By Kerri Hardy
Kerri Hardy is an African-American writer who publishes on African-American and feminine identity.
While Black history should be recognized in beauty every day, Black History Month is a special opportunity to celebrate collective identity and culture. When it comes to beauty, there is no right answer or a single image. Beauty is a multitude of faces and an endless variety of skin tones. With that said, inclusion matters. Representation is the first step, and then inclusion is the act of telling someone’s story. It is the complete demonstration of America’s melting pot culture, and that means allowing others to bring forth their perspectives, ideas, and experiences. Black history matters in the beauty industry because Black stories matter. And even more importantly, black stories told by black voices matter.
The power of representation only gives us the possibility for inclusion. As a black consumer, when I see a brown face on a skincare commercial or brown skin on a brand’s website, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m being included. Brown faces are sometimes put there for the sake of having them there, but I want to be there because my identity is meaningful, not because I’m fulfilling the bare minimum of an advertising diversity requirement.
Beauty is one of the most impactful parts of society, and to be integrated as a second thought is detrimental. A sense of beauty is positively correlated with self-esteem, body esteem, and the belief that one is capable (Britton, 2012). If I don’t see myself or my story within any interpretation of beauty, it’s much more difficult to be sure of myself and to attain exceptional things. By in large, women are assigned greater earning potential and considered to have more prestigious jobs the more they adhere to beauty standards (Britton, 2012). Of course, the ability to dress professionally and look put together is (for the most part) fair game, but it is not fair game when beauty standards are deliberately exclusive of features that some women cannot change.
It especially becomes even more inequitable when certain women have to work harder to achieve this “put together” aesthetic because skincare and cosmetic lines are not affording them equal resources. For example, many skincare lines and cosmetic lines today still do not consider or completely omit richly melanated skin. Historically, quality cosmetics and beauty treatments were associated with status (Huston, 2017), and African-Americans were not permitted into spaces that necessitated that (Hanks, 2018). Although this has changed greatly, we’re still seeing patterns within the beauty industry that evoke America’s exclusionary past. African-Americans have accomplished a multitude of things, and today, we have the ability to become entrepreneurs, politicians, and educators like any other American. Corporate business, activism, and pop culture innovation are all a part of black history as well, not solely strife.
Our history is more than that, and it’s time for this narrative to be integrated into beauty, skincare, and even luxury brands. If history informs the patterns going on today, brands need to also celebrate and allow an authentic depiction of black success, joy, and even everyday normalcy when it comes to brand storytelling and beauty marketing.
Britton, Anne Marie. “The Beauty Industry's Influence on Women In Society.” The University of New Hampshire Scholar's Repository. Fall 2012.
Hanks, Angela. "Systemic Inequality: How America's Structural Racism Helped Create the Wealth Gap." The Center for American Progress. 2018
Huston, Matthew. "Should You Wear Makeup at Work?" The Scientific American. 2017.