Gender and Sexuality Column

CoverGirl redefines gender, beauty with NY’s James Charles

/ The Daily Orange

Instead of just introducing new eyeshadow palettes or liquid lipstick, CoverGirl has stepped its game up for expanding their consumer base by challenging ideas of gender.

The makeup brand has shattered the heteronormative world of cosmetic advertising with their newest CoverGirl, James Charles, a Bethlehem, New York native. And although Charles identifies as a man, CoverGirl decided to label him iconically as a fellow cover girl to Katy Perry, not a cover boy. 

The ad is redefining consumers’ understanding of gender- and consumer-based advertising, but CoverGirl has a long way to go before reshaping the industry. While contracting Charles is garnering positive feedback, the company has to with follow up with advertisements and campaigns that progress Covergirl’s new message of gender acceptance.

At only 17, Charles is an internet sensation as a makeup artist with  650,000 followers on Instagram and more than 90,000 subscribers on Youtube, allowing him to reach audiences of all ages and identities. Taking cues from how Charles’ brand communicates a message of acceptance to such a wide audience, CoverGirl should strive to do the same.

As Charles told Cosmopolitan magazine earlier this month, “I think all makeup can be used on anyone, but for everyone to feel that way, well, that’s definitely is going to take a very long time — I think this partnership is a huge first step.”

Rebecca Oritz, a Syracuse University assistant advertising professor, believes CoverGirl is pushing boundaries by creating discourse about gender norms that may not have taken place before. Oritz has followed this story intently, anxious to see what CoverGirl decides to do next.

“If they move forward expanding the gender lines and blurring what it means to be boy or girl, they have to keep up with that,” Oritz said.

Beth Egan, who also teaches advertising at SU, isn’t surprised at CoverGirl’s gender inclusivity and agrees that this move can definitely attract more makeup lovers.

“Those who identify as LGBT will be brought into the franchise as not only will they appreciate the brand for recognizing them for who they are, but CoverGirl is also speaking directly to them and their individual makeup needs, which are different from a traditional heterosexual consumer,” Egan said in an email.

Oritz agrees, but also believes that casting Charles as a cover girl can both widen the brand’s base  consumer base as well as drive some current customers away.

“I think overall it is an amazing thing, but there are potential things to consider and it’s possible they alienate their consumer base, because if feels like they are trying too hard and pulling some stunt without any real consideration advancing some time of social issue,” Oritz said.  

Oritz points to an important aspect of the campaign that CoverGirl must keep in mind: longevity. While this is a major leap in the cosmetic industry, one campaign isn’t enough. Social justice progress and LGBT acceptance takes more than a cover boy for CoverGirl — even marriage equality laws are still contested. Still, the makeup company has opened a floodgate and it’s imperative that the brand stands its ground to stay consistent with its upstream battle.

The fact that a larger-than-life, global brand like CoverGirl contracted a man as their cover girl is epic. As an industry dominated by women’s faces, it is refreshing to see a representing a product that now has a genderless market. The company is fronting a new era in the fashion world not just by refusing to play into the gender binary, but by becoming the LGBT community’s strongest ally.

Myelle Lansat is a junior magazine journalism major and policy studies minor. She can be reached at


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