I'm A Part Of The Beauty Industry — But My Black Beauty Isn't Always Seen

by Rhea Cartwright
Rosdiana Ciaravolo/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
A makeup artist styling a female model with short hair

As a Black beauty editor, I can categorically say I have never felt so embarrassed and abandoned by the beauty industry, a place I’ve made my home for nearly a decade. The myriad of black squares may have eclipsed Instagram on #blackouttuesday, but with the beauty industry having ignored Black women's needs for decades it feels both pertinent and personal when so few have publicly spoken up against the abhorrent racial injustice and police brutality that Black people face on a daily basis. I am disgusted that some brands who have profited so heavily off of the Black aesthetic are flagrantly refusing to even acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement, while others have been audaciously slow to react and even slower to open their wallets.

Despite everything coming to the forefront now, with global protests following the murder of George Floyd, systemic racism is by no means a new phenomenon. Within the beauty industry, all Black consumers and beauty journalists are overly familiar with the inherently overt toxic race issue. For us, it’s knowing the “universally flattering” lipstick shade won’t suit our skin tone from the email subject line alone. It’s knowing the “unique color-adaptive” technology doesn’t extend to our deeper hues. It’s knowing that despite there being one Black model used in the campaign, there is not a single Black person within the executive leadership team. And now, it’s knowing that the feeble monetary donations and posts of supposed solidarity are wholly disingenuous from brands that have never even worked with a Black person in the history of their incorporation.

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I rightly question, why? Why are we perpetually ignored when Black people economically prop up and propel the global beauty industry. According to a recent Nielsen report, we spend $1.1 billion in beauty which is 80 percent more than our non-Black counterparts. The amalgamation of our tremendous buying power and collective cultural currency, which has increased exponentially thanks to social media, not only sets, but dominates trends for all consumers, so why have you failed us yet again?

Ultimately, irrespective of the Black models, celebrities, and influencers that are exploited to sell magazine covers or solicit social media interest, Eurocentric beauty ideals are still the central focus for beauty brands. Working in an industry created predominantly by and for white people is exhausting because I have to accept that my hair texture, skin tone, and opinions are often considered an afterthought. For every brand such as Fenty Beauty that launches with 40 shades, there are several others that launch with only 10, with promises of shade extension in the future. There is a constant cultural appropriation of Black beauty trends that excludes us from the narrative, whether it’s the historical relevance of braids and cornrows being whitewashed by images of Bo Derek and Kim Kardashian or the ridiculing of “ghetto” acrylic nails that are now praised when seen on white celebrities or on runways. There is this grotesque dichotomy of the Black aesthetic being fetishized and lusted over when they are on white or racially ambiguous faces, while Black people are symbolically annihilated as global brands refuse to acknowledge our existence when developing foundations, creating marketing campaigns and crucially, in their hiring practices. We are simply invisible to so many.

The amalgamation of our tremendous buying power and collective cultural currency, which has increased exponentially thanks to social media, not only sets, but dominates trends for all consumers, so why have you failed us yet again?

My journey in the industry began on the shop floor at SpaceNK at a time where the best-selling By Terry Touche Veloutée concealer only came in three shades, the darkest of which was far too light. Eight years later, having expanded with only one extra shade, it is still not suitable for me or anyone darker. To be clear, while both myself and society will always identify me as Black, my mother is White, so although my complexion is often deemed as more "palatable" or an appropriate level of Blackness, it's still consistently ignored. When I worked for a premium global makeup brand, on a rare chance of meeting the founder, I asked her if there were plans to extend shade ranges or use Black women in the campaigns, to which she responded that that market was not currently the focus. As an editor, I was commissioned to review a supposedly "inclusive" hair salon and had the worst experience of my life in which I had to sit down the salon director and educate him on how to do my natural hair. The same curly hair that everyone wants to comment on and pet when you attend a beauty launch as the only Black face.


I feel humiliated by the outlandish hypocrisy from brands that have socially disenfranchised Black people across all areas of their business but are now capitalizing on this moment to show support, in the pitiful form of basic geometry alongside a hazy caption that fails to explicitly explain who or what they are even supporting. For many brands, public demand, outcry, and peer pressure were the only catalysts in wanting to stand together with us; as their competitors like Glossier authentically and wholeheartedly led with a donation, they were forced to follow with a meager PR opportunity to support the Black community with a whimsical cash donation despite their murky history of diversity and inclusion. No truer is that visible than with L’Oréal who have declared that, “Speaking out is worth it” alongside an unspecified commitment to the NAACP, despite the beauty conglomerate sacking transgender Black British model Munroe Bergdorf in 2017 for highlighting racial injustice.

It took a visceral reaction to an innocent man’s murder for the entire beauty industry to see the harsh reality that Black editors have always known and have repeatedly been discussing. Seeing how brands scrambled to navigate their cultural paralysis on racial injustice will not be forgotten and most importantly, we know their supportive gestures are no reflection of the corporate realities. As the beauty industry continues to perpetuate racism we need an entirely new narrative to create change with unwavering long term commitment, not shallow words and promises of performative hires. 2020 has already been a year of unrivaled events and I can only hope that change is going to come. This industry is my home and I want to finally feel truly welcomed.