Black Beauty: A Foreign Concept Within the Beauty Industry

I think it’s right to say I stumbled into the world of make-up at a very young age, overwhelmed and confused by the large variety of products and brands and not exactly knowing what to do with it all. The difference between eye-liner and eyebrow pencil remained a myth to me until later into my teenage years and I can say, confidently now, that it did take me a while to even get a grasp on what suited me, what I needed and where.

Drug store makeup can be every girl’s saving grace, affordable makeup that caters for every woman right? Wrong. I won’t be completely brutal though, drug store makeup within the UK has definitely expanded throughout the last few years, offering a larger variety of high street and high-end brands including Chanel, Dior and Estee lauder. The problem lies however, when a market more or less closes its doors to a group of women simply due to skin colour. How is it that an issue that so many black female’s within the UK are experiencing is being, well, ignored? The most recent report from Mintel, published in 2009 on ‘Marketing Beauty to Black Women’ states that only 2% of the total market for women’s hair care, skin care and makeup is dedicated towards black women. Yes I said it, 2%. That 2% being well under their percentage of their representation within the population. Essentially the UK cosmetic industry is delivering the message that it’s okay to exclude a racial group from their market, if there’s a chance they could damage your yearly revenue. In a society that claims to be forward thinking and banishing the social walls of racial prejudice, the fact that black women are denied the basic choice of drug store makeup seems to be quite a backward concept to me.

Speaking from first-hand experience, I know exactly what it feels like to feel devalued within such a large and expanding industry. I use a relatively known brad of foundation from L’Oreal’s “true match” range that seemingly caters towards every skin shade. It’s been the first drug store brand I’ve found that actually matches my skin tone, without leaving my face looking slightly ghostly or two shades darker than the rest of my body. I find it hard to believe that within the space of two weeks, I continuously visited 6 of my local Boots and Superdrug store’s to replace my empty bottle only to come back empty-handed, disappointed and with the meaningless promise of “new stock” arriving soon. One member of staff looked at me with pitying eyes as she, tried to hand me a lighter, rather orange, shade of foundation asking “Will this do?” Unsurprisingly however, that “new stock” I was promised never arrived and I didn’t really fancy a pumpkin shade of foundation for Halloween. 2/3 of the stores I visited didn’t even have any allocated space on their shelves for darker shades of makeup. Tell me, what kind of message does that give out to black women or even women in general about their physical appearances? That there isn’t a place within our market place, or you’re less valued, because you’re a shade too dark for us? I believe it’s hard enough being a woman from a minority race within a country that celebrates and essentially force feeds ideas of ‘European beauty’ over African or Caribbean beauty already.

The idea that there’s little discrimination and prejudice within the make-up industry is a lie we’re being continuously fooled to believe, simply because it doesn’t affect a wider percentage of the population. Ignoring the wrong doings of a society in my eyes is exactly the same as condoning it. I don’t want to have the knowledge that there are similar females like me within the UK, or even the world, that are experiencing feelings of discrimination within a market place that should cater to all. This idea that has been subconsciously hanging in the air of the beauty industry that beauty is defined by skin colour is a lie, but more than that, it’s damaging. Womyn are already bombarded with images within the media of the ideal of a ‘perfect woman’ and being told you need to adjust this, tighten this up, get rid of this to even be considered a figure of beauty. I would like to think that the times of racial prejudice are no longer as prevalent as they once were, but unless issues such as this are addressed, women will continuously feel discriminated and targeted against.

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Elizabeth George

18 year old media student, writer, jazz baby, empath. The list goes on

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