I have been using makeup ever since I was in 4th grade. In reality, I did not have much of a choice since my dance teacher required it for our performances. My mother was never a fan of this idea, but I didn’t really mind it. I liked wearing it. I would spend my free time watching tutorials and reviews, making desperate attempts to recreate looks with the few products on my mother’s vanity. It was only when I entered high school that my mother would let me buy my own makeup instead of using hers.
Out of a sense of newfound independence and excitement, I started shopping for products through websites and in stores. I would spend hours browsing through each foundation and concealer shade, reading off their pretty names: Cloud, Swan, Snow, Pearl, Porcelain, Seashell… but all this did was disappoint me, since none of these shades were even remotely close to my brown skin. If I wanted to get one that matched, I had to walk through the dessert aisle: Butter Pecan, Caramel, Praline, Chai, Cocoa, Tiramisu, Ganache, Truffle…
I was always annoyed that the shades I had to choose from were not as pretty and delicate as the lighter shades. But, at the time, I did not realize how problematic these sweet-inspired names actually were. The association of dark skin tones with chocolate and other foods is so normalized and deeply entrenched in our society through makeup, dating and daily conversations. Many people find it flattering to compare our skin to caramel or mocha, but it is blatantly dehumanizing. And yes, white skin is occasionally labeled as white chocolate, but only when the context includes brown or Black people. These dessert-based labels were likely popularized as a way to show people that brown and Black skin can be beautiful, since they resemble foods we crave so much. But it has gone too far and reduced us to just those labels. When I see these names, I start to feel as if people can only see me as beautiful if they compare my skin to desserts. My skin should not have to be compared to food to be seen as attractive. It’s attractive on its own.
This verbiage is dehumanizing because it implies that dark-skinned women are consumable products. While lighter shades are marketed as abstract and intangible, darker shades are named after purchasable items. All the shade names are also unhealthy desserts that people refer to as guilty pleasures. I felt as though even if people liked my skin color, the same people would still feel embarrassed by it. These shade names are a textbook example of fetishization, reducing people of color to merely their race and its corresponding stereotypes. It contributes to the idea that the lives of people of color must center around white people, implying that whiteness is the norm and thus dessert-based comparables are necessary context for darker skin tones. By reducing our skin color to just something to be consumed, the beauty industry is fetishizing us.
Perhaps companies label darker shades as desserts because they want to have a cute sugar theme. But, if that is the case, why are they not naming the lighter shades after food? Why is it pearl instead of white chocolate, snow instead of cheesecake, swan instead of coconut, seashell instead of cashew? There are few companies that create a whole product line centered around desserts. For example, Huda Beauty’s #FauxFilter foundation has shades ranging from Milkshake to Hot Fudge. As a South Asian woman, I’m not upset about the sweet to skin comparison trope as a whole, but rather the fact that the trope is used only for brown and black skin. Time and time again, brown and Black women have expressed discomfort with these names. Companies ignoring these reactions make me wonder if these shade labels were made to appeal more to people with lighter skin than the actual users. When companies use these sweet-inspired names, light skinned people are more likely to see these names as a way to uplift brown and black people. Acclaimed companies such as Fenty Beauty try to avoid these cliché labels by naming their shades as numbers. For the most part, the lightest shade will be the first of the range, and the darkest will be the last. While the order of the shades first appears trivial, it further perpetuates colorism in the makeup industry by implying that white is the norm and comes first. To address this, Beauty Bakerie rearranged the order of their shade numbers, putting the darkest shade first. The makeup industry needs to understand that these dessert-inspired names have racist undertones. We do not need someone to compare us to caramel or chocolate for us to realize our own beauty.
Major makeup companies need to find new ways to label our shades so we feel comfortable to wear them. These shades are made for us, so the names should be too. Our skin is copper, topaz, umber and russet. We are more than our skin color, and our skin color is more than the desserts you can find at Meijer.
MiC Columnist Roshni Mohan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.