- Zuhra Al Yarabi
Following the recent controversy and speculations surrounding a facial filter called bold glamor, designed and generated on one of the social media platforms, I was reminded of a time that a specific makeup product was not for people like me.
It is the year 2016.
I had just started taking a greater interest in the beauty industry, specifically in makeup. It was all about clean-cut creases, defined brows, overlined lips, matte liquid lipsticks, full coverage foundations, heavy contouring –you name it, the list goes on. I had all I needed to create a bold full glamor look, except I had a missing item – a contour set. One day, browsing at a well-renowned beauty retail store, I flagged a cosmetic sales associate; let us call her Victoria.
From what I can recall, our initial interaction felt smooth and easy. Then I asked the question, “What contour sets do you recommend? I’m kind of new to this.” She responded, “I don’t think you need it.” After a pause, she scanned my entire face with her eyes and added, “With your skin shade, you’ll only need to apply concealer and highlighter.” My immediate reaction to her statement was slight disbelief and confusion, then I said, “Oh yes, you’re right, that makes sense.” We encountered yet another awkward pause, to which she broke, “I mean, I can still show you some products you can choose from to purchase.” At that point, the sense of disbelief and confusion grew louder within me, and I thought, “What is happening? Am I too dark to use a contour set? And what about make-up artists who fall under a similar shade group as me who happen to use contour sets? How is it different in my case? She said I didn’t need one and now I have possible options?"
It is the year 2023.
Numerous things are happening: I have a fondness for my minimal makeup looks and the occasional soft glam for special events. I am embracing my natural features and tan skin. The beauty industry is pushing for diversity, sustainability, accessibility, inclusivity, and clean products.
Despite those efforts, a part of me still wonders whether sales associates at beauty retail stores treat makeup or beauty neophytes, specifically customers of color, in a similar manner as Victoria did with me. I raise this concern because by-products of racism continue to exist among us, and in the beauty industry, it shows up as colorism, among other things of course. Think of paid partnership packages (widely known as PR packages) and who receives those packages. This is not to categorize and lump all beauty companies under the same umbrella. I am appreciative of brands that genuinely cater to a vast population. However, I cannot help but notice how comments under beauty content highlight the disparities that exist among content creators. The consensus is the following: content creators of color seem to have to put in double and triple the effort compared to their fellow content creators of Eurocentric features to receive recognition. This might be a stretch, but it gives the impression that content creators of color need to work hard to get to that beauty standard.
This, then, brings me back to the initial question of whether people of color are treated and approached differently at beauty retail stores. Is the beauty industry really changing? Are we all receiving the same treatment?
The comment Victoria made could have been a suggestion, but was it necessary and could she have worded it differently?
Readers, what do you think?
Edited by Emiru Okada
Graphics by Momoka Ando