Shades of Change


Last week, as part of Dove’s ‘Beauty Project’, influential Beauty columnist Sali Hughes directed a myriad of questions to a panel of all-female, multicultural influencers. Under the provocative heading ‘Pretty White Female’, the talk hosted by Selfridges’ approached the issue of whether beauty brands are doing enough for women of colour. Panellists included Health & Beauty Director of ‘Women’s Health’, Anita Bhagwandas, presenter Gemma Cairnery and founders Kay Montano and Thandie Newton of multicultural beauty site ThandieKay.

Emotions were high, the conversation overran and the questions pouring in sometimes centred on an ‘us and them’ mentality, fueled by hurt-filled stories of struggle. Both audience and panel expressed that, at some point in their youth or adult lives, they had experienced difficulty identifying some semblance of themselves within the mainstream publications that they bought, worked for or were featured in.

The make-up industry ideal is fuelled by money and dictated by societal insecurities; it’s harsh, ugly and often prejudiced. Thandie succinctly highlighted that, “there is ghettoisation of make-up; we can't buy it in general drug stores. We are being separated.” This has left many women feeling ignored and marginalized.

As a black woman, the gruelling endeavour to source the right make-up shade has plagued me. Recent stats show that women of colour buy 80% more cosmetics than white women; evidence that many, like me, are also involved in an expensive, arduous process of trial and error.

“We've got to keep positive! Things have changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Social media is changing everything!” Thandie’s right; we no longer have to fervently search through magazines in the vain hope of finding a dark-skinned woman using an easily available product. Now, we can source hair tips, beauty recommendations and particular products from YouTube videos or blogs run by women we identify with.

Their sharp, creative content is forming bonds, educating and allowing us to rediscover the joy of make-up through shared experience and, “ideals of beauty which reflect the [mixed] world we are in,” as Kay Montano mentioned. Straight-talking, insightful platforms like ThandieKay have afforded us, as consumers, autonomy over the content we produce, ingest and ultimately, the make-up we buy.  

This move towards independence is across the board, not just for women of colour. Furthermore, its influence is far reaching and not to be taken lightly. Beauty brands and the media in which they advertised, previously took their cues from sub-cultures within the influential underground. Increasingly they are turning to the rumblings on forums, blogs and independent online zines for new markets.

“I became obsessed with transformation because I never saw 'myself' in the media,” stated Kay, stressing that, whilst we are justifiably angry and frustrated, it is important to harness these emotions in order to become agents of change. As a result of our collective voice, the Beauty industry and mainstream media, shackled to the responsibility of money as opposed to humanity, are finally beginning to recognise the enormous financial potential within our multicultural market.

Bwalya Newton