In the days since June 24, when the Supreme Court struck down the federal right to abortion outlined in Roe v. Wade, the disappointment has been palpable. On the most philosophical level, it goes against my political background to think that politicians would go to great lengths to avoid the judicial precedent of the last 50 years. More personally, engaging with this women’s rights issue seems relevant and applicable, especially as a writer who often covers the beauty industry, an industry that has historically been commercialized, consumed, and profited from women.
As efforts move to the state level, private sector politics can also help the cause, and I hope the beauty industry will take the lead. The United States has long emphasized linking benefits to employment, so it makes sense for beauty companies to provide benefits for abortion-related travel and lodging to offset the additional health care costs this policy change will incur. . That should be the baseline.
With US beauty industry revenue estimated at $84 billion in 2022, the funds are there. This can and should be a great time for beauty to lead the wave of employer-provided coverage when it comes to women’s health. Some companies are already making changes: As of June 24, Ulta Beauty, a female-led magnate among beauty retailers, announced expanded coverage to include travel assistance for “eligible reproductive health services where access to care It is restricted”. Coty and Benefit are among other beauty entities helping to account for accommodation and travel costs related to the bans, while 64 beauty and wellness brands have already joined the Don’t Ban Equality coalition in support of the right to abortion.
The next iteration of suppression is therefore political in origin, and how beauty companies demonstrate their stances will unfold in the coming days, weeks and years.
For context, beauty has been reframing itself to be inclusive of all, whether it identifies with a woman, has a womb or not. Leaving aside notions of gender, this process has meant a conscious move away from perpetuating unattainable standards of beauty that have been conditioned by limiting ideals, whether media-forged, consumption-based, or derived from what some call ” the male gaze. It was when industry powerhouse was in the midst of this shift to a pro-wellness paradigm that prioritized self-love and self-empowerment that a fundamental component of women’s autonomy was symbolically removed. The next iteration of suppression is therefore political in origin, and how beauty companies demonstrate their stances will unfold in the coming days, weeks and years.
The abortion access gap
Employment-related benefits are a great starting point, but there are limits to their ability to help all women. For one thing, only full-time employees are eligible for them. This leaves part-time employees without coverage, while the unemployed (or those working “under the table”) are essentially SOL. The unfortunate irony is that single motherhood and unemployment are closely related; according to a 2022 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “female-headed” families were less likely to have an employed member. A 2021 census found that 80 percent of the 11 million single-parent families with children under the age of 18 were headed by single mothers, with nearly a third of single mothers living in poverty (one in six of whom had under 18 years). Thinking in practical terms, what is the probability that a teenager under the age of 18 has a full-time job? Employment-linked abortion benefits do not address this highly vulnerable group of women with their entire lives at stake.
Education and social outreach is another important issue to consider where abortion is prohibited, and this is the opportunity that beauty brands can take advantage of with their platforms. Particularly because cosmetics, skincare, and personal care are so intertwined, the dialogue they foster can provide a safe space for all matters related to wellness and empowerment. Additionally, we have seen the positive impact activism can have within the beauty space; just look at Elizabeth Arden, who in the 1920s wore red lipstick in support of the early suffragettes. Considering the staggeringly high level of social media engagement among buyers and beauty brands, her outreach can help de-stigmatize the issue and point women in the direction of information and resources.
It is traumatic enough to find yourself in a position where you must seek medical attention that is considered taboo where you live. And let’s not forget that the procedure itself is not easy to choose, go through or recover from. Knowing where to go, seeking information, and receiving resources such as advice, without fear of prosecution or criminal prosecution, may legitimately need to be “outsourced” across state lines.
Because beauty brands have long been involved in building communities, their efforts don’t need to have political overtones; This is a women’s health issue.
I remember sitting across a table with my partner’s mother, who is totally pro-childbearing, as she explained that conservatives weren’t trying to end abortion, they were just trying to find a way to limit how it’s done. However, several states have already banned abortion. The conversation has so quickly shifted from how to regulate the practice, to wondering if exceptions will be allowed, such as emergency D&Cs to save the mother’s life. Without having secured federal protection over this fundamental element of the life experience as a woman, it appears that states are making normative claims on the very notion of motherhood.
My belief is that motherhood should be an empowered choice based on preparation and love; putting up barriers to prevent this feels like an affront to self-determination as women. Over the course of my many years of involvement in the beauty industry, I’ve learned to view my skin care regimen as a ritual to nourish my skin and body; my cosmetics as a means of expressing my signature style. The beauty industry itself is aligning more closely with the wellness industry every day, so we can make sure we support women’s health issues as well.