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Growing up in the South Asian community, I often received unsolicited opinions regarding my olive skin tone, which was significantly darker than my light-skinned relatives. “Make sure you don’t stay out too long in the sun; you don’t want to get darker.” “Try applying turmeric; it will help lighten your complexion!” “Shouldn’t you have fairer skin for a North Indian?” The idolization of fairness is a deep-rooted aspect of Indian culture and has influenced whether women consider themselves beautiful enough or worthy enough in society’s eyes. The beauty industry contributes to this belief through its promotion of skin lighteners and lack of shade ranges that accurately reflect the true variety of skin tones. Today, colorism continues to negatively impact Asian-American women’s mental health, as research has confirmed a correlation between symptoms of depression and prejudices against darker skin tones among this population. 

Mental health is highly stigmatized in South Asian communities and often goes unaddressed by those affected. Individuals are disempowered from seeing their mental health issues as valid and seeking out the help they need to heal. The Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum reported that South Asian Americans between the ages of 15-24 are more likely to exhibit depressive symptoms. We can begin to change the statistic plaguing our community by normalizing communication around mental health. In order to prevent poor mental health, we need to build self-esteem in individuals and dismantle our communities’ standards of beauty and fairness. This feat requires aligning beauty brands to share mental health resources and ensure meaningful representation of black and brown skin. Selena Gomez’s makeup brand, Rare Beauty, does just that with its unique mission to redefine beauty, promote self-awareness, and give people the tools to feel less alone.

Photo provided by Rare Beauty

Rare Beauty introduced its products to the world by releasing unretouched photos of diverse, multicultural women wearing the brand’s 48 foundation shades. By creating a culture of inclusivity and celebrating the diversity of beauty, Rare Beauty has established itself as a brand that genuinely cares about representation. Their focus on consumer well being is further demonstrated by the company’s mission to raise $100M over the next 10 years to increase access to underserved communities’ mental health services through the Rare Impact Fund. As a beauty enthusiast and a mental health advocate, I am impressed by Rare Beauty’s purpose-driven approach and thoughtful involvement of experts to inform meaningful action on issues so relevant to my community. To learn more, I connected with Elyse Cohen, Vice President of Social Impact, to discuss the brand’s commitment to mental health and self-acceptance.

Elyse has spent her career building social impact programs to address some of the world’s most pressing societal challenges on behalf of companies, nonprofits, and government. Having worked on Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative, she knows first hand the influence a real, genuine voice has to move the needle on important issues, especially as it relates to mental health. When asked what stood out to her about Rare Beauty, Elyse explained, “We have the unique ability to leverage a brand and celebrity platform that is authentic. Selena has always been vocal about her struggles with mental illness. Since my first meeting with her, she has been open and vulnerable, and I felt the power that her voice and story could have to this issue.” 

With Elyse spearheading impact, Rare Beauty has hit the ground running with its social good initiatives. The company has established a Mental Health Council composed of 12 experts to advise programs and identify Rare Impact Fund grantees. The Rare Impact Fund announced The Trevor Project and Jack.org as their primary grantees, with plans to fund additional organizations in the coming months. The Rare Beauty team was active on social media throughout Mental Health Awareness Week, sharing tips and resources, engaging in thought leadership conversations, holding Q & A’s, and hosting interactive dance parties for their communities. In honor of World Mental Health Day, Selena Gomez spearheaded a movement to pull beauty industry partners in pledging alongside Rare Beauty to being a National Association for Mental Illness StigmaFree company. Most recently, Rare Beauty partnered with Unity to fund creators who leverage technology to raise awareness for and treat mental illnesses. Despite launching only three months ago, it is safe to say that Rare Beauty has already made strides towards letting people know that they are not alone in battling mental illness. “We want our platforms to serve as a resource for young people. We aim to inspire others to be vocal, share their experiences, and feel comfortable when it comes to mental health. We can only accomplish this by working together and coming together around this issue in any way that we can,” says Elyse. 

Photo provided by Rare Beauty

Operating in the middle of the pandemic has only enabled Rare Beauty to lean more heavily into its mission, given that mental health is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. A C.D.C. report revealed that more than 2 in 5 U.S. residents struggle with mental or behavioral health issues due to COVID-19. Elyse explains, “The pandemic has confirmed just how critical providing mental health support is. Rare Beauty’s emphasis on loneliness was built into the company’s goals long before social distancing and isolation became a part of our daily lives. Our work is especially relevant now given how our younger audience is affected by the pandemic, with Gen Z already being the loneliest generation followed closely by Millennials.” Young people are more frequently utilizing social media to stay connected, despite these very platforms having the potential to increase feelings of depression and low self-esteem.  This renders Rare Beauty’s focus on reducing mental health stigma, addressing the epidemic of chronic loneliness, and helping people access mental health resources more critical than ever. 

Looking ahead, Elyse wants to ensure the company is both on track to fulfill its $100M fundraising goal and is diligent in its grantmaking strategy. She hopes that the name Rare Beauty and its brand are one day synonymous with mental health. “I want people to know that we are more than a beauty brand and that Rare Beauty is truly a mission-driven company with purpose built into its DNA. We want to leverage the power of storytelling to change the culture and conversation around mental health,” says Elyse.

I left my conversation with Elyse feeling inspired by the company’s approach to encouraging self-acceptance and normalizing mental health. I’m excited to see a brand embrace all skin color shades and encourage us to love what makes us rare. As Rare Beauty grows, I’m hopeful that it will develop mental health messaging and allocate funding that speaks to the cultural and social contexts of racial and ethnic minorities. Most of all, I’m confident that with visionaries like Selena Gomez and Elyse Cohen, Rare Beauty can contribute to a cultural shift in how communities talk about mental health. 

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More Thrive Global on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis