We need more diversity on online beauty retailers’ websites.
Every few years or so, I like to rewatch my favorite tv series of all time in the comfort of my bed, binge watching seasons after seasons of critically acclaimed masterpieces. Mad Men is such a title in my catalogue and even though it usually is a fall or winter rewatch, this time around, in the scorching hot and windless Parisian summer nights, I gave in to temptation and started binging the trials and tribulations of Don Draper and his team of Mad Men (and women) all throughout one the most iconic decade of our modern times: the 60s. During the course of the series, the topic of race is tackled exceptionally accurately several times through the lenses of the main characters who are for the most part cis, white and privileged - which makes interactions between black people and them painfully awkward or simply out of touch with the reality of people of color (POC) in the wake of the American Civil Rights Movement. In season 3, episode 5, titled The Fog, there is a plot line with one of the young ambitious Account men of the team, Pete Campbell, trying to figure out how to grow the market of the brand Admiral Television and realizing that their products seemed to be doing exceptionally well amongst states and parts of cities in the US that are mostly black populated. The answer of the brand is quite unsurprising for the times as they reply that they are aware of the phenomenon but won’t be associated with this category of customers even if it means increasing their sales quite drastically.
As expected as this answer was, this was still so jarring to me, because of the parallel that could be drawn with real life and very real brands within the beauty industry and some of the similar values that seemed to still be ingrained to some extent in the way brands approach diversity and cater to POC’s needs.
Ever since the launch of Rihanna’s beauty brand Fenty Beauty in 2017 challenged the status quo by providing customers with 40 foundation shades, nowadays it seems somewhat of a staple for make-up brands to launch with something in the same ballpark or add more colors to their existing range.
This is the result of a long-fought battle by POC wherein for the longest time, complexion make-up products have been our next frontier, as good skin or in this case the appearance of good skin is a marker of health and beauty in our societies and we have been asking for decades now to exert our right as paying customers to get access to the same array of products and treatment as customers with a lighter complexion.
Sadly, as major progress this is said to be for the industry, brands only tackling the complexion products problem is nothing but a band-aid on an issue that runs deeper than that: the lack of people of color in the decision-making process within the beauty industry. In order to avoid further mishaps, people of color should be present every step of the way whenever brands are putting a new product onto the market, otherwise, one might get into unfortunate situations like one can frequently encounter on online beauty retailers’ websites.
Don’t know what I mean? Then, do yourself a favor and go onto the make-up section of your favorite beauty retailer’s website. Click on any brand and look for display pictures that showcase products on a range of skin tones. Can’t find it? You’re not the only one. When you’re a gal with darker skin, it can get especially tricky to find your perfect shade as brands tend to either not include a photo of a model with the shades that you’re interested in at all, or only display it on lighter skin tones. This promotional habit has caused unpleasant surprises to many women, including myself, upon arrival of their packages for years now.
This stems from the lack of understanding from higher-up executives in the industry that melanin affects everything beauty related: from color payoff to wearability. So no, a realistic -not “full”- range of diverse skin tones foundations is not enough when the struggle also affects everything else from eyeshadows, to blushes, lipsticks, bronzers and so on. I know, shocker.
Because of this very factor, online shopping (which is the preferred way for customers to shop for everyday items such as beauty products) has been quite a hassle for women of color since its inception and no, looking at pictures of pretty airbrush models with skin no darker than Snow White for hours won’t make you psychic enough to correctly guess what shade of “nude” lipstick will best fit with your rich dark skin.
I myself have been tricked before into buying the wrong shade of lipstick or forced to turn to influencers in the hope that somebody somewhere with at least a medium skin tone had reviewed the product I was interested in. I won’t tell you how many times I wrote “[name of the product] on dark skin” into my YouTube search bar because it is embarrassing. Not for me, but for the beauty retailers and beauty brands both online as well as in brick-and-mortar shops.
In the past few years, we have seen a spike of hires of diverse models and brand ambassadors in the industry but this effort needs to carry outside of the runway and editorial photoshoots because these issues trickle down to everyday people that can feel alienated or tokenized for diversity points by brands when witnessing the lack of research that goes into trying to accommodate them.
Unsurprisingly, people of color’s struggles aren’t only skin-deep (quite literally) and as we try to raise awareness to the uniqueness of issues that comes with melanin rich skin, we must make sure beauty brands finally address all of them.
We shouldn’t applaud companies for finally giving the opportunity to all their paying customers to purchase their products.What we should aim for is for them to keep the diversity of skin tones in mind when formulating their products and have models to represent that diversity once the products reach the virtual shelves of online retailer’s stores. I say it’s 2019 folks, we owe it to ourselves to do better.
By Muriel Vincent