There is a big problem in the beauty industry today. It’s too white. You need only go to a beauty counter to realise that unless your skin is paler than olive, most cosmetic brands don’t cater for you.
However the issue of racism – and that is what it is – within the beauty industry doesn’t begin and end with a poor range of foundation tones. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the beauty industry’s discrimination is the fact that many of the big-name brands are selling skin-lightening products.
The practice of skin-whitening is not new – and it comes loaded with sexist and racist connotations. Aside from the fact that many skin-bleaching products contain illegal and harmful ingredients such as hydroquinone, the cultural associations are, of course, negative. “My mum grew up in Antigua and there, the lighter your skin the better you were treated,” explained a colleague this morning. “It’s the whole slave thing – the dark-skinned women worked in the fields and the pretty light-skinned girls worked in the house.”
And while skin-lightening products have existed for decades, centuries even, they are back in the news this week after journalist Naomi Mabita wrote about the practice for gal-dem.com, and pointed out that Emma Watson was once the face of L’Oréal’s skin-lightening range.
“Do an image search of ad campaigns and you’ll quickly out find how widespread this practice of equating facial perfection to ‘whiteness’ is,” Mabita writes. “Emma Watson, forever paraded in the media as a white feminist icon, is the face of Lancôme’s ‘Blanc Expert’ (Expert White) which contains disruptive ingredients intended to whiten the skin.”
It is not clear whether Watson knew that her face would be used by L’Oréal to sell skin-whitening products to women of colour outside of the UK and US – but it certainly seems apparent that this is a product, and a sales technique, that no feminist should be proud to support.
Mabita ends her piece by urging women to demand better representation in the media. As she says, “The more positive images of dark-skinned women we put out there for the world to see, the less room there will be in our lives for manufactured shame.”