“Only 4% of women self-identify as beautiful,” says fashion designer Carrie Hammer at TEDxSantaBarbara. In 2013, it was reported that the average woman spends $15,000 on beauty products in her lifetime — supporting an industry that is projected to make 62.46 billion dollars in 2016. “[Americans] spend more on beauty than we do on education,” Hammer says, “…and that’s not [including] fashion. Combined, they’re a 1.3 trillion dollar industry who’ve made a business out of setting unreal expectations of beauty and then profiting from and exploiting the insecurities that they’ve helped create.”
“Women not feeling beautiful has huge, dangerous echoing effects on our society,” Hammer says. “Eight out of ten women opt out of important life events when they don’t feel [attractive] … Young girls self-select themselves out of sports, activities or even raising their hand in class because they don’t want to draw attention to how they look.” As an adolescent, Hammer never saw anyone who looked like her in magazine pages, and so she assumed she must not be beautiful and that beauty products would “fix” her. “[I did] what the magazines told me to,” she says. “I bowed down to the beauty bibles — started chemically straightening my hair … started hating my skin color, my thighs.”
After leaving a career in advertising, Hammer began working in the fashion and beauty industry. At a fashion show, Hammer met a 12-year-old model who was asked to pose as an adult on a runway, and the implications scared her. “That was the moment that I realized that this is so often the image being portrayed to us … and this is what I call the beauty gap, where it’s no longer about illusion and it is closer to delusion… extreme Photoshop, body doubles, underage models being marketed to women.”
Hammer discusses “Frankenstein Photoshop,” in which photo editors use multiple models to make one image. “Recently, a famous 70-something celebrity was photographed for the cover of a big magazine,” Hammer says, “[for the shoot] a younger leg model was called in, photographed and her legs were superimposed over the star’s for the cover — deceiving everyone who walked by.”
This magic editing happens in magazines, videos, TV and even on social media, Hammer says. The app Facetune lets anyone with a phone retouch a photo with a few clicks. “Facetune makes your ugliest selfies look beautiful,” says CNN — and people use it to get “a bangin’ body on the beach” to post on Instagram or a perfect Facebook profile picture, Hammer says. “This beauty gap usually slips by and we just think, ‘This is beauty.’” Hammer says.
When Hammer launched her own clothing line, she wanted to avoid the “beauty gap,” she says. “I wasn’t comfortable sending traditional models down the runway.” She curated a show with the theme: Role Models, Not Runway Models. “In that first show, we had CEOS, executives, philanthropists, activists — some of the most amazing women,” she says. “[Their beauty] came from their passion, their purpose, their accomplishments.”
One of those models, Dr. Danielle Sheypuk (watch her TEDxBarnardCollege talk here), was the first model to use a wheelchair on a New York Fashion Week runway. “[Sheypuk] rocked that runway,” Hammer says. “She just happens to [use] a wheelchair.”
Hammer hopes this is just the start of changing the global definition of beauty and closing the beauty gap for good.
To learn more, watch Hammer’s whole talk below: