‘The beauty industry is failing women with dark skin. And it needs to change.’

'The beauty industry is failing women with dark skin. And it needs to change.'

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‘The beauty industry is failing women with dark skin. And it needs to change.’

I’ve been into beauty since the first time I saw my mum look into her compact mirror and apply a generous swipe or two of lipstick. The shade she had on was called ‘crimson’. She got it from Myer back when they were called Grace Brothers and it was her favourite shade – she had multiples. 

I recall her mentioning that the reason she loved it was because it was the perfect shade for black women. I nodded back then, not completely understanding the connotation. 

Little did I know some twenty years later, I’d be dealing with the same lack of options for women of colour.

So, what does it look like to be failed by the beauty industry?

It looks like going to Priceline and seeing absolutely no shades darker than beige. 

It’s being part of a dance group in high school, where white girls have the luxury of wearing eyeshadow and blush for the performance – while I have to forego the look because none of the options have enough pigment to show up on my skin.

It’s having the first foundation you wore for the first adult years of your life being the totally wrong shade, but having to make do with looking ashy because it’s the brownest option available. 

It is brands serving foundation ranges that have a plethora of ivory to light-tan shades and literally only one shade of brown named ‘coffee’. 

It’s receiving a complimentary sample from Mecca Cosmetica, and the shade being super light  – as you’re once again reminded that white in the beauty industry is the default. 

It’s… a lot of things. 

After years of being excluded from the beauty space by the lack of shades that actually show up on my skin or are formulated to match, you could say my expectations are ultra low.

There was one moment in time, however, where I had hope. It was after 2017, when Rihanna forced the beauty industry to address its whitewashing head-on. 

Rihanna launching Fenty Beauty with 40 foundation shades and inclusive branding honestly shook the industry. 

Fenty Beauty spoke to us and saw us and told us we would not be ignored any longer. I still remember where I was when I added Fenty foundations to my Sephora shopping cart because I just knew the darker shades would sell out first (and they did!). Up until that point, we were not being catered for in the slightest. 

Post-Fenty Beauty, I saw brands immediately adding more shades to their range. Great, right? Not completely. 

Instead of brands focusing on getting the actual shades right and genuinely caring about inclusivity, it felt more like a race of who could drop the most foundations and have the most diverse-looking branding. 

The beauty industry only cares when it’s on-trend. Now in 2021, there isn’t pressure to pander (like we saw in 2020 after the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement), so brands aren’t keeping the same energy. 

Diversity isn’t only about how many foundation shades you have. What about the bronzer shades, concealer shades, contour shades, blushes, etc? What gets me is the beauty industry doesn’t even hide the fact that they don’t want to listen to dark skin women.

It starts with the lack of diversity in the decision-making rooms and it trickles down to what is on our shelves. 

I dream of a world where I don’t have to sit through a review from a black beauty YouTuber trying on a product, only for both of us to be disappointed yet again by the shades. 

I dream of a world where ALL our shades are represented.

I dream of a world where a brand posts inclusive imagery on Instagram, and I’m able to go into a store, swatch the product, and be stoked that the shades are consistent with their marketing.

I dream of a world where products that work for dark skin women are accessible. I dream of a world where products aren’t created in the name of pandering. I dream of a world of options, baby! 

The beauty industry is still failing dark skin women like me because we are still not seen and heard. 

We’ve been under-served and ‘othered’ from the beauty space since the beginning – and while the narrative has slightly shifted, it’s nowhere near where it needs to be. 

I’m tired of the bare minimum.

How many times do we have to ask the beauty industry to do better? 

For more from Naa-Lamle, you can find her articles here.

Feature image: Supplied/Mamamia