The British trans rights campaigner and writer Paris Lees will be the new face of the hair care line Pantene, Procter & Gamble announced on Tuesday.
Speaking at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women conference, Lees said the partnership was part of helping push visibility of trans people into the mainstream, and would give trans teenagers a place where they could see themselves represented.
“Being able to turn on the television, being able to look in a magazine, look online and see that there are brands celebrating people from [the Trans] community . . . it’s like the middle ground has shifted.”
That shift has also brought a transition from merely pushing for acceptance of trans people to seeing the trans community being celebrated in its own right, Lees said.
“I never actually thought that trans people would be celebrated. I thought that we could maybe reduce the stigma, but I didn’t realize that it would become aspirational, that we’d be winning awards and appearing on the cover of magazines and being in advertising.”
A hair care partnership was the obvious choice, she said: it was a key signifier that she was female when she was going through her transition as a teen.
“It’s not the only thing, but it such a powerful expression of femininity,” she said.
The partnership is part of Procter & Gamble’s push for stronger identities around its beauty products, said Alexandra Keith, CEO of P&G Beauty, especially at a time when consumers “expect” that from brands.
“As I came to this role, I really looked at that brand [Pantene] which wasn’t doing very well, and said, the brand is really missing its mission and purpose. It’s not emotionally connecting with women that we would ultimately like to use it,” she said. “We’re really trying to bring back the mission and the purpose of our brands.”
The partnership follows the release of a TV commercial in the U.S. last month for Gillette, which is also owned by P&G, featuring a father teaching his trans teenage son how to shave for the first time. That follows recent price hikes to P&G consumer products, which so far has paid off for the company, bringing in the highest quarterly sales growth in eight years in the first quarter of 2019.
Lees, who grew up as a self-described “trans kid from a council estate in a forgotten town” in England’s Midlands, is now a regular feature of British media and TV, a columnist at British Vogue and the first openly trans woman to be featured in the magazine.
But she said she was not concerned that her readers might think P&G was merely buying into her brand.
“There’s always kind of this thing—is it tokenism? And I always think, well, so what? Traditionally, people haven’t been handing dinner on a plate to people like me, [and] that could be true if you’re a person of color and any sort of background where you’ve been marginalized,” said Lees.
“If you can use the thing that makes you different to benefit in some way, take it—take that opportunity and redress the balance a little bit.”
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. The original version misspelled Procter & Gamble.
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