The Q(white) Interesting Background of The Beauty Industry

Nancy Rodriguez
May 25, 2017 · 4 min read

The role of whiteness in the beauty industry and how it serves to accommodate white bodies.

It’s not a secret that the beauty industry is meant to cater to Eurocentric beauty standards. Although some companies have tried to be more inclusive, it is still apparent that people of color are an afterthought in the industry. In the beauty industry, “white bodies do not have to face their whiteness; they are not orientated ‘towards’ it, and this ‘not’ is what allows whiteness to cohere, as that which bodies are orientated around” (Ahmed 156). White bodies do not realize that the beauty industry caters to them because their whiteness is never an issue. Their experience in the beauty industry does not revolve around their whiteness even though whiteness is part of the foundation of the beauty industry.

Makeup artists do not receive enough training on how to do makeup on people who are not white or do not have Eurocentric features. The most common mistake makeup artists make is having a makeup kit that only caters to light skin. Leomie Anderson, a model for New York Fashion Week, has discussed her experience with makeup artists who are unprepared to do makeup on a dark skin client. Since it is not uncommon for makeup artists to only cater to light skin clients, Leomie takes her own makeup products to events. Unprepared makeup artists make Leomie confront whiteness every time she has to get her makeup done for an event. As a result, Leomie has learned that in order to be a part of the beauty industry she has provide her makeup artists with the correct makeup products. Leomie’s Twitter thread about her experience with makeup artists being unfit to do makeup on dark skin people makes makeup artists come to face with how the beauty industry is heavily influenced by whiteness.

Similar to dark skin people, white bodies who are extremely pale also struggle to find makeup that suits their skin color. When discussing whiteness, it is important to remember that “some bodies, even those that pass as white, might still be ‘out of line’ with the institutions they inhabit” (Ahmed 159). People who are deemed as being either too dark or too white are often ignored by makeup companies. The difference between these two categories of people is that white bodies are more easily accommodated in the beauty industry. If someone’s skin is too pale to match a foundation, they can purchase a white foundation to mix with the foundation of their choice. Alternatively, if mixing a foundation with white foundation results in a product that is still too dark, white foundation can be used on its own. People with dark skin do not have the option of buying a “black foundation” to darken a product that is too light for their complexion.

Makeup companies use white bodies as the standard model for their cosmetics. A few months ago, ColourPop was criticized because instead of hiring a dark skin model to swatch their products, they used Photoshop to darken a white model’s arm. This resulted in the swatch of the lipstick color being inaccurate because darkening an image does not accurately portray the way that the lipstick would look like on dark skin. While the company was trying to be more inclusive by including darker skin, they still used a white body as the baseline of what a non-white body should be.

Whiteness is the foundation that is used to determine whether or not someone is attractive. Journalist Julie Chen has revealed how early on in her career her looks were criticized by her employer because they were not relatable to the audience that her job was targeting. Eventually, she decided to get plastic surgery to make her eyes appear bigger. Although she was not told that her features were not Eurocentric enough, it was implied that the audience her job was targeting was white bodies. Whiteness is only visible to those people who whiteness does not apply to because they are constantly being reminded of what whiteness is or isn’t. By changing her features to resemble Eurocentric beauty standards, Julie Chen was given job opportunities that otherwise would have been out of reach for her.

Julie Chen before and after plastic surgery.

Whiteness shapes the experience of beauty enthusiasts whether they are aware of it or not. White bodies are the target audience of the beauty industry and Eurocentric beauty standards are used to promote the ideal white body. Bodies who do not measure up to the standard of whiteness are forced to change their behavior to cater to whiteness. However, by catering to whiteness, nonwhite bodies help keep whiteness in the background of peoples’ lives. White bodies can only become aware of whiteness when nonwhite bodies refuse to change their habits to accommodate whiteness.

Gender Theory

University of California, Riverside

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