Let this sink in: WWD reports that black women spend $7.5 billion per year on beauty products. On average, WOC spend 80% more money on cosmetics and twice as much on skincare than the general female market. Yet the historical lack of diversity in the beauty industry is outright baffling, inexcusable, and insulting. Rewind a few decades ago; women of color have been excluded entirely from the conversation. Imagine how heartbreaking it is to walk into a fully decked-out drugstore makeup aisle and see absolutely no foundation shade made for you. There may be one or two "dark" shades, but those don't work for your skin's undertones. Or you take it upon yourself to go to a department store, and the options remain overwhelmingly limited. These are just a few common scenarios black women have dealt with for years. Although, the issue of diversity in beauty spans the spectrum and bleeds heavily into so many other areas. We've seen it in campaign imagery, products, racist statements, cover tokenism, and more.
However, instead of creating a space to complain about the past, we're thinking forward and acknowledging progress. I asked eight black women I admire in beauty for their honest thoughts on the industry's recent movement toward becoming more "inclusive" with shade range expansion and "diverse" beauty campaigns. A lot was brought to the surface. Keep going for real words.
Khalea, Beauty Editor at The Zoe Report
Her thoughts: "Frederick Douglass said that if there is no struggle, there is no progress. And beauty lovers with dark skin and coily hair know the struggle of finding the perfect base shade or hair product. Things aren't as bad as they were a few decades ago, but beauty still isn't as accessible for everyone as it should be. The options are there, but still scarce. There are far too many brands that continue to miss the mark with their ad campaigns and swatch tests and whatnot, which still doesn't make sense to me. How can you ignore an entire demographic? I'll know that we've made true progress when I don't have to stress out about leaving my entire makeup bag at home on a trip and can go into any given drugstore to find replacements. Until then, I'll only be supporting the brands that fight to get it right."
Janell, Freelance Beauty Editor and Creative Consultant
Her thoughts: "It's about time! We've always been here, so it's nice to see that they value our dollar. But beyond ad campaigns, the struggle to get WOC behind the scenes during the decision-making process is more crucial than ever. We need to be making the decisions behind the products we are presenting—not just buying them."
Aimee, Beauty Writer at Refinery29
Her thoughts: "I love that the beauty industry is taking strides towards being more diverse and inclusive, but it is also bittersweet. Bitter because these are strides that should have been taken ages ago. Black women and black culture have always been an integral part of the beauty world, and that influence isn't 'new' or 'trendy.' However, I think it's really great to witness the changing standards. Black women should not be an afterthought on shelves or on screens, and I am happy to see influencers, brands, and my fellow beauty editors using their platforms and voices to make this message really clear. I can't wait to see how the beauty industry evolves as we continue to uplift and celebrate each other."
Blake, Beauty Writer at Revelist
Her thoughts: "On one hand, it makes me excited that the industry is making steps toward more diversity and inclusion. On the other, it disappoints me that it took brands like Fenty to get the beauty industry to care. Diversity is more than just a trend; it's real life. Making women of color a priority shouldn't only be done to gain popularity. Our skin and our hair should mean more than just dollar signs. So yes, it's great, but what took so long?"
Siraad, Social Content Manager at Flamingo
Her thoughts: "I mean, I think it's great! I love that we are being represented and that we now have more beauty options to spend our coins on. At the end of the day, I want us brown women to have just as many product options and representation as our white counterparts. However, I'm also super wary of brands who are cashing in on diversity and slapping one racially ambiguous girl into an ad. As much as we rag on social media, one thing that it has proven is that it can surely impact change, at least when it comes to beauty. Consumers are now quick to call out those brands who are still living in 1950 and offer 10 shades of foundation, with only two deep shades. But I think as consumers, it goes one step further than just calling out big brands on social media once they f-up—our wallet is our biggest form of protest. So it's important we support the brands that are here for us, and have always been."
Jackie, Freelance Beauty Writer and Content Creator
Her thoughts: "I think it is an amazing time, and we certainly have to give kudos to Rihanna for playing a major role in all of this because of her genius Fenty Beauty line that caters to the needs of all women. I just hope that it isn't a trend and companies understand that inclusivity should always be kept top of mind whether in marketing and product development or editorial. There shouldn't be a void for anyone when it comes to beauty, and I'm happy brands are catching on."
Nykia, Beauty Writer and Content Creator
Her thoughts: "I think it's great that brands are finally getting the message! To be honest, though, it's about damn time! Also, I never want movements, conversations, or the beauty of people of color to be trendy. Brands may be getting on board because it helps their business and gets people talking, but we're way more than a moment or a movement. There's a lot that I can say about this, but I'll just leave it at that. Now that it's here and happening, I'm all for it, loving it, and fully supporting it!"
Deena, Freelance Beauty Writer and Founder of Beauty and the Boys
Her thoughts: "For so many years I struggled, like so many other WOC, with finding beauty products that worked for my skin tone and kinky curls. So I'm all for brands finally getting the wake-up call and including items for black women. But I'm not in support of beauty brands having one token black woman in an ad just to check their diversity box. Honestly, most brands are doing it for fear of being called out on social media, and it's not authentic. It's just a means to conquer hugely profitable emerging markets. For decades, brands have hidden behind the excuse of the ethnic market not presenting enough return on investment. But they don't realize if they offered more than just two or three darker shades, then WOC would buy into it not only for today, but they'll keep that brand in mind for future purchases."
Nikki, Beauty Editor at StyleCaster
Her thoughts: "Beauty campaigns and ads shape so much of our thoughts regarding self-esteem and how we view the world around us. And even though I consider myself fiercely independent, there's no denying the influence these images have had on my life, especially regarding my relationship to my textured hair. I am hopeful, but still skeptical because it seems this 'diversity strategy' only came about when one brand—Fenty Beauty—executed it in an organic and authentic way. Although I think inclusion is a step in the right direction (more on that here), a small part of me is concerned that these companies are only driven to acknowledge my demographic—black women of ALL shades—for the sake of profits."
The back-and-forth battle in my mind poses the question: What are the industry's true intentions? I'll always root for black women. I'll never stop championing black beauty. And I'll always support brands that have had these pure intentions of being for WOC in their DNA since day one. It's tough because, of course, I'm going to be a proponent of the prioritization of diversity, but the recent, rapid monetization of black dollars in the beauty industry and viewing diversity as merely a 'trend' is always in the back of my mind. In turn, this is what propels me to put on for black women the best way I know how as a beauty editor. I can only hope that the visibility of this platform and my words will resonate with brands that have missed the mark and need to get it right.