Corey Dulin: Shade

Tuesday, September 19, 2017 - 9:06am

My story is nothing new — I’m a Black girl with darker skin, so finding foundation and other makeup in shades that don’t make me look like a ghost is a challenge. At the very least, most brands have a few “darker” shades to give the illusion of inclusivity, but this facade comes crashing down when many darker-skinned women put them on their skin.

Popular drugstore brands are especially bad when it comes to making products for those with more melanin than most. Going into any popular drug store, I know the darkest foundation or powder of most brands will be too light for me. But even brands at stores like Sephora and Ulta have this problem too.

In addition, products marketed to Black women are more likely to contain harmful chemicals. So there are few products to begin with, and when brands do offer products for Black women, they’re more likely to be harmful than those marketed to the general public.

Makeup has recently made me a bit emotional. Constantly walking through makeup aisles filled with products you know will be way too light or make you look ashy gets irritating very quickly. When a brand actually takes the time to ensure it carries products for people with skin too dark for the token brown foundation shade, it is a fantastic shock to me. The release of Fenty Beauty by Rihanna has made me feel like the industry is making more of a space for me. It’s hard to find brands with 20 shades of a foundation, let alone 40. I wasn’t disappointed, which is not the norm for me when it comes to makeup.

Even before I saw the products, I was excited. Rihanna and everyone behind the Fenty brand made it clear through their advertisements and posts on Instagram that this makeup isn’t for a select group of people. It isn’t just for people in the skin tone range of “Porcelain” through “Tan.” The brand prides itself on this, with a quote from Rihanna on the home page emphasizing that "Fenty Beauty was created for everyone.” Unlike many other makeup brands, Fenty doesn’t just create the illusion of inclusion — it actually delivers.

Other brands’ unwillingness to meet the same standards as Fenty doesn’t make sense. It’s financially smart to make more products catered to women with darker skin. For example, despite being a minority of the U.S. population, Black women spend 80 percent more on cosmetics than “general consumers.” This discovery was made years ago, but it seems like many popular brands have decided to ignore this memo. If brands offer darker shades they won’t be disappointed with the additional revenue they generate because there’s a market — even Fenty’s darkest foundation shades are selling out.

Fenty Beauty just launched on Sept. 8, but is not the only inclusive brand on the market. Supermodel Iman created her own cosmetics line in the ’90s specifically for women of color. Brands like L.A. Girl CosmeticsAnastasia Beverly Hills and Nars also stock their shelves with colors that complement many skin tones. Fenty Beauty is part of a trend of bringing more products to the market for people with darker complexions.

This topic is about more than makeup, it’s about who is valued and who is represented. The makeup industry as a whole has not made a strong attempt to cater to women with dark skin, and a lackluster attempt at best to cater to women with lighter shades of brown skin. For years, the beauty industry has given women with these skin tones no attention; it expects these women to be happy with the few brown colors on shelves and call it a day.

The beauty industry uses the same approach in advertising. No one expects them to offer dark shades, so they don’t feature dark-skinned models in their advertisements. Sometimes, brands or stores decide to use a model with lighter brown skin, but this is not representative of all people with brown skin.

Fenty Beauty and other brands like it signal a shift away from tokenism and toward inclusivity. We internalize what we see on shelves and elsewhere in stories and in society. As a society, we need to be exposed to more diverse products and images so beauty standards are less exclusive and specific. We can embrace people of all shades, and show that there’s a place for them, in beauty and in society as a whole. Hopefully, diversity will become the norm.

Corey Dulin can be reached at cydulin@umich.edu.