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Real Beauty and beyond: Ten years of transformation

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Remember 2004—when Thefacebook.com was just a Harvard student’s pet project? When one beauty brand broke convention by featuring real women, rather than models, in its campaign? When the closest anyone got to a selfie involved turning around a disposable camera, clicking and hoping for the best?

The past decade has witnessed major changes in the ways we think about beauty and body image, largely driven by technology and social media. Here, we round up ten key moments in the redefinition of body image and beauty from 2004 to today…

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The rise of the selfie

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat—whichever image-based social network you’re into, the front-facing smartphone camera is your friend. And sure, while there may always be duckfaces and aggravating ab shots in the mix, many social media users insist that selfies empower. Seeing selfies on social media can boost confidence by giving users control of the images they put forward to the world, research suggests. Bring on the close-ups.

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Dove celebrates Real Beauty

In 2004, only two percent of women described themselves as “beautiful”—a statistic Dove sought to change by promoting a more inclusive definition of beauty. Enter Real Beauty, an international campaign that started a global conversation about the need to challenge beauty stereotypes by replacing professional models with the women next door. “Women had grown tired of seeing the same beauty stereotype time and time again and were eager for something else, something that was real and relatable and representative of every woman,” said Dr. Hartstein, a Clinical Psychologist speaking on behalf of Dove. “Ten years later…. [w]omen are becoming more accepting of themselves and their differences…. It's wonderful to witness." Since 2004, Dove has brought its non-models—who may be wrinkled, dimpled, young or curvy—to London billboards, Super Bowl ad breaks, and YouTube. Last year, the brand produced Dove Real Beauty Sketches, a video that ever so gently reminds us that we are our own worst beauty critics. It became one of the most-watched online ads of all time.

Fashion for all sizes

When one of the First Lady's favorite designers unveiled a collection for Lane Bryant in March 2014, it became the latest fashion line to embrace plus-size audiences. Online shopping and social media have led to a virtual explosion in stylish options for fashion fans of ALL sizes. With Asos Curve, Forever 21, Evans and Modcloth leading the way, more retailers and etailers are waking up to plus-size shoppers’ needs by the day. Which gives us all more choices when getting dressed—making the morning closet trawl that much more fun.

Models get better with age

For fashion models, retirement or reinvention used to come at 25. Not anymore. The original “supers” are still going strong well into their 40s, booking runway shows and (gasp!) underwear campaigns that used to go to women half their ages. And thanks to the influence of blogs like Advanced Style, brands are embracing age diversity—Lanvin, The Row, and American Apparel have all cast more mature women to model their designs in recent seasons.

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Magazines make “no Photoshop” vow

When its readership spoke out against Photoshopping, Seventeen Magazine listened. The teen magazine answered a 14-year-old’s petition by promising to “never change girls’ body or face shapes” and to “celebrate every kind of beauty” in its pages from August 2012 onward. Editors at other magazines put un-retouched and un-made-up faces on their covers, turning their most prominent images into proof of just how beautiful the real thing can be.

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Diversity gets a boost on the runway

The fashion and beauty industries have long faced criticism for their relative lack of diversity. But that’s changing. In the makeup aisle, cosmetics companies are offering broader ranges of colors to cater to women of different ethnicities and skin tones. In fashion, the Diversity Coalition pushes for more inclusive model casting in major runway shows. During the Coalition’s two active seasons, its leaders have noted a slight uptick in the number of black models appearing in important shows. The result is a fashion industry that more closely resembles the world outside the New York Fashion Week tents.

World goes Mad for curves

The premiere of Mad Men in July 2007 introduced viewers to the dapper men of Sterling Cooper—and to some seriously stylish women. The female characters’ confidence in curve-hugging wiggle dresses ignited a craze for Mad Men style among women of all measurements that has yet to abate.

Personal style blogs elevate real style

The advent of personal style blogs meant that anyone with Internet access, a digital camera, and a unique point of view could (with a little luck and a lot of effort) become an international style star. Before you could ask, “Does my banana-print shirt clash with this plaid skirt?” a new class of self-made style icons posed and published its way to the front rows of major international fashion shows. By showcasing the work of lesser-known designers and embracing a do-it-yourself approach, the bloggers behind Sea of Shoes, Style Bubble, and The Glamourai inspired fans to treat every day like a new catwalk.

Baby bumps get a royal boost

The Duchess of Cambridge may have faced her “going home with the baby” moment a little differently than most women (blowout and full makeup? check!), but she showed that she was just like new moms in one important respect: her belly. When she emerged from the hospital one day after giving birth in July 2013, the Duchess wore a figure-skimming dress that made no attempt to conceal her post-partum bump. In an instant, she became a role model to women eager for a realistic portrayal of new motherhood. The baby? He was pretty cute too…

Beauty quirks take the spotlight

Gap-toothed smiles, gray streaks, and thick eyebrows used to be beauty quirks that women worked hard to conceal or correct. Now there’s room for all of these in the beauty-verse. High-profile models, actresses, and singers who flaunt these flaws have inspired women to celebrate the traits they once viewed as imperfections. It’s these details that make you, YOU—so embrace the difference.

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