Why Representation of People of Colour in Beauty Industries Matters

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By Nolitha Ngamlana

In Rihanna’s newly released Fenty Beauty makeup she released a video promoting the makeup line with models of different skin tones, religions, genders and backgrounds showing that all can be beautiful).  This speaks volumes to the inclusion that her makeup range has for women of different skin tones. What’s more, it isn’t just makeup to look beautiful but also to ensure that the skin is kept protected and hydrated. Rihanna’s makeup range did something that most makeup ranges could not do – it put people of colour’s representations on the pedestal. It has made many people aware that the cosmetic industry does not cater for tanned or dark skin and that these skins types are often seen as unattractive or nonexistent. The Fenty Beauty makeup range is promoting different shades of brown/black and painting the picture that these skin tones can also be a beauty trait just like white/pale skin. The line showcases that everyone can be beautiful and that Eurocentric ideologies of what beauty is are flawed.

The makeup industry is a multibillion dollar industry that is continually growing. Makeup has central importance to people of colour, their identities or even just wearing makeup to enhance certain facial features or conceal certain facial features. It is said that makeup started in Ancient Egypt. The people of ancient Egypt had advanced makeup products and cosmetics for the women of that time which some influenced other beauty trends within Africa.

However this empire/kingdom was not the only one that had developed their own set of cosmetics. With slavery came the ideologies of what beauty meant (accompanied with colourism and racism). This then started to remove black bodies from benefiting from the buying and selling of makeup resulting in them not being accommodated in the creation of makeup for different skin tones. Makeup over the years became a product that targeted specifically white skin tones due to white being viewed as beautiful but also due to the fact that white skin was often associated with wealth. So makeup production needed a sense of income which it would get from the white people. Makeup was also a form of exclusion – excluding people of colour from experiencing different ways of being beautiful or expressing oneself due to the fact that in the past people of colour where not only viewed as slaves but as nonhuman too. Something that didn’t need to be looked after. This type of tradition was carried on to this day where most makeup companies target white individuals due to beauty standards and them being perceived to be able to afford makeup.

However due to there being a low representation of people of colour and many beauty bloggers who have tanned/dark tones having with the world via platforms such as YouTube about the struggles of finding makeup for their skin tones – it led to people sharing their stories of struggling to find makeup suited for them which in turn sparked many movements which led to the discussion and creation of new makeup for people of colour.

There are countless reasons of the low representation but two of them are colourism and racism (associated with white hegemonic discourses present in society today and in the advertising and cosmetic industry). Having light skin is considered beautiful and this has resulted in more makeup being created for fair/pale skin or cosmetics that enable dark sinned or tanned individuals to change their skin tones or supposedly remove uneven toned skin. One example of this is the skin whitening cream in a Nivea advert did where they basically promoted black women lightening their skin and which is being currently promoted in Cameroon, Nigeria and Ghana.

Being represented in the makeup industry showcases that black women matter, that they exist and are human too. Why should makeup not be created for black women? Everyone has the right to be included and represented in the media and in makeup. All people of different races strive to have perfect skin and to feel beautiful – the Fenty Beauty makeup range gives people of colour the opportunity to have healthy and beautiful skin. Though people of colour are being represented, there is still some groups of people who are not represented. People who are Albinos still face exclusion in the media and makeup industry which hopefully in the future they will be represented too.

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