Recognizing Whiteness in the Makeup Industry

How we are encouraged to change our identities

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By defining how Whiteness, especially ideal American Whiteness acts, looks, and even feels, we give it a specified area to exist within. In this way, we eliminate, the “background whiteness” that Sara Ahmed eludes to in, “A phenomenology of whiteness.” In treating and stereotyping Whiteness similarly to how Blackness and Browness are, we are able to remove it from the “default.” The default being that society assumes that whiteness is what is aspired to and what is rightfully occurring.

Examples of this are found in makeup culture. In the makeup industry, there is a strategy referred to as “contouring.” Contouring is when the high and low points of the face are exaggerated by strategic placement of shadow and highlight in order to give the face more definition. Seemingly, this is simply a way to make the face appear slimmer but when analyzed, the practice becomes more complicated. Not only is the size of the face “minimized” but the width of the nose is slimmed as well. Without realizing it, this popular strategy has promoted the erasure of the wide ethnic nose. After typing in, “How to make nose look” into Google, all suggestions were how to make the nose look smaller, thinner, and shorter, which are all characteristics attributed to ideal American Whiteness. An example of an article that promotes this practice is, “The Simple Contouring Trick That’ll Make Your Nose Look Smaller” by Renee Jacques. This article offers simple tips that differ based on what shape the nose is, that will cause the nose to appear smaller and thinner. Eurocentric beauty standards have become so embedded into us that doing makeup practices such as this do not even register as taking on ideal American Whiteness. Although still a relatively untalked about issue, many have begun to realize that several aspects of the beauty industry encourage us to change ourselves almost entirely. Professional makeup artist and founder of the makeup company Bobbi Brown, Bobbi Brown has openly discussed her disapproval of face contouring.

The slim white nose is the default and without realizing, we have been chasing it. This is because Whiteness has been allowed to exist without limitations. Whiteness has not been defined and because of this it has creeped border-lessly into our lives, for this reason we must define it. Through this we will be able to recognize that the aspects of ourselves that we are encouraged to change are only seen as not good enough because they are reminders of our own cultures and histories. It is through this practice that we will be able to separate ideal American Whiteness from the rest of our lives. By visualizing Whiteness as Whiteness and not as “humanness” we will be able to dissect it and ultimately free ourselves of the pressures and standards it holds over us.