The beauty industry is built on exclusion. After all, you can’t define beautiful without defining what isn’t and who cannot be beautiful. The inclusion of black women like myself in beauty has been a relatively recent phenomenon; for so long, very few brands actively sought out darker shades, let alone offered a comprehensive range of brown tones. But it wasn’t only shade range that was a huge barrier to me accessing the world of beauty, the problem was financial as much as it was cosmetic.
Growing up, many young black girls couldn’t simply stroll into their local superstore for foundation. Instead, we were directed to more expensive brands in department stores who had been catering to darker tones for a much longer time. Being able to access these brands however came at a large cost that most teenagers - let alone those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds - could not afford.
And not much has changed. The ability to engage in the world of beauty requires a level of economic freedom that many just don’t have. While there are more shades available in an increasing number of stores, the demands on young people to have the right eyeshadow palette, the right brushes and a wide array of other cosmetics, has only increased as Vloggers and influencers have entered the arena. With all the tips, tricks and role models at the tips of your fingers, there’s no excuse not to be beautiful. Anyone can achieve the latest look - that is of course, unless you can’t.
And maybe that would be fine, if beauty wasn’t a prerequisite to greater life opportunities. Studies show that conforming to ideals of attractiveness can impact our life chances, meaning those who don’t fit the mould end up losing out. The exclusion from the beauty industry, by price or product range is used to maintain standards of who can and cannot access beauty products, subsequently they are denied the privileges that come with being ‘pretty’. As a result of this, the sheer fact you can possess these beauty products is seen as an indication of both social status and, to a large extent, class. When we speak about beauty being a performance of status, it as another way to differentiate and exclude.
Despite beauty having more diverse representatives and figures heads - due to the growing influence of social media - the industry still thrives from exclusion and elitism. If anything, companies selecting token black and brown faces to feature in campaigns - especially when they cannot deal with the weight of the politics associated with such selections - is futile and unproductive. Especially when their goods continue to remain outside of the reach of many people who look like those influencers. So many companies, in the rush to be representative, have selected influencers for campaigns that they have not researched well or do not have the capacity to fully support. When you place people of colour at the front of large scale campaigns you put them in a vulnerable position, subjecting them to the racist realities of the public. There is also a major double-standard when it comes to dealing with beauty influencers, incidents of racism from Jeffree Star have not resulted in him being dropped from campaigns and sponsorship like it has for Munroe Bergdorf.
Seeing brands scramble to produce campaign and shades that reflect an honest spectrum is great, but also feels disingenuous. Who is this really for? Though I am aware that we are seeing a shift in the industry, with more players entering and changing the scope of market, there is hardly a spread of power that allows for dissenting dominant ideas surrounding beauty and for what it means to be beautiful to changed.