Fashion // Natural(ly) White

Being half-Irish and having tDiversity_and_Unityypically Celtic colouring, I have sometimes found it difficult to find makeup that matches my skin tone. Sometimes even the lightest shade available can look distinctly orange against my fair skin. Having said that, I have noticed some progress on this front since Nicola Roberts launched her ‘Dainty Doll’ makeup range in 2010. The collection’s release shone a light on the limited range offered by the high-street and offered fair-skinned girls the opportunity to wear makeup that suited their skin tone. Yet when I look at the range offered by well-known drugstore brands, I am still deeply unsettled.

Across the majority of the big-name brands, the makeup ranges are almost wholly targeted at Caucasian skin tones, with the darkest shades often being named ‘Tan’, or ‘Beige’. Despite some brands offering perhaps a couple of variations of their product for women of colour, the range offered is not fully representative of a diverse contemporary society. Peers and friends of mine with darker skin have said that they must look to higher end brands such as Bobbi Brown and Makeup Forever to cater to their skin tone. The fact that non-Caucasian women are being denied the opportunity to wear makeup seems somewhat prehistoric, considering the power of the beauty industry in modern society. I have found it disturbing that brands often name Caucasian shades ‘Natural’ or ‘Nude’, in juxtaposition to deeper shades, which are often labelled ‘Cocoa’, or ‘Coffee’. In fact, when we broaden our perspectives to consider what else we refer to as ‘nude’, the fashion and beauty industry becomes increasingly problematic. Consider bras, knickers, tights that we refer to as ‘nude’: they are all unavoidably suited to match Caucasian skin. Even plasters come in one light-pink shade to supposedly suit all.

When I first learned about the brand Nubian Skin, which produces ‘nude’ bras, knickers and hosiery for women of deeper skin tones I was thoroughly relieved. Yet, the novelty of such brands in this day and age is profoundly shocking. While I will champion the steps being made by long-established beauty and fashion houses to cater for a wider range of skin tones, the question must be asked, why has it taken so long?

Furthermore, we should also ask if a beauty and fashion industry which denies representation of an ethnically diverse society encourages whiteness as an aspiration. Today, the Asian beauty market is saturated with skin bleaching products, and in some countries, such as South Korea, eyelid surgery has become a common practise. Recent beauty trends such as contouring the nose to make it appear smaller, and lightening large portions of the face with makeup, as demonstrated and made popular by Kim Kardashian, promote Western ideals of beauty. More than merely overlooking a vast proportion of society, the beauty industry indeed alienates it too. A young black girl, who cannot find a foundation suited to her skin in the drugstore where her white friends can shop freely, is simultaneously told ‘to be black is wrong’; this is unacceptable. We are encouraged to believe that we live in an equal society, yet racism still underlies daily interactions and experiences. To offer privilege on the basis of their ethnicity is a constructed convention of society, and seems to me to be distinctly ‘[un]natural’.

Words: Niamh Leonard-Bedwell

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