Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Left out of beauty

Ah, the interlinked nature of blogging! So, I was reading Renee's post responding to my post about including white culture in multiculturalism. She wrote about not being able to find makeup specifically for brown-skinned people in her Canadian town. She is forced to trek more than 40 miles and cross an international border to purchase beauty supplies that fit her hair texture and skin color. Boy, do I understand. I spent four years of college looking less-then-cute, because Ames, Iowa, in the late 80s and early 90s had few beauty resources for students of color. I was wearing my hair relaxed at the time. Let me tell you, three months of new growth under straightened hair ain't attractive or healthy. But I fared better than the black women who went to local white salons looking for help. I heard some hair stories that would...well...curl your hair.

Discussions of racial equality usually focus on bigger things than this. In the scheme of things, not being able to find the right color lipstick is low on the list of racial grievances. I'd forgo matching foundation from now until the end of time if it meant children of color could be assured access to good educations or black men wouldn't be disproportionately targeted by police. But the reality is that the niggling, day-to-day, dull aches and exclusions of being a minority do have an effect on the psyche.

When mainstream women's magazines trumpet the season's hottest hairstyles, they never consider styles for kinky hair that doesn't hang; they never offer how a "smoky eye" looks when you have an epicanthic fold; and they rarely show "on trend" makeup colors on a spectrum of brown and black skin. The makeup section at the pharmacy is a sea of disappointment. The haircare section even worse.

This weekend, my stepdaughter introduced me to an app by nail polish manufacturer, O.P.I. It allows you to see the company's myriad shades against your skin before you head to the salon for a mani/pedi. Cool! I was all about it. Except upon downloading the app, I realized there was no hand that matched my caramel complexion. You can change the skin tone highlighted on the app, but options range from pale white to tan white and then leap to dark brown, leaving out a host of black, Native, Asian and Latina women--women that I know damned well use O.P.I. products, which are ever-present in nail shops around the country.

Our society inextricably links beauty with femaleness, yet women of color (particularly black women) are routinely left out by mainstream beauty purveyors--even though we have proven willing to spend our money to look our best. A 2009 survey showed that black women spent nearly 8 billion dollars on beauty products--"an estimated 80 percent more on cosmetics than other groups because of a constant search for items that actually work for their skin"

I suspect that this is, in part, why black women so want to be loyal to companies like Carol's Daughter and to see that loyalty returned. Because mainstream companies so rarely recognize our beauty needs or even our existence.


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