The Changing Face of Racial Inequality Within the Beauty Industry

Rashida Campbell-Allen explores to what extent diversity is represented within the beauty industry.

Rashida Campbell-Allen
23rd October 2017
Image Credit: Instagram - @FentyBeauty

The beauty industry is teeming with paradox. It claims to be “evolving” and conveying the façade of inclusivity but the extent to which this is actually happening certainly raises a few eyebrows. Today’s so-called standards of beauty are damaging to non-white women, with the industry failing to recognise diversity and its shortfalls in the products and variety companies offer.

From personal experience as a black woman, memories of my early attempts to find my shade, convincing myself that a pale one would eventually match my skin colour if I rubbed it in hard enough, induce a cringe that could keep me up at night! Why is it that there’s a plethora of shades (some impossible to differentiate) and only a minuscule selection for darker skin tones-suggesting a sense of “one shade fits all”?

This isn’t to say that there hasn’t been change. Development in the beauty industry has been relatively tremendous (yet note my use of the term ‘relative’ as there’s still a long way to go!). Media representation of the coloured woman has increased and there’s a selection of profound faces in the industry that are non-white women. Rihanna, Zendaya, Naomi Campbell, Jourdan Dunn etc.

However, is this due to a genuine morality and equality shift, recognition of the marginalisation of this demographic or more cynically, an indication of the persistent novelty and entertainment of it-objectification and exoticisation of the coloured body? A blind eye remains turned towards our multiracial society, inevitably creating isolation of the minority, which here, is the non-white woman.

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Image Credit: Instagram - @esteelauder

This question is complex for there are various credible arguments. Hence why we must look into modern forms of intersectionality and accept that beauty isn’t necessarily “natural”-it’s a socially constructed concept which is selectively applied to certain members of society that coincidentally, rarely turn out to be women of colour.

Now unless you’ve been living under a rock or chosen to take a much needed break from social media you’d know about that Dove advert. Earlier this week, Dove released a campaign gif on Facebook showing a black woman taking off her t-shirt to then become a white woman, who then becomes another non-white woman (Asian/Latino/Eastern European). One particular frame has triggered an uproar about the literal depiction of a black woman using this product to treat and shed her skin to become lighter. Although this may not have been Dove’s intention, there is no question that this is perceivable as racist. However, if people have seen the entire advert they’d understand the universal concept behind Dove products. Perhaps this was simply a case of unfortunate events and poor advertisement design but the underlying concept itself isn’t racist-which Dove have apologised profusely for.

Alternatively, we’ve Fenty Beauty! Where do we begin? Rihanna’s cosmetic range offers 40 shades spanning all skin tones. It’s the first of its kind, providing women of all ethnicities with great options. However, is this too little too late? Why has this not been done before? Perhaps we, as well as cosmetic companies, should begin to reflexively criticise the constructions and inequalities of beauty that are so easily overlooked. Indeed, this is an incredible feat for black women in particular but the success is only a drop in the ocean, and I can only but hope that this will inspire bigger brands to practice greater inclusivity rather than simply preaching and sampling it.

It’s said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder but who exactly is that ‘beholder’? It seems to be a society that claims a false ideology of equality, representation and inclusivity, but complacency and ignorance will continue to feed the unhealthy cycle of racial inequality within the beauty industry.

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