Authentic beauty: Visibility and representation

Girl Sitting in a Wheelchair with a Disco Ball

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we know that across the world attitudes are changing as perceptions of the ‘visual norm’ evolve.

Research from Kantar reveals, 65% of consumers say that it’s important that the companies they buy from actively promote diversity across society. And we are seeing brands rapidly adapt to more inclusive campaigns. However, for every brand that gets this right, there are many that fail to consider the intricacies of true representation.

Last year, FleishmanHillard UK partnered with leading inclusive talent agency Zebedee in a UK industry-first partnership to increase the visibility of people with disabilities, alternative appearances and trans/non-binary in the media. Zebedee is a specialist talent agency that represents more than five hundred people with a variety of needs and is continuing to grow as both brands and consumers realise the importance of authentic imagery.

Woman carrying her daughter

Pip Solway, Director and Partner at FleishmanHillard UK with her daughter, Aoife

FleishmanHillard UK director and partner, Pip Solway is the proud mother of Aoife, who is signed to Zebedee and recently starred in Vogue. Pip is raising a daughter who is leading the ‘Inclusion Revolution’ by not letting Down’s Syndrome define
her abilities. Pip caught up with Sue Moore, senior booker at Zebedee to discuss the future of beauty standards, and unique challenges when casting across a range of abilities.

Pip: As you know, I’m hugely inspired by the work you and the team do at Zebedee. The agency started five years ago, and the use of diverse and different models has hugely changed in that time. What do you think are the core reasons for this?

Head shot of Sue Moore Senior Booker at Zebedee

Sue Moore, Senior Booker at Zebedee

Sue: Without blowing our own trumpet — the reason for such a big change is largely down to Zebedee! Before we existed, disability was never part of the diversity debate. A plus-size model was a diverse model. Brands had simply never considered using a model with a disability or a visible difference. For many different reasons, mainly fear of getting it wrong or worrying about consumer reaction. Zebedee’s work in creating the agency and pushing our models out there has had a really big impact.

Pip: In regards to casting, what is the biggest challenge for you when looking for models that are disabled or have visible difference? How does this work when the normal ‘beauty standards’ aren’t considered?

Sue: That’s an interesting question. We receive hundreds of applications every week, as we consider all ages, looks and abilities. We submit our talent with visible differences for every brief. I think the biggest challenge is shortlisting the best of the best as we get so many applications that are simply wonderful so it’s hard!

Pip: You represent a diverse range of abilities at Zebedee, what is the biggest sector that you’ve seen growth in – and how do you predict this will change the future of casting?

Sue: Over the past few years we have seen a lot of growth in our adult models in general. When we first started out, I often heard ‘we might use a cute little kid with Down’s Syndrome, but never adults’ which was shocking. Despite this, our adult division has seen incredible growth and as a company, we are five times busier across our men’s and women’s divisions than we were this time last year.

Pip: It’s so amazing to hear and see that this change is happening. Finally, for any brands that haven’t yet explored diverse casting, what’s your advice for getting started? What do they need to consider when planning campaigns?

Sue: As an agency, we do not want to be regarded as a specialist agency — we want to be known as the leading inclusive agency. We want brands to consider using people with disabilities and visible differences in ALL campaigns and that’s where to start — or even better, bring disability into the creative brief. They may fear tokenism, but you have to start somewhere. Bring disability into the conversation on each and every job. Of course, some talent may not fit but at least they are being considered.

There are a few practical things that brands need to consider, but it is mainly about having a bit more forward planning to ensure that disabled talent gets as much notice and time to prepare as possible. For instance, we would always recommend a venue is accessible for all abilities, but if a model is deaf they would need to specifically provide an interpreter.

For more information about FleishmanHillard’s Zebedee partnership or strategic counsel in diversity, equity & inclusion, contact: [email protected]

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