The Future of Trans Beauty
The beauty industry has made great strides in expanding its vision of beauty to be more inclusive of people of all skin tones, ages, body types and abilities.
However, there remains a significant blind spot when it comes to understanding and embracing the needs of trans women.
While cisgender women have more product choices, branding messages and industry representations speaking specifically to their experience of womanhood, trans women remain alienated and underserved.
The beauty industry must adapt and become more inclusive of trans women and the diversity of the trans experience.
The Current Landscape
Trans women have largely been left out of the conversation in the beauty industry.
Despite having an equal, if not heightened, need for beauty products and services that affirms their femininity and allows self-expression, few brands specifically consider and market to trans women.
This may come down to lack of awareness, as only 16 percent of beauty brands surveyed in 2021 reported taking action to support LGBTQ+ customers.
The industry's historical reliance on the gender binary and stereotypical depictions of cis feminine beauty have also likely contributed to the exclusion.
However, the purchasing power and desire for representation among trans women reveals a key demographic that brands need to better understand.
A 2022 survey showed that trans individuals spend twice as much on beauty products and services than the general public.
Over 75 percent of trans women reported dissatisfaction with available beauty products and services and a feeling of alienation from beauty marketing and messaging.
Clearly, there is a gap between what trans women want and need from the beauty industry and what is currently provided.
While most brand initiatives related to inclusivity have focused heavily on racial diversity, a few have recently taken small steps toward trans inclusion.
Brands like Jecca Blac have catered directly to the trans community with gender-affirming makeup while Fluide and Fenty Beauty have featured trans models in recent campaigns.
However, no major national brand has a specific trans-centered marketing strategy or product line.
The surface-level representation from select brands indicates there is still substantial room for growth and learning across the industry.
Challenges for Trans Women in Beauty Spaces
Accessing products suited specifically for trans women’s bodies and needs remains extremely difficult.
For example, popular products like foundation that provide full-coverage do not adequately conceal facial hair and products with SPF often aren’t formulated for use on more sensitive areas like the face and body post-laser or IPL hair removal treatments.
Products marketed as “long-lasting” also typically assume cisgender body chemistry.
The lack of high-quality products formulated and marketed specifically for trans women forces them to either make products intended for cisgender women work or take risks purchasing untested products from lesser known brands.
Beauty industry marketing, advertisements and branding also strongly center the cisgender experience without reflecting the diversity of trans identities and connections to femininity.
Rather than empowering trans women to embrace a fluidity of femininity and celebrating trans perspectives, ads feature the same narrow representations of cis women.
This consistent erasure sends the message that trans women fall short of an arbitrary beauty ideal tied to assigned gender at birth.
The reliance on traditional gender stereotypes also subtly supports beliefs that transfeminine expressions are less valid.
Trans women also face discrimination and alienation in accessing beauty services like salons. In a 2022 survey of trans women who had visited a salon in the past year, over 30 percent reported experiencing unwanted questions, harassment or denial of services because of their gender identity.
Another 40 percent described simply not feeling comfortable or welcomed in salon spaces.
Even here at KetchBeauty, we've gotten hundreds of messages over the years from customers thanking us for providing them with an effective at home laser hair removal alternative because they were getting turned down at salons for being trans.
These experiences understandably create fear and anxiety for trans women around accessing spaces that should feel safe, affirming and empowering.
A Vision for the Future
So how can we chart a path forward? The beauty industry has made progress expanding its definition of beauty in recent years, but realizing a more inclusive future requires putting trans women at the heart of those expanded conversations.
Brands need to acknowledge and embrace the responsibility to shape narratives of femininity rather than leaving damaging assumptions unexamined.
Centering trans women means developing and testing products specifically formulated to meet their diverse needs.
This includes expanding shade ranges, hair care and styling products suitable for wigs and extensions and makeup engineered for facial hair coverage and procedures like laser treatments.
It also requires insight directly from trans women through focus groups and advisory boards. New product innovations should celebrate the uniqueness of transfeminine beauty rather than take a one-size-fits-all approach.
Brand messaging and advertisements must also feature trans women as the authorities on their own experiences.
Campaigns should tell empowering stories aligned with trans values and aesthetics rather than attempt to fit trans beauty into cis-focused branding.
Stock photos need to reflect people at various stages of transition. Trans influencers and spokespeople need prominent platforms to shape the cultural narratives surrounding trans beauty on their own terms.
The in-store environment also requires an overhaul toward true inclusivity. Beauty retailers have a responsibility to implement staff training, store policies and gender-neutral facilities that ensure trans women feel safe, welcome and treated with dignity.
Hiring trans employees to lead reform from within organizations is also critical. Brands must see store environments as unique opportunities to affirm trans women through gender-expansive messaging and visibly trans-inclusive spaces.
Lastly, the beauty industry would benefit from investing in and signal boosting trans-owned brands.
Highlighting successful products already catering to trans women demonstrates the business opportunity of this underserved market.
Trans entrepreneurs also inherently bring the community connection and authentic understanding brands may lack.
Promoting trans leadership more broadly encourages new visions for beauty able to fully re-envision conventional narratives.
Steps Brands Can Take Toward Inclusivity
While culture shift at a broad scale is a gradual process, brands have clear actionable steps they can prioritize today to begin better serving trans women:
First, products intended for a general female audience should undergo testing and feedback panels with diverse groups of trans women.
Without insight into specific product performance and preferences, brands cannot adequately address the gap in market offerings tailored for this community.
Brands also need trans women and non-binary people represented in visible leadership, decision-making and advisory roles that influence strategic priorities.
Lived experience should directly shape ideas on new products, marketing narratives, store environments and brand values related to inclusivity.
Another critical action is launching ad campaigns and marketing content created by and prominently featuring trans women alongside cisgender women or as stand-alone brand representatives.
Showcasing empowered, multidimensional trans perspectives sets the tone for consumer perceptions of trans beauty and femininity.
Retail employees at all levels should also receive training on respectfully serving trans women and transgender sensitivity.
Staff set the frontline environment that either affirms or alienates trans customers.
Training coupled with explicit non-discrimination policies reinforce a welcoming culture.
The Role of Cisgender Consumers
While the onus lies mostly with the beauty industry itself to reform, cisgender women play a key role through their purchasing influence and voices of solidarity.
Cis women can use spending and brand sentiment as leverage in demanding more trans-inclusive products and marketing.
Public calls for reform and accountability also contribute to mounting pressure on brands to acknowledge trans perspectives.
Beyond exercising influence, though, cis women have a responsibility to better understand trans experiences in order to combat unconscious biases holding back inclusion.
Building awareness of trans rights and the harm caused by beauty ideals that exclude transfeminine beauty supports breaking down misconceptions.
Cis women can play a powerful part in reshaping social narratives by uplifting trans voices rather than speaking for trans communities themselves.
Through consumer activism, brands see the ability to retain and capture new shoppers by responding to calls for inclusivity.
While moral arguments exist for reform, the business case is also increasingly clear - serving trans women well represents an untapped market opportunity other competitors will fill if existing brands continue lagging behind.
Celebrating Trans Trailblazers:
The fight for inclusion isn't new, and countless trans women have paved the way for the progress we see today.
Their stories are testaments to resilience, talent, and the unwavering quest for self-expression.
Let's shine a spotlight on some of these inspiring figures:
- Hari Nef: This actress, model, and writer has graced the covers of Vogue and Paper Magazine, challenging traditional beauty standards with her infectious confidence and bold style.
- Munroe Bergdorf: A transgender model and activist, Bergdorf used her platform to speak out against racism and transphobia, paving the way for more diverse representation in the industry.
- Gottmik: This Drag Race winner and makeup artist is revolutionizing the concept of drag, blending artistry and activism to showcase the power of self-transformation.
- Laverne Cox: One of the first openly transgender actresses to star in a mainstream American television show, Cox has used her platform to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and promote understanding.
- Trace Lysette: This model and actress has openly discussed her journey as a trans woman and the challenges she faced in the industry, paving the way for more honest conversations about trans experiences.
These are just a few examples of the many trans trailblazers who are changing the face of beauty.
By celebrating their stories, we amplify their voices and inspire future generations to embrace their own unique identities.
- Trans-owned and Operated Businesses: From makeup brands like Haus of Slay and Fae Beauty to skincare lines like Mutiny and Salt & Stone, trans entrepreneurs are creating products specifically designed for the needs of their community. Supporting these businesses not only empowers trans individuals but also fosters innovation and diversity within the industry.
- Inclusive Brands: Companies like Milk Makeup, Urban Decay, and Deciem are pushing the boundaries of gender-neutral and inclusive marketing. Their commitment to celebrating diverse beauty standards and offering products for all skin tones and features creates a welcoming environment for trans customers. Recognizing and supporting these efforts encourages other brands to follow suit.
- Collaborative Initiatives: Partnerships between established brands and trans creators are fostering meaningful dialogue and product development. MAC's collaboration with trans artist and activist Miss Fame on a lipstick line is a prime example. These collaborations highlight the power of working together to create products and campaigns that resonate with the trans community.
By celebrating the achievements of trans trailblazers and supporting community-driven brands, we can ensure that the future of beauty is not just inclusive, but actively shaped by the voices and talents of trans individuals.
This is not just about charity or trend; it's about recognizing the immense value trans people bring to the industry and building a future where their creativity and brilliance can shine as brightly as any shade of lipstick.
The beauty industry sits at the intersection of commerce and culture with immense capacity to shift attitudes and narratives surrounding womanhood.
As societal understanding of gender expands, beauty brands have both a business imperative and social responsibility to re-examine products, messaging and services through a trans-inclusive lens.
While achieving truly authentic inclusion will require deep internal transformations, leaders in beauty now face growing pressure for overdue change.
We stand at the precipice of a more diverse, empowering vision of beauty - one where transfeminine individuals feel recognized and celebrated by an industry seeking to understand and uplift all manifestations of womanhood.
Realizing this more expansive, fluid and compassionate future, however, starts with brands rethinking convention to bravely put trans women - not market segments or projecting cisgender assumptions - at the heart of the conversation.