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Racism in the Beauty Industry Effects Everyone

By Clare Jennings


I believe that if you have a platform of any kind, and you have people that appreciate and value your opinions and advice, then it’s incredibly irresponsible if you don’t use that platform to highlight issues or problems within the community that you are part of.So today we have a bit of a different article from me, and I hope you find it thought provoking, interesting and maybe helps shape the way you think about where you spend your hard earned money within the makeup industry. 

This last year has been an intense one. I think we can all agree on that! So many huge things have happened, so much to process, and so much we can learn from.  What I want to talk about today though, is racism. And it’s systemic permeation into every aspect of Western society, including, and for this article specifically,  the beauty industry. 

If you are a white person I’d like you to have a little think. Cast your mind back to the last time you purchased foundation. A task that can be pretty difficult, right? Finding the right shade, with the right undertone can be a nightmare. But. Have you ever noticed the disparity between the number of shades for you and the various levels of whiteness we can be, and those for people of colour? Have you ever realised that in the spectrum of foundation shades from almost all brands on the market in New Zealand, there are almost four times the amount of shades available for white people than there are for people of colour. Four times.  Or that the shade names for white people contain words like ‘natural’ or ‘nude’, implying that the shades of white skin are the ones that are the norm - are the natural shades for humans. Think about that for a moment. It’s confronting, isn’t it? And it’s disgusting. That makeup brands are wilfully shutting out a whole section of our society. Choosing to not allow people of colour to purchase and enjoy their products, by just not giving a shit about including options for them. I’m not going to name and shame here, but whilst researching for this piece I looked at one brand that had 14 shades. 11 for white people, and 3 for people of colour. I mean, what the actual fuck? What does that tell you about this brand? I know what it tells me. That this is a brand that will NEVER see a single cent of my money. 

I did a quick fly over of two popular businesses that sell a range of foundations from different brands.  A non-scientific piece of research specifically for this article.  Each business has a number of stores, and an active online presence.  We are a country with a multitude of people from different ethnicities and cultures, many of who have deep or darker skin tones – including our own Tangata Whenua.  You would be excused for thinking that would indicate an understanding by our retailers that it was important that every one of those people deserved to be able to purchase products from their stores.  But I’m here to tell you that that could not be further from the truth.  What I saw in this very quick look at these two websites was enough to have me messaging my editor to express my absolute disgust and dismay at what I had found.  There were a few brands that DID provide a good array of shades, and I would guess most of us who would like to find a shade could do so.  But the vast majority  - approx. 80 percent of foundations, had less than 1/3rd of their available shades appropriate for people of colour.  Click after click, image after image, almost every product stocked less than 5 shades appropriate for our more melanated sisters and brothers.  This is absolutely unacceptable.  And yet.... clearly its not, otherwise this wouldn’t even be a thing.  I can’t express enough how much this has angered me.

And it’s not just foundation. It’s eye shadow. It’s blusher. It’s bronzer. It’s lip liners. The number of brands who provide an equal and fair number of products that can be used by people of all skin tones is so ridiculously few its laughable.  In the age of Fenty Beauty, and Rare Beauty – two brands who launched with at least 40 shades of foundation, and colour products for everyone, how can it be that established brands still think it is ok to wilfully and decidedly choose not to do better?

So I’m going to put a challenge out to you.  Next time you find yourself looking to buy some new goodies from the makeup section, take a quick look at their shades, shade ranges, and inclusive offerings for all of us makeup lovers and users.  If you feel they are providing options for all of us, then go ahead and purchase, happy in the knowledge you are supporting a brand that supports inclusivity.  If not, then walk away, and find another brand that is doing better.  And then, if you have the gumption, maybe you could flick a quick DM on any social media platform, to the brand who needs to do better, and tell them they lost a customer today.  Maybe if enough of us shout loud enough, then they might just do something.  Or not.  But at least we can say we tried. 

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