Professor Joseph Leeson- Schatz
Media and Politics
How the Beauty Industry Failed Women of Color
In the same way that the fashion industry continuously sets the standard of fashion in society, the cosmetics industry has defined beauty since the industry’s rise to success and popularity. Led by big name companies such as MAC and L’Oreal, the cosmetics industry is a breeding ground for all things beauty and grace. Industry frontrunners have created the norm when it comes to beauty, through product releases such as foundations and concealers that vary depending upon the consumer’s skin tone and advertisement campaigns that feature models who exemplify conventional beauty standards. These beauty standards are typically Eurocentric. Thus, models tend to have lighter skin tones, smoother hair textures, and smaller noses and lips (Johnson, 2016). While it is the duty of the cosmetics industry to continually set new beauty trends, there is a long track record of a lack of representation of racial and/or ethnic minorities in the beauty industry at large. The history of racism in the beauty industry has been constant, and even enforced by the lack of representation for women of color through product releases and advertisement campaigns, set forth by the very industry that defines the standard of beauty in society.
In the early 1900’s in America, the beauty industry saw rise to “instant brightening creams”. This myriad of concoctions that supposedly lighten the skin set the tone in history for the definition of beauty. In Southern Africa, colorism is just one of the negative inheritances of European colonialism. The ideology of white supremacy that European colonists brought included the association of blackness with primitiveness, lack of civilization, unrestrained sexuality, pollution, and dirt” (Blay, 2011). This was an effective type of messaging against black people around the world, but also effective for any group of darker skinned or brown people. In desperate attempts to escape these negative associations, to escape various forms of discrimination, and to escape other concrete forms of oppression, people try to attain “light-skinned privilege” in various ways, skin bleaching being one of them (Blay, 2011). These practices began to manifest themselves as internalized racism. The idea of colorism made its way into black communities themselves, leading to practices such as paper bag parties. Paper bag parties were social events which discriminated against dark- skinned African Americans by only admitting lighter- skinned individuals. This practice was often held to admit students into fraternities at colleges or to allow people into local churches (Gates, 1996). It is this culture that enforces the racist notion that typical features of African Americans are less attractive and less desirable than those of white people. This history has set the tone for modern day struggles for black women in makeup.