Beauty standards rooted in racism

From colorism to texturism in everyday life, minorities are constantly discriminated and policed for their features.

Student Commentary

By Kyra-Leigh Hymons / Contributor

Shade ranges: the trouble with finding the right color in makeup as a minority 

Fire Womxn Canvas by Reyna Noriega | Pinterest

I remember the first time I was allowed to wear makeup. My mom had finally given in and said I was allowed because I was now a middle schooler. Naturally, I was ecstatic to finally feel so grown up—like a real teenager. That weekend, some friends and I went to the mall on the hunt for cool back-to-school items to show the seventh and eighth graders that we were “cool sixth graders.” I was managing a big budget, $25 dollars, and I was more than ready to take on the Target cosmetic section. The first thing I noticed was the lack of darker shades in the foundation section. I remember watching my white friends find their shades right away, while I sat with my four options of caramel, mocha, mahogany, and cocoa. I tried to see what limited category I would fit into. The color I picked didn’t match my skin color at all, and I remember being very upset that it was way too light. My friend suggested I avoid the sun for a bit and wait until I lighten up in winter. 

For many Black and Brown people, finding makeup that compliments skin color is such a struggle. With the white shades having 10+ options and the darker ones maybe having four, if you’re lucky, it’s obvious what skin colors are desirable. 

Global news wrote about the difficulty people with dark skin have when trying to find makeup shades in broader ranges, citing a 2018 poll conducted by Makeup for Melanin Girls (MFMG) where 80% of 5,500 women said is challenging to find a foundation for their skin tone. Even today, with the world growing more and more diverse, there is still an apparent preference for lighter skin tones in the beauty industry.  

Representation matters in every aspect of life, and the lack of it can lead to many self-esteem issues that one carries throughout our life.  

Colorism, as defined by Merriam-Website as “prejudice or discrimination especially within a racial or ethnic group favoring people with lighter skin over those with darker skin,” is ingrained in society.  

We have grown up hearing phrases like fairest of them all and have not considered the implications that linger to this day. 

For The Guardian, contributor Erin Dyana Mclaughin wrote a piece about using makeup to appear lighter until she redefined beauty as a black woman:

“Colorism has programmed me to view myself as everything but beautiful, or even a woman. Masculinity, ugliness and undesirability are traits that I have identified with since early adolescence,” writes Mclaughin. 

Colorism is systemic. It is a way for people to uphold white beauty standards that do nothing but “other” minorities from every industry and aspect of society. Even with big makeup brands today pushing for more inclusivity and a better span of options there is still so much to be done. We need to advocate for shade diversity to be the standard in the beauty industry—and not the exception.

Related reading:

Unprofessional or just not white? The problems with texturism for Black people in everyday life

How much does your hair matter to you? For many Black people our hair is a symbol of who we are and where we come from. It can tell stories of strength, pride, and growth. With the rich culture around hair, it is unfortunate that the Black community has struggled to style our hair naturally and has had to fight texturism in every aspect of life.  

Since slavery, Black women have been ridiculed for their hair choices. The tignon laws passed in 1768 in Louisiana obliged enslaved Black women to hide their natural hair to avoid “excessive attention.” These types of laws policing black hair led to the long fight for hair inclusivity and pride that many still struggle with today.   

So what is texturism? 

Texturism is generally defined as “a preference for hair with smoother/looser texture, and the discrimination against people with kinkier, coarse hair within the same race.” 

For many decades, only white people’s hair was considered “professional” in the work setting. This forced many Black people to straighten and perm their hair in an attempt to blend into societal norms. Many formal work environments still expect a “clean cut” style of hair to fit into the values of the company.  However, the so-called “clean cut” is not synonymous with natural Black hair. 

In the United States, the rise in social media platforms reporting the discrimination of hair in the workforce has motivated many states to legally prohibit “race-based hair discrimination,” according to the Washingting Post. Legislators have begun to be more open about the long history of discrimination based on hair, and what that means for Black people in the work force. Having to damage or otherwise uncomfortably maintain your hair for the purpose of pleasing white corporate America is ridiculous and blatantly racist. 

Good Morning America wrote a wonderful piece about Black women embracing their natural hair during the pandemic, and how liberating it was for many who feel the pressure of having to look a certain way just to be taken seriously in the workplace. Forbes also draws attention to the fact that someone’s “proximity to whiteness” allows reaping benefits of white privilege without going through the same discrimination of others that don’t. Someone’s hair being considered better purely because of the proximity it has to whiteness is a product of systemic racism. 

As of today, only 11 out of the 50 states in the US ban discrimination based on hair type/texture. This should be a standard practice for all 50 states, and there should be a federal law in place to prevent similar situations recurring. 

Learn more at The CROWN Act: Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.