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How The Beauty Industry Funds Anti-LGBTQ+ Politicians
Major beauty retailers are financially supporting anti-queer legislation.
Pride Month is here and beauty brands are having a public-facing party: They’re compiling lists of queer-founded cosmetic companies. They’re curating “Pride Skincare” collections. They’re selling eyeshadow palettes in “LGBT Colors.”
But behind the scenes, the biggest retailers in the business are backing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
Yesterday, Popular Information published a list of 25 corporations that have donated millions of dollars to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians since January 2022. Rounding out the top 10 are three of the most powerful players in the cosmetics space: Walmart ($650,250), Amazon ($488,000), and CVS ($479,500).
Ahead, a breakdown of how the beauty industry is complicit in funding oppressive, anti-queer policies.
Amazon is the number one online retailer for beauty products, with a staggering 36% of the market share. It saw $23 billion in beauty sales in 2020, nearly doubling its 2019 sales. These numbers are made possible by the many, many cosmetic companies that sell through Amazon: L’Oreal, for instance, grew its Amazon business by 50% year over year in 2020, thanks to a large Amazon ad buy. Over the same time period, Urban Decay increased its Amazon sales by 394%, Estée Lauder by 82%, Clinique by 77%, and Benefit Cosmetics by 43%. The Jeff Bezos-owned operation continues to court celebrity brands (J.Lo Beauty) and indie brands (Peace Out Skincare, Alleyoop) alike, and recently added prestige beauty brands (Dr. Barbara Sturm Molecular Cosmetics) to its “Luxury Stores at Amazon” section.
Walmart, the number two online retailer for beauty products, also expanded its beauty offerings quite a bit over the past three years. In 2021, its beauty sales totaled $11 billion (for scale, that’s nearly two times the amount generated by cosmetics giant Ulta Beauty in the same time period, per Beauty Independent). The corporation’s earnings — which, again, have made their way into the pockets of politicians sponsoring anti-LGBTQ+ bills — are the result of strategic brand partnerships: Walmart doubled the size of its Black-owned beauty section through deals with UOMA Beauty, KINLO by Naomi Osaka, Flawless by Gabrielle Union, and more. It became a core retailer for legendary makeup artist Bobbi Brown’s wellness brand (Evolution_18) and the exclusive retailer for Halsey’s newest makeup brand (af94). The mega-corporation, traditionally known for its low prices, even entered the high-end beauty space: Its alignment with Space NK brings luxury brands like Lancer Skincare, By Terry, and Phillip B to Walmart customers.
CVS is currently the fifth most popular online retailer for beauty products. “Amid the conglomerate-owned giants like Maybelline and Covergirl, you can now find hip indie startups on the shelves,” Glossy reported in May. While the national drugstore is starting to stock smaller, social media-centric brands (Starface, Beauty Bakerie), it still receives much of its online traffic directly from the sites of industry titans (Cerave, Cetaphil, Essie).
Amazon, Walmart, and CVS’s profits are further padded by the digital beauty media, as all three retailers are regular advertisers in the space. According to analytics from Similarweb, Refinery29 is among the top 50 ad publishers currently driving clicks to Amazon, and Byrdie Beauty is a top 50 ad publisher for both Walmart (8) and CVS (44).
Digital beauty outlets also make a significant portion of their income through affiliate sales, and make a significant portion of these sales by promoting products carried by Amazon, Walmart, and CVS. (For context: When a publisher — Allure, Vogue, The Cut, Cosmo — links to an affiliate product, and a reader clicks that link and buys that product, the publisher gets paid a percentage of that sale. This is why beauty sites are plagued by posts like “The Best Under-$20 Beauty Secrets To Shop On Amazon”, and why every article seems to feature a “Shop The Story” section.) Plenty of other retailers offer affiliate programs, but Amazon is an industry favorite, and Walmart and CVS are becoming go-to partners, too. The Zoe Report has its own curated page of product suggestions on Walmart.com; PopSugar, StyleCaster, and Buzzfeed pushed this year’s “CVS Epic Beauty Event.”
Independent beauty bloggers, editors, and influencers often utilize affiliate links as well. Skincare enthusiasts like @skincarebyhyram earn a commission from products listed in their Amazon storefronts. YouTubers like @shea.whitney capitalize on content featuring “Amazon beauty products you NEED!” and Walmart best-sellers. When TikToker Carly Joy posted about her preferred shaving cream last year, personal care brand EOS saw Amazon sales of that product grow 171% from February to March. This is par for the influencer-Amazon course: The hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt — “used by influencers to show off Amazon purchases they discovered on TikTok,” as Similarweb reports — can garner over four billion views in a single month. “Almost every time something has gone viral [on TikTok] … we’ll see our CVS.com inventory depleted completely, almost immediately,” Andrea Harrison, the retailer’s Vice President of Merchandising for beauty, told Glossy. In order to take advantage of this social-media-to-sales pipeline, Walmart hosts livestream shopping events on TikTok and recently announced a new “innovation partner program” with the platform.
To be clear about what’s happening here:
The beauty industry — which makes money by marketing its various products and procedures as pathways to empowerment, autonomy, and liberation, particularly during Pride Month — is funding legislators intent on erasing queer people.
The retailers selling you Love Is Love False Eyelashes and rainbow hair dye are subsidizing Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law and anti-trans bathroom ban, Tennessee’s anti-drag bill, Texas’s attack on gender-affirming medical care, and more. (Amazon, Walmart, and CVS all donated to the RGA and the RSLC in the past year, “both of which support anti-LGBTQ politicians in all 50 states,” says Popular Information.)
The brands marketing LGBTQ+ pride are backing LGBTQ+ oppression, and the industry is set up in such a way that — whether directly or indirectly — almost all of its companies, creators, and customers are implicated in it.
What to do? If you’re able, stop shopping at Amazon, Walmart, and CVS. If you must, purchase directly from the brands they carry instead (or support your local drugstore). Email this article to those brands, asking them to 1) cut ties with their homophobic, transphobic retailers and 2) use their corporate influence to discourage these political donations. Post that message to cosmetic companies’ social media pages, too. Ask the same of the beauty media. Ask the same of beauty influencers. Share the Popular Information investigation widely. Share this one. Finally, recognize that queer representation at the branding level, while lovely, does not secure equality. Purchasing an eyeshadow palette is not political action.
As my brother told me while I was reporting this story, “This is why we say ‘No corporations at Pride.’” Liberation will not be handed down from for-profit companies. We will have to fight for it.
A lot of this reporting is lifted from my investigation into the beauty brands backing abortion bans from September. Surprise! The same corporations that fund the political oppression of women fund the political oppression of queer people!! The fight for women’s rights and the fight for queer rights are the same fight!!!