In today's society, we have been taught that there is only one standard of beauty: having a light complexion. Beauty companies often advertise their products by utilizing models with light skin.. Most of these companies rely on this marketing strategy because they are heavily influenced by Eurocentric beauty standards. White women are constantly being used as models for beauty products and it is rare that black women are the ones used to advertise beauty products. European beauty standards negatively impacts black women emotionally, physically, and economically.
The impact that Eurocentric beauty standards have on black women is detrimental to their perception of self. Cosmetic companies are constantly marketing towards women of lighter complexions rather than women of color. This negatively affects black women emotionally by allowing them to believe that there is only one way of looking beautiful and/or attractive. This takes a negative toll on self-esteem and confidence and leads black women to believe that they are not seen positively because beauty companies use women with light skin to advertise their products.
Because of this ideology, we are left to wonder why society is concerned with only one way of looking beautiful. There are women of all sizes, colors, and cultures around the world yet we still choose to believe that there can only be one standard of beauty. This is heavily prevalent in cosmetic companies. It is 2018 and despite the fact that we have developed intricate technological tools to correctly match women with their perfect foundation shade, we still see companies making thirty beige shades and only five deep shades. These companies are spending large amounts time perfecting products for only one group of people and are pushing aside women of darker skin. The reasoning behind this is still unsolved and though companies are aware of the effects, they still continue to turn a blind eye to the problem.
Tarte Cosmetics, a very popular makeup brand that is highly known for the Shape Tape concealer, has recently come out with the matching foundation. When the brand announced the upcoming foundation, makeup devotees were thrilled and had very high expectations since the concealer is claimed to be a “makeup cult favorite”. Disappointment is an understatement when describing the feelings that fans had for this foundation. Makeup lovers and professionals were very saddened to see that ninety percent of the shade range was catered towards lighter skin. Only three out of the fifteen shades were for people with deeper skin tones. Many makeup fans even stated that they would not support or purchase this foundation simply because they lacked in shade range and it is unacceptable. Even after receiving numerous amounts of complaints and criticisms for the lack of diversity, Tarte Cosmetics has not responded to the mayhem. Tarte Cosmetics is an extremely popular cosmetic company and this new foundation collection was a big setback in terms of inclusiveness.
The first question that comes to mind is: is it actually harder to make darker foundations? Ayesha Muttucumaru, author of the article “Not Fair: Are Darker Foundation Shades Harder And More Costly To Make?”, was able to experience the process of creating foundation first hand. After spending time in the lab, she was able to conclude that the answer is in fact no. Muttucumaru states, “My time in the lab making my own foundation match ‘Mocha' revealed that all foundations are made using the same 4 pigments - red, black, yellow and white. Are there any additional differences though that require extra efforts? From a color matching point of view, no” (Muttucumaru, 2016). Muttucumaru's time spent in the lab uncovered that the process to create foundations for darker skin tones is not harder nor more expensive to create.
The emotional impact that Eurocentric beauty standards have on black women is very noticeable and detrimental to the self-esteem for women. Black women are almost never represented in beauty advertisements and as a little girl who is growing up, that can deteriorate confidence. Younger girls often see celebrities as their beauty or fashion inspirations and by not equally representing women color, we are teaching young girls that not everyone is equally as beautiful. “When Black women were (and are) presented, they are typically met (meet) Eurocentric ideals in terms of body type, skin color, and hair texture. Actress Halle Berry and singer Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge, for example, have light skin, slim bodies, and straight hair” (Sekayi, 469). Rather than using the media as a large platform to advocate for self-love and acceptance, it is being used in a way to have women feel like they are not good enough if they do not look a certain way.
In 2008, Beyoncé was the spokesperson for L'Oréal. When the cover for her campaign was released, an enormous uproar emerged amongst the makeup-loving community. Beyoncé's photo was heavily manipulated and her skin complexion was a lot lighter, leading people to believe that the picture was edited in a way intended to make her appear white. Although L'Oréal denied the “whitewashing” accusations, the original photo was leaked and showcased her darker, caramel skin. Ironically, L'Oreal's mantra is about helping women embrace their unique beauty and to reinforce their sense of self worth. Despite the common saying “beauty is skin deep,” cosmetic companies use subtle advertising tactics to instill European beauty ideals into the minds of women. Women continuously spend large amounts of money on various cosmetics such as makeup and skin-lightening products to achieve this highly sought-after ideal.
Some women will willingly put their health at risk in the name of “beauty.” A beauty practice that is commonly used amongst the black community is skin bleaching. African as well as Caribbean women use it to whiten the melanin which is a crucial determining factor of the color of skin. The concept behind skin bleaching is to acquire a better, smoother, and lighter skin complexion, however, studies have proven it to have a negative impact on the human psyche. In places such as Jamaica for instance, where the population is predominantly black, everyone, particularly women, tend to compete to have a more polished, and lighter skin tone. The act of skin bleaching stems from the lack of self-esteem; this is derived from Eurocentric beauty standards because beauty and retail companies have been able to brainwash society into thinking that white skin is superior to any other color.
A common reason for skin bleaching is to create an identity that is perceived as more socially acceptable. According to Hunter (2007), “colorism is the process of discrimination that privileges light-skinned people of color over their dark-skinned counterparts.” Hunter's definition emphasizes the prevalence of this phenomenon amongst people of color. It is evident that although we have taken many steps forward when it comes to equal rights for the black community, we are still continuously faced with the lack of equal opportunities. "Darker skin correlates with reduced opportunities and negative health outcomes. Recent discoveries related to the genes associated with skin tone and the historical use of cosmetics to conform to racist appearance standards, suggest effective skin‐lightening products may soon become available” (Lamkin, 2011). Lamkin's journal explains how instead focusing on ending racism and discrimination within our society, we have chosen to create products that strip people of color from their cultural and ethnic roots. This further reiterates that our society is, and will continue to be, whitewashed if we do not intervene.
Today, we still see that in many cases, the color of your skin can be seen almost as a ranking of class. This idea branches from times of slavery. “In a historical context, mulattoes or persons mixed with black and white heritage were likely to be provided with more opportunities to progress than full blacks. There were real benefits to having lighter skin, and possibly strong messages that affected the identity and self-worth of individuals who benefited or lost out because of it. Thus, there are both individual psychological and societal benefits of skin bleaching” (Sohan, 2014). The skin bleaching phenomenon has been dated back to times of colonization and slavery. Europeans believed that they were superior to those who were not white.This belief was embedded into the minds of Africans, Asians, and other racial or ethnic groups in the Caribbean. "...the bleaching syndrome [is] a response by African Americans in their attempts to assimilate into a society characterised by cultural domination in spite of the psychic conflict is has caused” (Hall, 1995). Hall sheds light on the fact that although African Americans have heavily faced oppression and discrimination throughout history from white Americans, many struggle to battle the urge of fitting in and feeling accepted.
This social construct is not only harming black women emotionally, but it is harming them physically as well. Skin bleaching is a procedure done by mixing chemicals and is applied on to the skin to reduce the content of melanin. Although this procedure can be used for medical purposes such as evening out pigmentation for people who have skin diseases such as vitiligo, many people often use it as a way to feel accepted. Using these products to feel a sense of acceptance will often times come at a price.
According to Hilda Mhagama, author of Experts Lay Bare Harmful Effects of Skin Bleaching, she states, that in areas of Tanzania, skin bleaching products are sold throughout different parts of the country and the price range is drastic (Mhagama, 2015). The desired level of lightness they want their skin to be all depends of the amount of money they are willing to pay. Women have also developed homemade creams to lighten skin which contain very hazardous health consequences because the chemicals. The side effects of these hazardous chemicals can result in blood cancers like leukemia, liver cancer, kidney cancer, and many severe skin conditions. In Mhagama's research paper she mentions that “hardcore bleachers use illegal ointments containing toxins like mercury, a metal that blocks production of melanin, which gives the skin its color, but can also be toxic” (Mhagama, 2015). The skin bleaching procedure is known to be very risky and can lead to later complications that can potentially be lethal. Mercury is an active ingredient in many skin bleaching products and can also cause neurological complications on top of internal complications. Mhagama also states although the reasons for skin bleaching are varied, most people say they use skin-lighteners because they want light skin. It is crucial to consider health reasons before taking any drastic action (Mhagama, 2015). Yes, skin bleaching can be used for medical purposes but most of the time it is used to conform because society has engraved in our minds that this lethal standard of beauty is ideal.
Nina Omeaku, author of The Psychological and Physical Consequences of Skin Lightening, talks about black women struggling to find confidence because of their skin color. She mentions that even women who live in Nigeria, a predominantly black country, struggle with colorism. “The fact that the skin bleaching industry exists and thrives in Nigeria is a substantial indicator of internal insecurities becoming externalized and profited upon” (Omeaku, 2017). Omeaku goes on to mention that the idea behind Eurocentric beauty ideologies were derived from the post-colonial era and allowed people of lighter skin to have access to a greater privilege than those who have dark skin.
“We are no longer under European rule. Yet, the residue of Eurocentric beauty ideologies has proven more difficult to rid ourselves of than simply declaring our independence. These self-destructive, unattainable beauty standards were so heavily embedded in our ancestors and as a result have been seamlessly intertwined into many of our upbringings to the point that its presence has become unconscious and unquestioned” (Omeaku, 2017). INDENT
We do not need to live with the same beliefs and ideas that were used during the colonial era. These beliefs were contrived during times of slavery. Although we have come a very long way, there is still a lot more improvement that can be done in order for society to view everyone as equals.
The idea that women should look one certain way needs to end. Society as a whole has to break the social construct of Eurocentric beauty standards. Rather than shaming women for having darker skin, we should encourage and empower them to love the skin they are in. Equal representation for women of all skin colors within beauty companies and other media categories is how we can end the idea that black is not beautiful. “…the unrealistic expectations of beauty and hairstyle reify the divisions that exist between African American and Euro American women” (Patton, 2016). Instead of creating a wedge between two groups of people, we should embrace the fact that this world is a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities.
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