When I was 13 years old, my mom let me buy a tube of foundation for the first time. I had been asking – begging – for her permission for months. Pocketing the $5 bill she gave me, I walked to my local drugstore with my best friend, beyond excited to make my pick out of the dozens of options the store carried. Imagine my dismay when after browsing the aisle for several minutes, I couldn’t find a single foundation that matched my skin tone. I had come to the store prepared, armed with all the information I could find online about what the best low-budget and in-season foundations were. I never stopped to consider, though, whether I’d be able to find makeup made for people who look like me. My mom offered to take me to a higher-end store where I might have more options, but by that point the magic was gone.
Virtually every darker-skinned woman living in a country with Eurocentric beauty standards has likely experienced something similar. Though it may seem frivolous and superficial to some, there is a uniquely sinking feeling when you eventually come to the understanding that cosmetics companies and creators simply don’t consider you as part of their consumer base. Rather, you’re part of the “ethnic” market.
Thankfully, over the past few years this trend has started to shift. Last year Rihanna released her revolutionary Fenty Beauty collection, a line designed to cater to the needs of all women regardless of how light or dark their skin is. Images of Fenty’s darker foundations (46 shades were released) selling out at Sephoras nationwide went viral on social media, proving that contrary to long-standing beliefs darker shades do sell. Not long after, several of Fenty’s peer brands followed suit, with lauded brands such as Hourglass and Smashbox releasing similarly diverse shade ranges.
It appears that the cosmetics industry is broadening its definition of beauty — a change long overdue. This direction towards inclusivity is happening in multiple dimensions, not solely with regards to race. Male makeup artists and beauty gurus such as James Charles and Manny Gutierrez have been unveiled as ambassadors for major brands such as Covergirl and Maybelline, signalling that there is no longer only one vision or idea of who is allowed to wear makeup.
In fact, companies are now starting to advertise and promote their products on the basis that they are inclusive and that they are meant for everyone. I am often pleasantly surprised when I’m on social media and an ad pops up on my feed touting a product’s diverse range, such as this ad for Becca Cosmetics’ Ultimate Coverage Foundation.
With all the progress that has been made in a relatively short span, is there still room for improvement and increased diversity in the beauty space? Absolutely. Without a doubt, we have made important gains over the past year. However, women of color are still treated as a separate consumer group by many brands even though we spend twice as much on skincare as any other consumer. Black women in particular spend nearly eight-billion dollars on beauty products every year, far surpassing any other racial group. Yet research has shown that makeup products marketed towards black, Latino, and Asian women are several times more likely to contain toxic and harmful ingredients such as mercury and steroids than are products marketed towards “mainstream” women.
It is commendable that brands have begun to embrace diversity in their marketing strategies. But if the beauty industry wants to be truly inclusive, they must embrace that diversity to the core. That means changing the fundamental way products are created, from the ingredients used to the products’ formulas, keeping in mind all colors, undertones, and skin types. Hopefully ten years from now, the notion of someone walking into a makeup store and not finding their shade will be a memory of the distant past, and my own child will never have to experience it themselves.