Maybelline spokesperson Manny Gutierrez and CoverGirl spokesperson James Charles pose for a photo. Credit: via JamesCharles Instagram

After decades of controversy and questions about what mainstream beauty should look like, some of the biggest fashion and beauty companies are changing the conversation. One Ohio State media specialist said this has the power to break stereotypes.

Since Oct. 2016, CoverGirl cosmetics has named its first male makeup ambassador, and Maybelline followed suit. CoverGirl signed its first hijab-wearing spokeswoman and IMG signed their first hijab-wearing model who walked in New York Fashion Week.

Felecia Ross, associate professor at the School of Communication who specializes in the relationship between mass media and discriminated groups, said showing that beauty comes from all types of people in the mainstream media is a step in the right direction.

“Showing a male wearing makeup is telling men, ‘Yes, it’s OK for you to enhance your looks as well,’” Ross said. “That is breaking the stereotype that men don’t have to factor in their beauty and looks. What we hope will happen is that it will take all the pressure off of women of having to fit a particular beauty ideal.”

Nura Afia was named CoverGirl’s first hijab-wearing spokesperson. Credit: via Nuralailalov Instagram

After Covergirl’s Oct. 2016 announcement of signing 17-year-old James Charles as the brand’s first-ever male ambassador, the brand told the fashion news outlet “Fashionista” that all of their CoverGirls are role models and boundary-breakers, who redefine what it means to be beautiful.

Three weeks later, CoverGirl announced the debut of Nura Afia, the first CoverGirl in a hijab. In January, Maybelline signed Manny Gutierrez. In February, Halima Aden, a first-generation Somali-American, signed to IMG Models and walked in Kanye West’s “Yeezy Season Five” presentation wearing her hijab.

Needa Toofanny, a second-year in neuroscience and chair of the sisterhood program at the Muslim Students’ Association, said it’s important that hijabs are starting to be viewed as fashionable.

“Within local communities, hijab fashion is often really revered by girls and I personally adore the way they look,” Toofanny said. “They’re really trendy and fashionable, so it’s nice to see that actually reflected in mainstream.”

Although the most recent, these companies are not the first to take steps toward breaking barriers, especially when it comes to gender neutrality. Last year, makeup brand Anastasia Beverly Hills featured male models wearing their new highlighter makeup, Sephora teamed with video blogger Patrick Starrr for a new nail polish line, and Giorgio Armani released a collection of tinted lip balms called “Him/Her Lip Care.”

Depending how long and how often these companies continue these types of campaigns, Ross said men using cosmetics to enhance their looks could eventually be considered more of a norm.

“If they’re making money, they’ll continue to target men and it could really start something,” Ross said. “I’m sure they did their research before starting (their campaigns). They probably thought, ‘There needs to be a makeup line targeting men and this is going to be it, so let’s see how it goes.’”

The companies are set to profit from their new ambassadors’ expansive social media followings.  Before Charles signed with CoverGirl, he was a makeup video-blogger with nearly 74,000 followers on Twitter and 587,000 on Instagram. Similarly, Gutierrez had more than 2 million subscribers on his makeup YouTube channel. Afia had more than 215,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel where she posted makeup video tutorials for Muslim women.

“It draws more attention to the reality that we live in,” Toofanny said. “Reality is, not everyone looks or dresses the same way. We’re all beautiful and we all deserve to be recognized and celebrated.”