Confidence Wins: Beauty Influencers with Disabilities
By Linda Freund · December 22, 2019
Social video feeds are crowded with makeup tutorials from beauty influencers that promise flawless brows, glowing skin, and fuller lips.
But the real standouts aren’t fixated on uniform perfection. Today’s most impactful beauty content celebrates differences.
How do beauty brands embrace this cultural movement?
It starts by approaching makeup, itself, in a refreshing way, with timely messaging: Don’t use makeup to hide your differences. Use it to reveal them. Put your strongest features on blast.
Disabled beauty influencers are leaders in this shift towards self-love. Some have survived burns, some are paralyzed or missing limbs completely, others have facial and skin deformities.
All have turned to social video to show just how contoured beauty can be. Their innovative makeup tutorials and stories of perseverance convey an irrefutable truth: beauty is confidence.
Beauty influencer Marimar Quiroa, who was born with a facial tumor, sums it up beautifully: “accept yourself for who you are, because you are the only one who can make yourself proud.”
Read on to meet more inspiring beauty influencers who are leading this inclusivity charge.
Burn Survivor Shalom Blac: “Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful”
When Shalom Blac was nine years old, a vat of hot oil fell on her. Her face, body, and scalp were severely burnt.
Today, the burn survivor and makeup artist tells her 1.4M YouTube subscribers to “be your own kind of beautiful.”The Nigerian gives tutorials on topics ranging from custom wigs to concealer tips for covering scars. Last February, Sephora invited her to join its exclusive #sephorasquad, which provides training and support for influencers. This past year, Blac was able to take her signature makeup tutorials to Sephora’s social channels.
In her most engaging video of all time, however, Blac isn’t applying makeup at all. She’s removing it. In a recent video, Blac removed her concealer and wig in front of her crush, YouTube influencer Justice Cook (14.5M views and 858K engagements on YouTube).
“I was the same girl who would never step out of the front door because of the way I look,” Blac told Cook. “We’re gonna see the real beauty,” Cook replied.
Blac’s final reveal is vulnerable, raw, and absolutely moving. In fact, all Blac’s videos have a signature feel: one part makeup tutorial, one part confidence tutorial.
Blac invites people on her beauty journey. Through honest reflection she teaches viewers an important lesson: confidence can come from unexpected places.
But it doesn’t appear overnight. Blac uses video to model how this confidence is built — smudge by painstaking smudge.
Takeaway: Support a Viewer’s Personal Journey
“It’s nice for someone to see the beauty in you, but it’s nice for you to see it and believe it,” Blac said at the end of her most-engaged video.
Herein lies a gradient of the cultural shift we are seeing towards body positivity and inclusivity. It’s not just about society flipping the script. The transformation is a personal journey young viewers are actively undertaking. And they are seeking role models like Blac who have overcome struggles.
Beauty (and confidence) is real when we, ourselves, feel it radiate from the inside-out.
There’s a tendency from brands to partner with beauty influencers who have strong personalities and a large following. But remember, one person’s misfit is another’s hero.
Instead of leveraging vloggers who have already found their path, brands would benefit from supporting those who are emerging. Seek out partnerships with those actively working to overcome a challenge and rebuild confidence.
Be there when their butterfly moment finally arrives and know that you helped make the metamorphosis possible.
Quadriplegic Jordan Bone: “Know That You’re Amazing”
“Know that you’re worth so much. Know that you’re amazing,” said quadriplegic beauty influencer Jordan Bone in her most-engaged video ever(17.9M views and 520K engagements on Facebook).
Since her car accident, Bone can’t dress herself or do her own hair, but she learned how to do her own makeup with the small arm movement she retained.
“If something is standing in your way, try another way,” Bone said as she jammed her makeup brush into her closed fists and blended her eyeshadow like a pro. The influencer is known for her chic tutorials from her signature bombshell look, to smoky eyeshadows, and endless lipstick try-ons.
Boasting 192K YouTube subscribers, the UK influencer has a relationship with L’Oreal Paris UK. The partnership started in 2016 when the brand kicked off a diversity and inclusivity campaign. The theme: “What makes us different makes us beautiful.”
The associated ads, which garnered millions of views, featured 23 people (including Bone) with different skin tones and abilities.
This campaign marked an opening for disabled models in the industry. Still, Bone believes beauty and apparel brands are falling short in their inclusivity marketing efforts.
Over the past few months, Bone has taken to social video to address the fashion industry directly. “I wish brands would show their clothes on someone sat down as well as standing up,” Bone said in a recent Instagram video.
Bone gently points out that brands focus on diversity, but inclusivity is still an afterthought (i.e. those in a wheelchair or with bodily differences).
Takeaway: Same Clothes. Different Bodies.
Bone’s call for inclusive models is part of the larger cultural wind. In 2013, a video featuring disabled mannequins from Swiss charity Pro Infirmis went viral (25M views and 64.2 engagements on YouTube).
The awareness campaign placed the disabled models in store windows wearing the latest fashion. Though moving, these mannequins were not widely adopted by brands or retailers, as Bone will attest.
Seven years later, there are flashes of inclusivity in branded campaigns. Shapewear company Shapermint, for example, features a model with a prosthetic leg in its advertising.
Needless to say, there is room for more. And the template is there to apply more inclusivity in marketing.
Consider Pretty Little Things. The women’s clothing brand went viral for its recent holiday clothing launch, with ads that featured plus and standard-sized models side-by-side in the same apparel. The campaign was well received. After all, there is a power in seeing clothing modeled on a body like your own.
Will this template be expanded upon to include differently-abled bodies too? Time will tell.
Quadruple Amputee Kaitlyn Dobrow: “You Learn to Love It”
When Kaitlyn Dobrow was 19 years old she lost her arms and legs to bacterial meningitis.
The disease also consumed 50% of her skin.
After three years of recovery, Dobrow posted her first makeup tutorial in June 2016, showcasing sunrise-colored eyeshadow.
Dobrow’s perseverance is powerful to watch. The quadruple amputee uses a hook-arm to apply her makeup.
In her early tutorial days, she shakily applied winged eyeliner. Sometimes she dropped things. Nevertheless she persisted. Makeup, after all, is her passion.
“The first thing I did with my [hook] arm was pick up a makeup brush,” she said in one of her top-rated videos.
A few months later, Dobrow shot to influencer status with her grungy fall makeup tutorial (1.3M views and 44.6K engagements on YouTube).
Dobrow has amassed 239K YouTube subscribers to date. To this day, fall makeup remains her forte. This past September, she brought back the autumn vibes in a tutorial featuring smokey eyes and maroon tints.
Takeaway: Be Transparent, Be Brave
Dobrow doesn’t hide from her differences. “You learn to love it, you learn to embrace it,” she said in a recent video.
Dobrow’s most popular and engaged video is a heartfelt explanation of how she lost her arms and legs (9.9M views and 301K engagements on YouTube). This is one of several videos in which she confidently addresses her differences and fields viewer questions.
In a related video, the beauty influencer puts her physical limitations on full display. She revisits her high school dance routine, this time with her prosthetic legs. And she keeps dancing even when her body grows visibly tired.
Dobrow’s courage and honesty inspires her viewers. “And here I am, complaining and whining about how I’m not thin enough. People like you make me realize just how ridiculous I am, you are an inspiration,” said one of Dobrow’s YouTube fans.
When brands feature beauty influencers in their campaigns the tendency is to insert them into a polished, scripted videos. But clearly the most-engaged videos from Dobrow and others are direct, unrehearsed responses to viewer questions.
Brands looking to be more inclusive and feature beauty influencers who have inspiring backstories would benefit from giving them an open mic after a campaign has launched. Live streaming on a brand or influencer platform is an ideal avenue through which to pursue this.
What About the Trolls Against These Beauty Influencers?
Social video is the wild west. Comments swirl like tumbleweeds, some filled with love, others with vile. This is all the more apparent when a brand or influencer pushes the boundaries of beauty.
Brands promoting inclusivity must remember the responsibility this entails. In 2020, brands can no longer be bystanders when the comments section fires up. They must also show conviction.
There is a way to do this elegantly. Consider beauty influencers like Em Ford. The acne-sufferer was trolled after revealing photos of her blemished skin.
In response, Ford produced one of the most refined responses to trolls in social video history (32.2M views and 1.3M engagements on YouTube).
It just goes to show, negative comments can be transformed into teachable moments.
Takeaway: Brands Can Change Hearts
Serving consumers with disabilities is one part of today’s larger call for more inclusive marketing. The time is ripe for video content that empowers all women to be confident in their own skin, no matter what their story. As Alessia Cara’s hit song “Scars To Your Beautiful” goes:
You should know you’re beautiful just the way you are
And you don’t have to change a thing, the world could change its heart.
The engagement data is clear: The world is ready to change its heart. Are brands?
Benefit is one brand working to better understand beauty influencers and their followers.