It has been another eventful few weeks, both on and offline, with regards to the topic of beauty for and the visibility of the Women of Colour.
A crescendo of voices are on the rise, as a collective dissatisfaction with the status quo is causing many to take a stand.
Last month, blogger and YouTuber Grace Francesca, author of the Ugly Face of Beauty posted the tweet below:
Sorry but are any of our magazines going to feature bloggers who aren't white with pastel coloured hair?
— Gracie (@GracieFrancesca) May 22, 2014
Once again, the lack of diversity in the media is in need of being called out.
The tweets below echo the sentiment that is felt by many Women of Colour….
@GracieFrancesca I was agreeing with you. I hate how I cant get convey tone via text. They should be showing successful ethnic bloggers….
— Sonya (@sonyalovesmkeup) May 22, 2014
@GracieFrancesca There are successful bloggers out there of the ethnic persuasion. That's all I'm gonna say before I go off on some big rant
— Sonya (@sonyalovesmkeup) May 22, 2014
Of course, I had to join this debate….
— beautypulselondon (@beautypulse_ldn) May 22, 2014
— beautypulselondon (@beautypulse_ldn) May 22, 2014
…because it is important and in fact IMPERATIVE that the issue is continually brought to the fore.
It is critical that in a world that is more connected and globally minded than ever, that OUR beauty is represented equally and respectfully – for the sake of our self esteem and dignity.
This excerpt from Lupita Nyong’o’s Essence Magazine‘s 7th Annual Black Women in Hollywood Awards acceptance speech (she was recognised for the Best Breakthrough Performance) articulates this cry of the heart…
I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin. I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I had been the day before. I tried to negotiate with God: I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted; I would listen to my mother’s every word and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because He never listened.
And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no consolation: She’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then Alek Wek came on the international scene. A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden, Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn’t help but bloom inside of me. When I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny.
As a result of the above Twitter conversation, Company Magazine got in contact with me and I was given the opportunity to write a guest post!
This is testament to how change will be effected – via individuals taking a stand, making their voices heard and challenging the accepted norms.
So this brings me to a second event that recently occurred.
On Tuesday I attended the last talk of the Selfridges Beauty Project entitled ‘Pretty White Female – How Beauty Can Appeal to Every Woman’.
Fellow beauty blogger Dija of Dija’s World alerted me to the event and as soon as I got the Eventbrite link I booked a ticket without hesitation – this event was RIGHT up my street! A discussion about beauty for all skin tones and a chance to tackle some of the difficult questions that needs to be addressed to level the field of representation and product availability….how very exciting!!
After booking my ticket, a week or so went by before I actually looked at who the panelists were going to be…and to my utter amazement and then sheer disappointment, there was no Black woman of African/Caribbean decent on the panel!
No woman with dark skin and curly afro hair.
No woman who looked liked me.
The panel consisted of Health & Beauty Director of Women’s Health, Anita Bhagwandas, presenter Gemma Cairnery and founders of multicultural beauty site, ThandieKay, Kay Montano and Thandie Newton – all of whom I have the utmost respect for and all of whom I have featured on my blog* (apart from the lovely Gemma, whom I have just gotten to know about), however I felt that with this panel, the talk could not be credible as the experiences of a dark skinned Black woman trying to purchase beauty products for her hair and skin are unique and needed to be voiced by one who has lived through these experiences.
After venting privately to a few contacts, I decided to send Sali an email – reiterating what I stated above.
I didn’t get a response (nor a delivery failure message).
After a couple of weeks I decided to take the matter public – and called out what I felt was a MASSIVE oversight on Instagram.
You can read the ensuing conversation here – the only comment I want to make is this; the failure to at least acknowledge the concern that is being called out is a typical response to any conversation looking to tackle the subject of race. One doesn’t have to agree with the concern being raised – but an acknowledgement at least shows that the concern has been taken onboard.
Then and only then can real change begin to take effect.
I do want to state that I categorically have nothing against Sali – she is an amazing journalist and skilled at her craft…unfortunately I have the feeling that if any other white, middle class beauty journalist (this demographic dominate these roles – a fact that was stated by Anita on the evening) were in Sali’s position, the response would have been similar…
I met up with my #brownbeauty SWAT team and we took our seats (albeit some 10 mins after the proposed start time).
— Alyssum Hair (@AlyssumHair) June 11, 2014
Sali and the panelists arrived on the stage after just after 7pm and thus there was already less than an hour for the talk and the Q&A session…which we all assumed would be happening.
Sali open the floor with by asking Gemma a question about her beauty and went on to discuss skin lightening creams (which were equated to tanning lotions by the panelists), the lack of distribution of products for darker skintones (panel conclusion: these products do not sell, thus they are discontinued – but there was no acknowledgement of the fact that such products need the marketing and PR investment enjoyed by the mainstream brands to be successful) and the lack of Women of Colour on magazine covers.
Sali made an interesting and again very telling comment with regards to the latter subject matter.
As it is often stated by the magazine publishing industry, putting a Woman of Colour on the cover of a magazine results in lower sales (even though the 1998 American Vogue cover featuring (a slimmed down) Oprah Winfrey (the FIRST EVER African American who was NOT a model to garner this coveted accolade) was one of the best selling issues according to editor Anna Wintour)…
…and thus the senior staff at the magazine houses cannot take this risk. Sali’s solution to this ‘problem’ was that women should ‘just buy’ these magazines, even if it is just to make sure that the numbers were buoyant. However, I hope that we get to a day when ALL women WANT to engage with the beauty and lifestyle of ALL women. I want a White woman to buy a copy of a magazine with a Black woman on the cover and feel that what she will read about her will be engaging and thought provoking and that she will see that they actually have much more in common than what makes them different.
I don’t want preferential treatment.
I want to treated the SAME – and that is why I tackle these issues – to be treated equally and fairly, without patronisation or sympathy. I want to see those with key positions of influence in British society come to the point that selecting a person of Colour to front a beauty campaign or to lead a company or to run for a political office or to hold a position of authority in the media landscape is not perceived as ‘risky’, does not require ‘bravery’ and is not an act of ‘tokenism’.
The panel discussion did go on until nearly 8pm (the session was meant to end at this time) and thus there was only time for 3 questions. I was really disappointed with this. I was particularly looking forward to hearing what the other attendees thought about the situation of beauty for the non-white woman.
The time could have been managed MUCH more efficiently. There were many big theme tackled and an hour and a half was NEVER going to be enough time to delve deep, but I do feel that the evening could have taken the ‘quality over quantity’ approach, with targeted questions and discussion with the panel for about 30 minutes, leaving the remaining 30 minutes for the Q&A session.
However, I was glad that I attended the event AND that I called out the issue of the lack of woman of colour on the panel BEFORE the event – because this did start that all important CANDID conversation that I hope will be the beginning of many, many more.
Did you attend the event? What did you think?
Please leave your comments below!