Gen Zs love to express themselves, and what better way than with makeup? Makeup offers Gen Zs the ideal product to represent all sides of themselves—free from gender norms and stereotypes. But non-beauty brands can also embrace gender fluidity in their campaigns. It all begins with an open mind.
It probably began in the nursery where you slept as a newborn—the assignment of attributes and ‘norms’ based on gender. If you were a girl, your room and clothes were likely decorated in shades of pink; for boys, the shade of choice was blue. Girls, for the most part, had long hair and boys wore theirs short. Your identity was informed by gender, even before you knew what gender was. And for any generation pre-Millennial, it’s a safe bet only two genders—male and female—were recognised.
But not the case for Gen Z. They are among the most gender-aware and gender-diverse population in history. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center study, 35% of Gen Zs say they know someone who prefers that others use gender-neutral pronouns to refer to them. (This is in contrast to a quarter of Millennials.) And almost 60 percent believe that forms that ask about a person's gender should include other options besides "man" or "woman".
And while gender and sexuality are not new topics, they are no longer being ignored or discussed in hushed tones. Gen Z is actively and openly saying no to these preconceived notions of self, and refusing to define their individuality based on what others (parents, society and media) have defined as normal.
Thanks to growing up in an always-connected digital world, Gen Zs eyes have been open to differing points of view, attitudes, cultures, body shapes and sizes since birth. To them, there is no ‘ideal’ anything. Not a hairstyle, mode of dress, acceptable or unacceptable facial hair or even toy. Gen Z is saying “No, we will not be classified.” Rather, they are fluid—in gender, sexuality and attitude. ‘Who I am’ is expressed as who I am at this moment which may be different next year, next week or even later this afternoon.
So what does this mean for the companies marketing to Gen Z? Let’s look at the beauty market as an example of an industry that is already embracing this shift.
Representing the under-represented in beauty
In the beauty space, gender-neutral products and campaigns, and gender-fluid spokespersons are becoming common-place. In 2017, Maybelline hired beauty vlogger Manny Gutierrez (MannyMUA733 online) as their first male ambassador; while other big-name brands like MAC and NYX continue to incorporate males into their campaigns. These companies realized that there was a demand for marketing—and beauty products—that appeal to people across the gender spectrum.
But for many brands, gender-neutral spokespeople and products aren’t an avenue to new audiences—it’s their raison d’être, their origin story. Brands like Fluide and Jecca Blac were born out of a need for inclusivity that was missing from mainstream makeup brands.
Take Jecca Blac. After working with transgender women, Jecca Blackler, company founder, realized her clients had little to no resources for the products they needed to look and feel fabulous—like an easy-to-use concealer that covered blemishes and beard shadow. So, she created it, along with an entire range of genderless face, lip and eye makeup.
Fluide has a similar story. As a parent herself to Gen Z teens, Fluide co-founder and CEO Laura Kraber was inspired by the activism of Gen Z with regards to LGBTQ+ and gender identity issues. Kraber has said, "I wanted to create Fluide to represent and reflect the diverse identities of teenagers today, support their self expression, and offer an authentic, inclusive beauty brand to an audience hungry for new representations of beauty."
If makeup is for everyone, where will gender fluidity show up next?
Gen Z wants more than tokenism, they want inclusivity. Some brands are getting the message and responding in kind. Gender-neutral clothing is on the rise, as fashion brands like H&M, Skechers, ASOS, Hurley and others are acknowledging there is no single idea or representation of beauty or fashion. And you can bet that pretty much any vertical where gender has historically played a role in marketing or product development is ripe for the embrace of a fluid mindset.
If all brands are willing to embrace authenticity and inclusivity and show it in the models they cast and the language they use, they can create greater awareness that anyone can be their customer and use their products—and potentially tap into new markets. Outcomes that are good for both business and society.