How to Decolonize Beauty

By Brenda Odria

The beauty industry continues to grow in 2019 with ideas of self-care and influencers on social media. While it is important to acknowledge the progress that has been made in terms of inclusivity, it is difficult to ignore how long this took. Despite the progress, people of colour still, struggle. It’s ridiculous that, as a white-passing POC, my foundation colour was named “dark” when I am not. Growing up, my mom washed my hair in chamomile to make it lighter, and my grandma received tips on how to “lighten her skin.” Why? Because people, mainly in developing countries, continue to look up white standards of beauty since they are the only ones portrayed in mainstream media. Beauty standards have been set by the patriarch-in both Western society and developing countries-that render this goal of whiteness as inescapable. While the public has fought for different shades of foundation, it was the patriarch that has complied, since major beauty companies historically have been usually owned by men.

Dr. Meeta Rani Jha is a lecturer at the University of California, whose research focuses on the interrelated lived experiences of gender, sexuality, race and decoloniality in beauty. The global beauty industry: colorism, racism and the national body, Jha investigates the global beauty industry through different marginalized perspectives emerging mainly from developing countries. The book uses critical race theory and post-colonialism, in tandem with feminism, in order to reveal how the beauty industry, now captivated by cosmetic surgery, continues to associate an idea of beauty with “whiteness.”  Jha states that the current cultural climate is rooted in homogenizing beauty and is reinforced through the media.

Jha asserts that makeup worn by women becomes “a medium for cultural struggle” in that, the Western idea of beauty becomes a recreation of racial inequality because it’s not inclusive. In Keerty Nakray’s review of the book, she states how Jha is asserting that women’s bodies are at the center of patriarchal oppression. Subsequently, femininity is a construct “created by men to maintain control over women,” which functions to alienate women from who they are and to force them into behaving according to masculine expectations. Here, Jha is asserting that even makeup was being used as a medium to control women precisely by generating rigid constructs of femininity that are intertwined with whiteness.

Reading further into the book, it engages with how people of colour perceive beauty standards, and how the Black Women’s movement revolves around a critique of the hegemony of eurocentric ideas of beauty. The book then cites several practices in developing countries that attempt to forcefully subject women to these standards through cosmetic surgery or the whitening of the skin. This emphasizes the heightened struggle in these areas of the world where the patriarch continues to have absolutist control.

If we immerse ourselves in this perspective it is shocking that only within the past couple of years we witnessed the emergence of a foundation scale that did not only cater to white women. Even when we became capable of perfectly colour matching our skin, it was at the hands of the chief executives of the beauty industry of which the majority are men. Thanks to globalization Western society has been made aware of other notions of beauty and has accepted them although, Nakray states that these notions are usually resisted in popular media. Stating that “beauty myths remain pervasive and have an impact on the everyday lives of women” that are reinforced by the plurality of white feminism in popular media. Where narratives of middle-class white women remain at the forefront and fail to acknowledge the complex discrimination against ethnic minorities.

There has been a lot of hype over Fenty for a while, especially because, according to their website, they carry an “inclusive range of fifty shades” of foundation and that’s great; however, it is owned by Bernard Arnault the richest person in Europe. On April 3rd, Fenty Beauty recalled one of their upcoming Killawatt Freestyle Highlighters: Geisha Chic. I’m sure you can guess why. They received immediate backlash on Instagram because the name is fetishizing an element of Japanese culture. *sigh*

There are wonderful beauty brands that were made by women, for women which, enable the escape from these enforced prescriptions of “beauty” while simultaneously subverting the distribution of power by the patriarch. In that, men who own the big brands in the beauty industry control what gets validated and accepted into the mainstream narrative for women. Support women or bust!!!