nivea brings honest beauty to life

Global beauty brand, Nivea’s recent campaign displays another manifestation of honest beauty, as expressed in visuals that capture moments typically reserved for intimate consumption only. From caressing a loved one to snuggling with a baby, the imagery deployed by Nivea showcases the human body in all its bare skinned glory. Brought out from behind closed doors, visuals replete with touching and skin-to-skin bonding play up a sense of togetherness and care that supports the essence of honest beauty.

In addition to increased authenticity, we also see a more diverse representation of people in terms of ethnicity, age and body type within our beauty related imagery. Visual imagery that does not shy away from the flaws of “everyday people,” but instead champions them as a source of uniqueness, demonstrates that companies are in touch with real consumers.

Dove leads the pack

It’s widely known that Dove was one of the first major consumer brands to succeed with a beauty campaign based on real women who use its products. Though less buzz generating than its launch in 2004 featuring half-nude subjects, Dove continues to leverage real women in today’s visual language, with all races and sizes gracing communications. The use of similar imagery in multiple geographies, particularly in the U.S. and Western Europe, underscores the global appeal of honest beauty as a communication theme. Recent print advertising in the U.S. continues the trend of authenticity, and the consumer website in Spain leverages similar visuals.

Not just for the girls

Honest beauty as a visual language is not limited to communicating with female consumers. Research conducted by Unilever (the manufacturer of the Dove+ Men’s Care line) within the past year found that 3-in-4 males do not feel advertising portrays men accurately. Furthermore, investigative work published in Body Image Journal suggests that male models of average stature are equally as effective at promoting positive body image among men as their more muscular counterparts. In alignment with these findings, imagery that portrays men in dually flattering and honest ways has emerged within the men’s personal care segment.

Every Man Jack gets honest

California-based men’s hygiene brand, Every Man Jack exemplifies honest beauty for men quite comprehensively, from product design to promotion. This niche brand, which has presence in multiple countries –including the U.S., Australia, and the UK- markets “products that are honest and straightforward and stripped of all the things you don’t need, like harsh chemicals and unbelievable promises.” Each year, the brand sponsors a contest to crown an “Every Man Jack” to build viral support for its positioning as a no-joke men’s brand. The contest winners are featured in digital and print advertisements, which leverage these real male models (including name and hometown) as its campaign heroes.


FMCG marketers spanning a wide range of services can capitalize on the trend of honest beauty as described within this report. The following guidelines suggest ways in which FMCG brands can create successful visual communications surrounding FMCG and honest beauty.

  • Use models that exhibit diversity and unique beauty. Show people of all body types, ages, backgrounds and styles.
  • Remember that honest beauty isn’t an exclusively female concept. Male-focused communications can also incorporate men who unapologetically embrace their natural appearance.