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The beauty industry failed black women- but it's progressing

EVOLUTION: Winnie Harlow

WE LIVE in a world where the Eurocentric beauty standard has been deeply rooted in society - a false ideology that to be beautiful is to have Eurocentric features. This is often seen in the media; from films and TV adverts, to the recent skin lightening adverts from skincare brand Nivea, which have been sprawled across billboards Africa.

This common misconception has been depicted over the years, as society praises lighter features over others. However, this article will challenge the perception of beauty standards in society and the beauty industry, and really ask: Are things changing or is society still not accepting different forms of beauty?

For years the media has defined beauty as being fair-skinned. The perception of having lighter features were classified as the ideal beauty, and goes back as far as Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe, who was ‘considered’ as perfect with her 'all-American' features; blonde hair and blue eyes.

This was followed by the likes of Brigette Bardot -another blonde bombshell who was praised as the epitome of beauty, alongside many others who would come after her. For years, black women with a darker skin complexion had been shunned as not reflecting the ‘ideal beauty’. As time evolved, we saw the 1960s take a slightly progressive turn, as black women began to promote black products. However, they rarely promoted household brands, or ads that promoted ‘lovelier hair, longer hair,' which usually involved the promotion of 'straighter hair’.

Don’t get me wrong, who doesn’t want nice long hair? but the often indoctrination of having ‘straighter hair’ equalled beauty. Images translated to the world focused on ‘how to make your hair longer and straighter’. The thought of having a glorious mane of kinky, coily hair was horrifying to the media and the representation of a woman of colour in advertising was extremely marginalised.

White washing has occurred many times in media, the L’Oréal controversy is one of many examples where Beyoncé’s African-American features were manipulated and you could go as far to say the image showed a whitened version of her.

Again, mainstream media have historically implemented seeds of doubt for black women, making them believe that to be beautiful, you have to have fair skin, straight hair and light eyes.

A more recent blunder which highlighted the media's need to westernise our blackness, was when actress Lupita Nyong'o defiantly argued that her kinky coily tresses was digitally altered to fit a more Eurocentric or ‘acceptable’ image for the cover of Grazia magazine.

The Academy-Award winning actress once commented: “I grew up thinking light skin and straight hair were the standards of beauty but I now embrace dark skin and kinky coily hair”. Grazia did apologise, however this was a little too late, and representative of a longstanding problem within the beauty industry.

However, there has been some positive changes with the recent euphoria of the ‘Melanin fever’ where darker skin is becoming desirable and individuals are proud to flaunt the darkness of their skin colour - hashtags on social media such as #Melaninpopping or #my melanin rocks is proof of that.

In 2015, Lancôme created a shade for darker skin women called ‘Teinte Idole Ultra 24h’ which was championed by Nyong'o. This was progress for black women, as the foundation range complimented different hues.

Inclusion in the beauty industry for women of colour no longer seemed invisible, as the industry was starting to realise women of colour were also a target audience too. This opened doors for more beauty brands to create inclusive make up for women of colour, most notably, Rihanna's Fenty Beauty.

Fenty Beauty launched in September 2017, and caused a buzz because it really cared and catered for all women as Rihanna and her team executed a well thought out make up line. The buzz around the line was the fact there was something for everyone, with an astonishing 40 shades. Everyone m YouTube guru’s to the everyday woman was gushing and screaming about a brand that really understands the different hues and undertones of black women.

This celebration of diverse beauty was further intensified after the publishing of Edward Enninful's first British Vogue cover as editor-in-chief of the high fashion glossy. Enninful's appointment as editor of Vogue changed the fashion world changed, as a talented Black man became the first Black male editor of Vogue magazine, breaking the status quo.

Mr Enniful is determined to show a true reflection of the beauty industry in the UK. “My Vogue is about being inclusive, it is about diversity, showing different women, different body shapes, different races and class,” he said in the Editor's letter of the publication. His first cover did just that. as British-Ghanaian model Adowa Aboah was featured on the cover, showing how diverse the beauty standards in the UK really are.

With these positive changes in the industry, but still dealing with the negative aspects to, I spoke to three different black women,who discussed the challenges they have encountered regarding their skin tone when it comes to make-up and their thoughts on the different standards of beauty.

Nicole Biredu, Aspiring model

Do you think the standard of beauty in the media has changed or do you think we still have a long way to go?

I feel that it has somewhat changed. The media are trying to embrace people of all different colour, shapes and sizes. Even so, I believe that it is only to a certain degree. There is still quite a way to go

Fenty beauty recently came out with 40 foundation shades for light and dark-skinned women, which is amazing. Mention a time where you struggled to find the right foundation shade or any other beauty product to match your complexion. How did you feel?

Yes, not being able to find the right foundation shade has been an issue for me in the past, especially with the higher- end brands as most of them featured very light tones. I had to buy my foundation from specific ethnic company’s such as Mac. This was quite frustrating as I had a limited choice. I do still believe that a lot has to be done, all companies, especially designer higher- end brands should embrace darker foundation/beauty tones.

How would you like to see black beauty depicted in the media in the next couple of years?

Simply for all skin colours and undertones to be embraced equally, whether it be in magazine spreads, on the runway or commercially.

Sarah Owusu, Artist

If you could describe your skin complexion, in two words what would it be?

I would describe my complexion as rich and ebony

Growing up, did you encounter any challenges over your complexion and how did you overcome it?

Growing up, I didn’t encounter any challenges with my skin complexion until I started a new primary school after coming back from Ghana after a few years of schooling there. Some of the children would sometimes refer to me as “blick” and what’s saddening about this is that the few children who were saying this were black children. Fortunately, although hurtful, it wasn’t something which bothered me much.

Do you think the standard of beauty in the media has changed or do you think we still have a long way to go?

The standard of beauty has slightly improved but I definitely would not say it has truly changed. I think the only reason why the media is more inclusive of more skin tones now is to meet their “diversity” targets but not because they believe that a black woman is truly beautiful. Often also, you find that a mixed raced girl would be used to sit in for all black women in some commercials when that isn’t a true representation of what a full black woman looks like. I feel there should be a fair representation of every type of woman in the world from the fairest white to the deepest shade of black.

Breeny Lee, Blogger and Social Media Influencer

Growing up, did you encounter any challenges over your complexion and how did you overcome it?

I was never bullied but when someone wanted to find a reason to insult me they would call me “blick” which was basically to insinuate I was as dark as night. My older sisters would also call me blackie as they were fairer than me.

I never took it to heart as I would always get compliments from my older family members on how rich and beautiful my skin was. Still I never thought about it too much and people seemed to care about my skin more than I did. My focus was on knowing that I was pretty no matter what.

Do you think the standard of beauty in the media has changed or do you think we still have a long way to go?

I think the media that people care about nowadays is social media and I think we have done a great job on Instagram specifically on bigging up and celebrating dark skin women. I follow a few dark skin women appreciation pages and I’m inspired.

How would you like to see Black beauty depicted in the media in the next couple of years?

I’d like to see black women have roles that depict, a family unit, success and liberation. I would like to see black beauty in the movies and on TV in high positions instead of being stereotyped as raggedy and ghetto.

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