For many, this a sore topic but it really can’t be helped. As an English Literature student, I am compelled to recognise the role identity plays in our society. And as a makeup artist, I am compelled to understand how people actively seek to embody this identity.
As a black woman, I am very proud of my heritage. I am proud of my skin tone (as fair as it may be) and I would be proud if my skin was darker. Was it always like this? No of course not. Being an adolescent, before the age of the Nicki Minajs, before the age of lip plumpers and butt jobs, wasn’t easy. And no this sudden surge in the appropriation of black culture should not be an ‘excuse’ for women to celebrate their blackness, but no matter how some of us may feel, it has definitely been a self-affirmation of beauty for girls out there who were previously struggling with being thick-lipped, thick thighed and curly haired.
But what annoys me is this persistent tendency towards white-washing the black skin. Especially for women. It is no secret that the media prefers lighter skinned black women – the Beyonce’s over the Jennifer Hudson’s. But with the surge of social media and of black power and this opening up of knowledge of black culture and heritage, why are black women still so uncomfortable in their own skin? From a scholarly point of view it’s just sad, considering the fact that women are simply continuing this cycle of mental slavery but being hooked on these bleaching products. And from the point of view of a makeup artist and beauty fiend, it’s horrible because you’re ruining the canvas which you’ve been given to create beautiful makeup.
Everyone wants to be Fair
Every day I have at least one customer come into the store and say: “I want to be your colour”. Now anyone who has seen my Instagram knows, despite being mixed raced I am extremely fair. But if your darker skinned (let’s say Kelly Rowland colour) wearing a foundation that’s the colour of someone who is the colour of Love and Hip Hop’s ‘Miss Nikki’ (for lack of a better comparison), its not going to look natural, and it’s not going to look beautiful at all. No matter what society says about beauty, no matter how bad it makes darker skinned women feel, it will laugh at you so much more if you try too hard to please them. Going out with makeup that is way too light for you will always be noticeable. Even if you blend it into your neck and paint your hands the same colour, people can always tell, especially when the colour is a dramatic difference and not a subtle one.
Make-up, especially foundation, is meant to pick your skin up and make it look radiant – and if not that, then at least, smooth and healthy. Wearing a foundation colour that is too light for you is not going to do this, all its going t do is make you look ashy and ghostly.
Wearing a foundation that is your colour or as close to your colour as possible is the only way to bring out your natural beauty.
But for those of you who think that bleaching is the answer to this beauty problem – you are so wrong.
Bleaching is the worst thing you can do to your skin. Full stop. And I’m not talking about the minor skin lightening for scars or stretch marks. I’m talking about the hardcore, peroxide bleach creams. That stuff is dangerous. and they may disguise their name: sometimes they’re ‘bleaching creams’ sometimes, they’re ‘toning creams’. But they are all dangerous; You wouldn’t put bleach on your favourite clothes, so why put it on your skin?
The problem with bleaching is that bleaching is a drug, once you start, you literally CAN NOT stop. Not so much because you become addicted, but because the minute you stop, your skin breaks out in bumps. Not spots- BUMPs. All over. And the thing about these bumps is, they aren’t like blemishes – no amount of correcting is going to cover them up. You will forever have damaged the canvas that you were born with. There are so many customers that come in complaining about finding makeup to match their skin tone after they’ve been bleaching, and the truth is – it may not be impossible, but it’s harder because after you’ve been bleaching and stopped, the skin becomes all different shades. And even when the correct shade is picked, making your foundation hide the uneven surface and discoloration of the skin is VERY VERY hard. It’s safer to just not touch the bleach in the first place.
And for those who have started bleaching and don’t intend to stop. The problems are still there. Your skin may not have bumps, but the surface will still be uneven. What’s worse is, the tone will be awful. Your skin will look like greasy paper- transparent and thin, completely unnatural especially since the skin around your eyes and mouth will always be darker and just a little bit scary. Think Vybz Kartel
And it doesn’t make your foundation look any more natural. Getting the right shade will remain a chore because you will never be able to get the right shade because your skin tone is all over the place.
You will forever need FULL coverage foundation, meaning you will never be able to wear the ‘natural’ look. On top of that, your skin becomes dry, is more prone to stripping and is VERY sun sensitive.
Mental and economic slavery
People rarely think about the mental and economic slavery that comes with being hooked on these products. You will forever believe that without that cream, without that light complexion, you’re not beautiful, and society continues to enslave you both mentally and economically.
And regardless how light you make yourself, society isn’t ever going to see you as anything other than black, or Asian, so why not embrace it? So many women who come in with their natural skin tones are beautiful. why ruin what you were given with chemicals whose sole purpose is to hook you into a colonised idea of beauty, which will forever be unattainable.
Turning to black-owned brands.
Part of the reason a lot of black women either don’t know their colour or don’t want to be their colour is because they are turning to brands which are easily accessible. And sometimes easy accessibility means turning to brands that really don’t cater to black skin. And when I say black skin I don’t just mean dark skin – I mean skin that has any form of melanin in it. Any brand can have a tanned or dark brown coloured foundation, but most brands will not have colours that have the right tones for black women. Even fair skin tones should be more willing to turn to black on make up brands, because just because mainstream brands have fair colours doesn’t mean that these colours will have the correct undertones. There have been countless times that I’ve tried to find my colour with brands like MAC, Maybelline, even Dior, and though these brands have my colour (generally a ‘warm beige’ / ‘sand’) they never never match my undertone the way Fashion Fair’s ‘Hazel’ has. These brands understand the undertone of black skin better than brands like MAC with all of their NC and NW colours can’t always get it right. MAC is good and comes in many different shades, but the shades are always just a little bit off, and this ‘off-ness’ gets worse over time with MAC foundations. Not to mention all black people gravitate to NC or NW 45, regardless of their actual shade. It’s not possible for 85% of black people who to go to mac to all be the same colour. The same way that white/fairer skin comes in more shades than just ‘Ivory’ or NC15, black comes in different shades as well, and you need to find the brand which caters to those variations.
Half the customers that come to Fashion Fair come to me complaining that MAC just doesn’t fit their skin EXACTLY. But when they go to brands like Fashion Fair, Black Up, Iman, they always find a foundation that matches their skin TONE rather than just their colour.
For that reason, it is better to go to brands that understand black skin, black skin tones and how black skin behaves, even if it is going to cost you a bit more because it will make you look more natural and more beautiful.
Black skin is not something to hide.It is something to be proud of. Even if it takes a bit more effort to find the perfect shade.
And this need to feel proud of black beauty goes beyond skin colour. Countless beauty trends are inspired by black women like Ombre lips and Lip plumpers and fillers, for the appearance of fuller lips, Tanning + bronzing, thick thighs and hips and curly hair, all of it coming into fashion so that others can have what black women have naturally.
Skin colour may is just the cherry on top of black identity, but it is the most important part of that identity. Even fairer skinned black women should think about where they buy their foundation from because even if your COLOUR is an NC20 in MAC, it is still likely they will not be able to match their colour to your skin TONE. But that does not mean you should settle for the wrong colour or the lighter colour. And just because the media says white is beautiful, doesn’t mean that is the case. Dark skin and dark skinned women are beautiful and will be infinitely more beautiful without the bleach, and the wrong shade of foundation. Stop insisting that you should be a MAC NC30 when the mirror is telling you that you should be a Fashion Fair ‘Teak’. You’re not light, no matter how many times you tell it yourself. But that doesn’t in any way mean your dark skin isn’t beautiful. Half of beauty is confidence, and if you sit uneasy in your own skin that will get picked up on, which is partly what the media has picked up – the black man buying into the culturally indoctrinated idea of fairer skin being more beautiful and hating themselves for being different.
If we stop bleaching, stop buying the wrong foundation colours, stop buying into the idea that skinny is the only form or pretty, that long straight hair is the only form beautiful and loving our thickness, even when it goes out of style. Being black is not a fad. You can’t take your colour off and you definitely can’t deny your heritage, no matter how fair you are. So why not embrace it?
You’re perfect as you are.