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Shiseido's new ad is doing something no mainstream makeup brand has done before

Sneha Vakharia | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 7:22 IST

This is an industry that thrives on being, literally, skin deep. It begs you to invest in face value.

And yet Shiseido, the luxury makeup brand from Japan, is telling customers to look beyond the obvious.

It's not an advertisement you'll see on television (unless you're in Japan.) But it's already reached seven million viewers on YouTube.

With reason. It's layered. And it's inviting a conversation that the corporate beauty industry typically avoids, beyond the surface.

Anyone can be cute

Prima facie, what the advertisement seems to suggest is that makeup can make anyone look - for lack of a better word - feminine. Even if you're a gangly-looking bespectacled man.

The tagline supports such that understanding of it. It says simply - "Anyone can be cute".

And yet, there's more going on here.

It takes on conversations about identity; specifically, identifying with a gender.

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What "Anyone can be cute" is implying, then, is this: anyone can be whoever they want to be, and that fluidity can extend to gender. Beauty products can empower you to embrace the identity you find most fitting.

Is makeup the answer to the complex issues of identity, gender and social acceptance when you identify yourself with a different gender from the one you were born with? No. But it's a conversation unusual for makeup brands to take on, seeing as highlighting gender attributes - chiseled cheekbones, doe eyes, plump lips - is where they typically excel, rather than dispelling those boundaries.

At a time when 'agender' seems to be popping up in public conversation, especially in the fashion industry, it's an intriguing conversation for a beauty brand to start.

And for an industry that has traditionally alienated everyone who doesn't conform to popular notions of gender and beauty, this message could be a big deal.

But that's not all

Shisiedo makes another acknowledgement here: so much of what we see is coloured by what we expect.

And that people merit closer engagement before judgement because almost never are they who you think they are.

And that, too, is unusual for a beauty brand, whose appeal is often built on the power of the first impression. The beauty business rejoices in the fact that you can mask what you don't like about yourself.

Now, it seems to be pulling that mask off, one tiny yank at a time.

And while it's hard to look at the beauty business without cynicism, this is a message we can certainly root for.

First published: 31 October 2015, 5:20 IST
Sneha Vakharia @sneha_vakharia

A Beyonce-loving feminist who writes about literature and lifestyle at Catch, Sneha is a fan of limericks, sonnets, pantoums and anything that rhymes. She loves economics and music, and has found a happy profession in neither. When not being consumed by the great novels of drama and tragedy, she pays the world back with poems of nostalgia, journals of heartbreak and critiques of the comfortable.