Here’s the thing: I love makeup. It’s fun to put on, fun to experiment with, fun to buy with money you probably shouldn’t be spending – and yet, the entire reason for the existence of the beauty industry is essentially to make women feel bad about the way they look. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it’s often women of colour that aren’t even included in ad campaigns or product lines; instead, we’re often faced with the issue of the darkest shade of foundation available being the same colour as Kim Kardashian when she’s piled on the fake tan.
Now, none of this is to say that progress isn’t happening. As with all things in the realm of diversity, there are some significant steps being made – in the past few years, brands like Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty have inspired more affordable brands like Revolution and Maybelline to diversify their foundation ranges to include between 20 and 40 different shades. This is a vast improvement, especially because it’s usually only high-end brands that provide products for women of colour, making the job of finding your colour match not only difficult, but expensive too.
So what can be done about it? Giving feedback to companies seems like the most effective way to induce change, particularly today, as social media movements have the ability to make or break a brand’s image. Take the recent controversy with Tarte Cosmetics’ new foundation, where of the 15-shade collection, only three were suitable for people of colour. Backlash quickly ensued and the company did apologise and promise to add more shade options – perhaps too little, too late, but cases like these should hopefully convince companies that people of colour need to be catered to just as much as white people do.
In the meantime, we should strive to support and purchase from brands that are doing their best to be inclusive and mindful, with regard to the models they hire for marketing, the range of shades they sell, and the ingredients they include – mica, a mineral that is crucial to so many beauty products, is often mined by child labourers. As irritating as it may be to have to pull out your phone and do some quick googling while you’re standing in the queue at Boots, it’s a small act that will make a difference. Even if you can’t manage that, it’s not exactly hard to take a look at the ads for most popular makeup brands and to be able to easily see which have bothered to use models that aren’t just conventionally attractive white women. Diversity in the beauty industry should be about embracing and including women of colour, yes, but we need to start celebrating people of different genders, ages, and body sizes too.
It may seem like there’s far too much work to do and too many issues to consider when all you want to do is buy a new concealer. By the nature of the products it sells, the beauty industry may always be caught up with false images of perfection, so far modelled after white women so that women of colour have been pressured to whiten their skin, remove facial and body hair, or use tape or contour to essentially reshape their facial features, from eyelids to noses. The cynic in me doubts whether these Eurocentric perceptions of beauty will ever truly change. At the same time, the hopelessly optimistic, eyeshadow-hoarding side of me wants to believe that if we can reconfigure the way we think about beauty (there must be some level of truth in the eye-of-the-beholder cliché), and encourage brands to diversify, protect, and stay conscious, we’ll have an industry that no longer relies on shame or embarrassment, instead thriving on concepts of experimentation, enjoyment, and self-care.