Highlights without contour: How CoverGirl's new campaign missed a few spots
Listen, in our wild year of performative wokeness, willful sleepiness and flat out nonsense, CoverGirl tried to do something great by rolling out a Katy Perry-supported campaign for its first male brand ambassador, James Charles.
Now, as a gay who appreciates a face beat like the confederacy as much as the next queen, this breaking of gender norms by highlighting a male as a brand ambassador is great. After all, we live in a society that polices masculinity at every opportunity. Masculinity is so fragile that we even gender cocktails. Having a gay male ambassador represent a makeup brand on National Coming Out Day isn't just coming out of the closet, it's burning it down. That said, how about we, and I'm just spitballin' here, maybe have a trans woman first?
First, let me start by saying (before the social justice warriors sharpen their machetes) that I am not a trans woman; I'm just throwing out some common sense here as a member of the LGBTQ community who myself often feels overlooked. Second, this argument assumes that trans women look at CoverGirl's cisgender female brand ambassadors and feel unrepresented. Finally, that the insinuation that trans women need makeup to be femme-presenting could be trivializing and commoditizing does not go unrecognized.
I can't really anticipate all sensitivities, because Ms. Cleo is no longer around to help me, so here we go.
I am, in fact, very happy for this new CoverGay, James Charles. He's talented, young and breaks gender norms in almost every single way. There's something so encouraging about seeing a teenage gay man so comfortable in both their sexuality and femininity.
However, considering that many trans women see makeup application as a literal survival skill, maybe we should be turning it over to them first before we bring in a man to show its range and importance?
Failure to "pass" among trans women can lead to street harassment, assault or worse, death. It seems negligent not to include them among brand ambassadors, considering the product CoverGirl produces serves to protect them more than it does a white gay male. Also, as the brand name indicates, they should cover all types of girls in their products and brand ambassadors before turning it over to men. Don't men have enough already? If I wanted to see white gay men be rewarded for having makeup talent, I could simply turn on Rupaul's Drag Race.
CoverGirl and other beauty brands haven't completely failed in their inclusion of trans women. In 2015, Trans supermodel Andreja Pejic appeared in a beauty campaign for Make Up For Ever. That same year, Geena Rocero, a trans model and activist, was featured as a part of CoverGirl's #GirlsCan female empowerment campaign.
But the role of brand ambassador inarguably has a bigger reach — and bigger responsibility. Teaming up with former CoverGirl Katy Perry for the rollout of this campaign isn't just a couple of photos and check, it's a platform and endorsement by one of the most recognizable beauty brands in the world. It's meant to draw attention to the brand's inclusivity by putting James' name next to those of Taylor Swift, Zendaya, Janelle Monae and Katy Perry.
At best, this oversight that led to the first male brand ambassador is a progressive attempt to normalize trans women by not including them. At worst, it's a loud silencing of trans women by a company whose entire campaigns are based around highlighting the beauty of women of all shapes, sizes, colors and identifications. To leave trans women out and move along to a white gay man seems... unethical.
Why is it that white gay men seem to be the avatar for LGBTQ acceptance?
Everywhere we look, it seems that white gay males are the face of LGBTQ liberation. We'll even revise history to do so. Roland Emmerich washed Stonewall whiter than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Media and brands have saturated us with white gay males as the LGBTQ representative for almost everything that we consume. Without knowing any better, you'd think that the only gay POC that exist are RuPaul and a couple of guys on The Real Housewives of Atlanta.
Now, whether this is an internal problem created by white gay men within our community by their own intentional design is a topic for a different day, but in our search for social justice, inclusivity and liberation of the oppressed, do we just give a blind round of applause to the well-meaning allies? Are they in any way responsible to protect the communities they claim to represent? Do these allies? My go-to answer is yes.
Congratulations to James Charles. This is a huge achievement, but don't we think that easy, breezy, beautiful boys have enough?