Higher Purpose

Why I Refuse to Compete Against The Beauty Standards Society Has Set 

At the Makers 2020 Conference, SK-II announced an Olympic brand partnership. 
Courtesy of SK-II

The theme for the 2020 Makers Conference was “Not Done,” and many of the revolutionary speakers on stage echoed the message that there is more work to do for women to gain equality in the workplace and the wider world. But for many of these same speakers, they used the platform to give encouragement to their peers, both male and female, to fight for change.

For me, listening to the multifaceted women onstage reminded me that my own interests span far wider than the beauty products that are a key part of my job. Kamilah Newton, a writer and activist who works with the Women’s Prison Association, made me remember that my desire for criminal justice doesn’t stop at Black men: “When we picture criminality, why don’t picture people who look like ourselves, and, in fact, women are the fastest growing prison population filling up US cells.” And, Wanjiku Gatheru, a Rhodes scholar at the University of Connecticut, proved to me that environmental and racial justice are irrevocably connected: “Environmental justice means that all beings have equitable environmental experience, like access to healthy food, clean water, access to green space. Racial justice requires institutions to allow all people equal opportunity. Who is experiencing climate change the worst — it’s people of color.” Both of these topics affect me directly as a Black woman and color the way I move through the world.

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However, when beauty brands market their products, they often whittle me down to just my hair, makeup, or skin interests. Working at a beauty magazine, I'm fortunate enough to have access to the best new products and creams. But honestly, the brands I gravitate to the most are ones that support causes that are much bigger than brightening under-eye circles and getting perfectly moisturized hair. “Today’s consumers are very discerning and they are not going to be fooled by just putting claims out there,” says Sandeep Seth, SK-II Global CEO. Instead of pushing product, SK-II has set out several purpose-driven campaigns with not one mention of their iconic Pitera Essence. “People resonate with purposes and point of views, not products anymore. We all have brands that we love and very rarely it’s because of the benefit, it’s because of the values. To really resonate with consumers today, we have to have a strong point of view and stand by it — that drives loyalty.”

Personally, I want to align with brands and companies that are fighting for issues I feel a direct connection with, like women’s equality and racial justice. SK-II understands this, which is why the brand is committed to making content that has everything to do with creating a better world for all women to live in. This year, the brand is taking on yet another pressure point — competition about the way we look. “We are all thrown in this universal competition that we did not sign up for but that we all end up in anyway, a competition that we are all labeled judged and compared,” said YoeGin Chang, SK-II Japan’s brand director, on the Makers 2020 stage. “A competition that is able to dictate how we should look, feel, and act.”

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As a beauty editor, there is a lot of competition to look perfect all the time (with the help of the hottest skin treatments and makeup launches, of course). I have compared myself to others many times: Should I wear more makeup to look better in Instagram photos? Should I get filler to erase the dark under-eye circles that seem genetic? Should I wear a headwrap to work on days when I didn’t have time to style my hair?

Courtesy of SK-II

But SK-II is partnering with the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo to spread a new message: beauty is #NOCOMPETITION. The beauty brand is working with well-known Olympic athletes: Simone Biles (USA gymnastics), Liu Xiang (China swimming), Mahina Maeda (Japan surfing), Kasumi Ishikawa (Japan table tennis), Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo (Japan badminton), and the Japanese volleyball team. Despite the fact that each of these athletes are masters at their sports, they often have to enter into a second, harmful competition that's all about beauty standards.

Biles wrote about her partnership with SK-II #NOCOMPETITION campaign on Twitter recently, “I’ve learned to put on a strong front and let most of it slide, but I’d be lying if I told you that what people say about my arms, my legs, my body… of how I look in a dress, leotard, bathing suit or even in casual pants hasn’t gotten me down at times.”

This year, with SK-II as a partner, the IOC is hoping the focus will be on the competition on the court—not the appearance of the athletes. “Competition is on the field of play, not in beauty. You won’t find 15,000 more beautiful people at the Olympic village,” says Anita L. DeFrantz, International Olympic Committee. “They’re all gorgeous because they have all been successful and they are there to do something really hard. They may not succeed, but they are willing to show the world how hard they are willing to try.”

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About SK-II

For more than 38 years, SK-II has touched the lives of millions of women around the world through skin and life transformation. The fascinating story behind SK-II began with a quest to understand why elderly sake brewers had wrinkled faces, but extraordinarily soft and youthful-looking hands. These hands were in constant contact with the sake fermentation process. It took years of research for scientists to isolate the miracle ingredient Pitera™, a naturally derived liquid from the yeast fermentation process. Since then, SK-II with Pitera™ has become a special secret shared by celebrities all over the world such as Chloë Grace Moretz, Behati Prinsloo Levine, Tangwei, Ni Ni, Chun Xia, Haruka Ayase and Kasumi Arimura. For the latest news and in-depth information, please visit sk-ii.com.

About #CHANGEDESTINY

#CHANGEDESTINY is at the heart of the SK-II brand philosophy that celebrates how destiny is not a matter of chance, but a matter of choice. Inspired by the stories of women from around the world, #CHANGEDESTINY sheds light on the pressures they have and the universal 'box' they are put in to be perfect in society's eyes. Award-winning #CHANGEDESTINY campaigns include 2016's "Marriage Market Takeover" that put a spotlight on the labels of "Sheng Nu" or "Leftover Women" in China, 2017's "The Expiry Date," 2018's "Meet Me Halfway," and 2019's "Timelines," a docu-series in partnership with Katie Couric about the evolving and controversial topic of marriage pressure and societal expectations women face globally.