Racism in Makeup Market: Black Professionals Report Cases of Racism
Note from BW of Brazil: I would never claim to be an expert on the question of makeup and beauty products, and even though there are plenty of men who specialize in makeup techniques, I am most def not one of them. I can tell you what I think looks good and what doesn’t on a woman’s face, but that’s about the end of my expertise. But even so, as I have tracked the situation, needs, desires, exclusion and ascension of Brazil’s black population for a number of years, I am well aware of the issues black women have faced when it comes to finding makeup and beauty products for all shades of black skin.
The necessity of these products is such that, a number of aspiring black entrepreneurs have emerged in recent years offering subscriptions for the beauty gift boxes with products specifically targeted at black women. We’ve seen this approach to meeting the demand of millions of black women who consume beauty products by the women of the Afrô Box collection as well as the Clube da Preta venture. We’ve also seen a number of black Brazilian women blow up on their blogs and YouTube channels (see here and here) offering makeup and beauty tips for a contingent of women that Brazil’s multi-billion real beauty business has all but ignored for several decades.
It’s crazy that since I first discovered the problem black Brazilian women were having in finding makeup that matches their skin tones back in 2000, little had changed by 2014 and, in many respects, progress has still been slow both in turns of products, attitudes and professionals who know how to work with black skin, as you will see in the article below. No surprise here. As black Brazilians are made invisible in so many areas of Brazilian society, why would the makeup industry be any different in a country that dreams of being white?
Racism in Makeup Market: Black Professionals Report Cases of Racism
By Elisa Soupin
Take the test: Search Google for the top beauty YouTubers in the country. Then look at the highest-paid models. Finally, do a search for the top makeup artists in Brazil. How many black professionals have you encountered? Racism is also present in beauty and makeup, but more and more professionals are fighting against – and overcoming – prejudice.
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Carioca (Rio native) makeup artist Monica Reis, 42, remembers when, at 14, went to do a photo shoot. “At that time, it was an obsession to do these bookings. I was made up and I remember saying that the base was different, but the makeup artist said black people usually wanted to be mais claras (lighter). The result, when I look today, is that it looks like I stuck my face in the flour,” she recalls.
The case was not an isolated episode in her life. As a black woman who long before being a makeup artist always loved makeup, there were countless frustrations.
“Whenever I was made up by someone on some social occasion, such as being a madrinha (de casamento or maid of honor), I was dissatisfied. They were two problems, I had no product with my tone, but also there was no technique to makeup black skin. Until I was maid of honor and an amazing makeup artist did the make up. He had no foundation, but mixed it with shadow, pigment and made me (look) wonderful, because he knew how to do it,” says Reis, who began to take more and more interest in the subject precisely to meet her own necessity for makeup.
In her professional path, racism has appeared in countless, more or less subtle ways. As she professionalized herself and studied, she came to realize that in makeup courses there were no modelos negros (black models) – no techniques for working on their skin.
“There was no talk about making up black skin unless it was a black skin module. In most regular courses, there are one or two black skin classes. That is, in a 96-hour course load, eight were devoted to pele negra (black skin). Black skin is a module, but when we work with brides or mature skin, for example, there are never black models,” she says.
As a result, Monica explains that the most widespread techniques simply don’t address black models, such as, for example, the super famous contours of the Kardashians (and 90% of beauty YouTubers).
“Many customers complain about how they were contoured. There are people who don’t even like to look at the pictures of their wedding day, because there is that idea that the black nose needs to be thinned, and it doesn’t. What happens is that women end up not recognizing themselves,” she explains.
Is the black model is not worth the photo in the feed?
The 20-year-old model Mavita Marinho endorses the discourse: racism is as much in the lack of comprehensive enough products for all mulheres negras (black women) as in the unpreparedness of beauty professionals. For her, the main problem is the lack of specialization.
“It’s all a matter of wanting: just as you learn how to contour or glitter without smudging your skin, you learn to do black skin with excellence. They say they can’t find a black model because they want black women with fine features, with a snub nose and, guys, black beauty is not that! We are tired of being a quota of the stores and makeup events. The black model is only called if it’s a black skin module,” she protests.
“I have black friends who were made up by ‘great makeup artists’ and these makeup artists didn’t post their photos in the feed,” she says.
Darkening the industry on the inside
Daniele da Mata, 29, has been working as a makeup artist for seven years, but her relationship with makeup is goes back further: at 15, she started working in a cosmetics factory and it was there that she had her first experience with racism in the makeup world.
“When I was there about three years ago, I started working in the area of quality and product development. Every time I developed a product and sent a sample to approve, the black skin products came back. That’s when I started to understand a little,” she says.
With all the practical knowledge and personal experience of finding foundation and other skincare products without being able to find the right tone, Daniele saw that there was a market that wanted to consume but lacked products and professionals.
“The idea of working with this came when I understood that there was a demand. I understood that black women had money, what they didn’t know was what to buy, they didn’t have a product and they didn’t even know how to put on makeup,” she explains.
In 2012 she created Da Mata Make Up, a beauty school specializing in black skin.
“When I would do make up, I spent hours talking, because I wanted to pass on knowledge to clients. I was talking about our beauty, about our relationships, about our universe,” she says.
At school, in addition to teaching black students, in a process of recognition of beauty and self-esteem work, Daniele also teaches professional makeup artists, seeking knowledge to properly serve black clients.
“Apart from technique, people don’t know history, there are many racist and prejudiced makeup artists, which are a reflection of our society. You have to understand that you are being racist by thinning my nose. Makeup has racist techniques, and it’s a process to understand that. If the makeup artist has no sensitivity about the black woman’s self-esteem, it’s no use,” she says.
Daniele also advises brands that are investing in products that meet the real needs of black women. She can’t disclose which ones they are because of confidentiality agreement reasons.
“I think the brands went into shock because of Fenty Beauty. Brands are making moves along this path, but I think the number of subtones still needs to be increased. There are currently two main ones: yellow and red. The cold subtones are left out. The Brazilian market has made 20 shades, 10 for black skin, but as the number of subtones is limited, only a certain number of people are served. It’s better than before, of course, but there’s still a lot to improve on.”
Asians also pay the price of a lack of technique
Brazilian Cindy Oh, daughter of Korean parents, also experienced bad situations because of her background. Contrary to common sense, Asian skin does not necessarily have the predominance of yellow tones.
“Here in Brazil, they sell a lot that the oriental is yellowish, but therein Korea the subtones are pinker and neutral, colder,” she explains.
Finding good techniques for her face shape, and especially her eyes, was also a challenge. “I didn’t have much of a clue and I didn’t have anywhere to see it. There was no YouTube, tutorials, nothing,” she says.
Things started to change on a trip to Korea. “In 2011, I went there and took a government-provided self-makeup course as part of their culture program. There, I understood my beauty and saw the right techniques for me,” she says.
The common way to make the eyebrow here in Brazil, very designed, marked and defined, for example, doesn’t work for her. “That was the biggest difference I realized between what I was doing here and what I learned. They have a very light, rejuvenating technique with a very natural touch. Embracing the fact that I’m Korean makes me prettier. Not trying to outline my face to a shape that isn’t mine is what makes me prettier,” says Cindy, who has a 95% clientele made up of Asian women who don’t feel contemplated by regular makeup artists.