Skin Wars: Racism behind the makeup counter
Rachel D’Sa // Arts and Culture Editor
Regardless of whether or not you’ve spent time in a communication class critically analyzing the media, we can all confidently say that we know the beauty industry has been screwing us over for years. Whether making us feel insecure about acne, teeth that aren’t blindingly white, or dry hair, the constant stream of corrective products coming out lead us to believe there is always something external to improve. Eating away at our wallets and self-confidence is one thing, but it’s still a surprise that in 2018 there is still such flat-out racist exclusivity.
On Jan. 15, cosmetic brand Tarte took to social media to announce the launch of their highly anticipated line of liquid foundations. While the previously introduced concealer-version of the foundation proved to be a huge success, becoming their best seller, the newly introduced product was anything but groundbreaking. The measly 15 shade range for the Shape Tape Foundation consisted of 11 fair, two slightly more tan and two deeper shades. Not only does this project subtle discrimination based on the fact that a lot of people of colour will not have the chance to use the foundation, but adding insult to injury the product was released on Martin Luther King Day – making it that much more of a slap in the face.
Contrasting Tarte’s massive flop, Fenty Beauty, Rihanna’s beauty line, hit stores in September, assuming the role as a new industry standard by filling the shade range gap that exists for people of colour. Her now signature foundations come in 40 shades, providing more shade match opportunities. Additionally, the colour range of her various eye shadow and highlighter palettes and lipsticks ultimately work to enhance deeper skin tones – which has caused a bit of uproar. Many fair-skinned consumers of the brand’s highlighter duos have reviewed the product to be un-wearable due to the colours offered. Though Rihanna worked to offer many ‘universally flattering’ shades for all skin tones, as a person of colour and an advocate against racism, she worked to formulate the brand to cater more to those who are often ignored by many beauty brands.
To some, all this talk about shade ranges comes across as skin deep. Living in a heavily westernized society, we’ve grown accustomed to primarily seeing white models in ads, with the exception of a few people of colour to meet diversity quotas. Something as seemingly miniscule as leaving a large portion of the human population out of trying a new beauty product is blatantly cutting people of colour out of the picture. These few occasions are problems that are a part of a bigger picture.
After receiving flak from those inside and outside the beauty blogger community, Tarte released an official statement via Instagram addressing the controversy (which has since been edited), “… It may be too little too late, but we can assure you this was not meant in any kind of malicious way. We all just got caught up in #shapetapenation and seeing your tweets asking for it … We wanted to get the product out as fast as possible, and we made the decision to move forward before all the shades were ready to go.”
This backhanded apology, while attempting to mend the controversial tear in their reputation, flat out says that it prioritizes fair-skinned individuals. The brand has since announced that it will launch 10 more shades, and ironically this controversy has provided them with brand recognition, almost a positive for the company. It’s no news that scandal is an old trick in the book of “how to get yourself on the map.” Regardless of which industry it’s coming from, brands can’t continue to get away with racist advertising tactics. It’s about time it backfires.