Guest Post: Racism At the Make-Up Counter

by Anonymous

Okay. So, I know that Brothawolf’s blog is not a beauty blog or beauty product review– in fact most black men don’t care about make-up cause they don’t wear it. Yet, it applies to black men in an indirect way because their wives, girlfriends, daughters, mothers and so forth may be dealing with this. My point is to talk about the blatant racism that I have experienced since I have included make-up wearing in my daily routine.

About two years ago for my brother’s high school graduation, I decided to buy a cheap foundation out of Duane Reade by Black Radiance, thinking everyone would remark on how grown up I looked. When I got there–to my old hometown, my mother was horrified. She thought I looked like “an orange freak” using her words. Where did I go wrong?

Anyways, two days later after the post graduate festivities wore off, she kindly drug me to the local Macy’s and the Fashion Fair counter and told the beautifully coiffed and elegantly dressed, more mature black lady to give me a make over. When she finished, it didn’t even look like I had on make-up but a slightly bronzed dewy effect with minimal color and voila! My under eye darkness had disappeared. The lady said my color was Tawny, and for powder, I should follow up with Pecan. So, my mom bought the supplies and skin care the FF lady recommended–said it was making it up to me for something she should have done when I was sixteen.

If it is one thing that I have learned since becoming a Fashion Fair (the largest black-owned cosmetic company in the world founded by Eunice Johnson) customer is that WoC have to deal with racism even in a multi billion dollar industry that should be catering to our needs. When I have to re-buy some products, Macy’s and Belk stores never, ever have promotional deals on Fashion Fair (meaning black women and other brown women have to pay full price for our make-up and skin care). Yet, Clinique, Lancome, Chanel and Estee Lauder (traditional white brands) always have ‘buy two get another free’ or ‘with every 60 dollar purchase receive blah blah blah’.

I also hate to say it, but some of our Black Sisters are aiding in the demise of black owned cosmetic companies by professing an undying dollar devotion to the white brands–such as the ones listed above including the so-called black woman go-to brand Mac. I hear some of the lamest excuses coming from black women online and in real life as to why they don’t “fool” with FF: “It’s so old school”; “I’m not thrilled about their packaging” or “the formulas are too orange.” Now, that last one is a blatant lie as I can attest that Mac foundations look like lifeless brown paint offset with sunset orange thrown in bottles. It’s like they said “you know all black/brown women have orange understones”. And “old school (?)” FF is only 35 years old. The other white brands mentioned have been around in some form or another since the beginning of the last century, with the exception of Mac.

The reason why FF cosmetics was started was because Eunice Johnson couldn’t find the right shades of make-up to fit her models when they would travel the world doing Ebony Fashion Fair shows. That’s pretty darn progressive if you ask me. Each time I go to Macy’s I see the majority of black women giving their money to Mac, Estee Lauder, and others. In fact, two of the three FF counters in my city closed leaving only one, and they just recently fired the beautiful young black lady who sold the products and hired a white lady–well they didn’t exactly fire her, they moved her to Lancome. Sigh! I mean how is this working, because if I recall, it has only been a year since the majority of the white brands started including “darker” shades in their foundation collections? And for the record, black women do not have orange or pink undertones–many of us are light chocolate brown (me!) brown with olive undertones, tan brown, golden brown with flecks of yellow, etc…

So, when will all this craziness end? When Women of Color (WoC) stop supporting brands that do not care for caring for our brown skins in all its delightful hues. I can understand some black women feeling that FFs colors are off for them, but it is our company (Well, I mean it is for us), and we have the dollar power to tell the representatives, and chemists what we like–trust they will listen. We should uplift those who uplift us. FFs latest slogans is “Loving you for 35 years” and “All we do is think about you”. As an aside: Yes Asian, Native American and non-white Latina Sisters, you can wear these products because they are basically formulated for WoC. I have seen many a brown Indian woman buying Fashion Fair.

Stream of consciousness – I know. Yet, it’s another barrier we WoC have to deal with.


20 thoughts on “Guest Post: Racism At the Make-Up Counter

  1. When reading this I thought, Oh wow you wear make-up brothawolf. Anyway I don’t wear make-up period and I try my best not to have my daughter to see it as a tool to extinguish her beauty. To me make-up ruins that natural beauty.

  2. Well, Fashion Fair was good for me back in the day but it was too heavy and pancakey and made me look like i was wearing a mask. (sigh) I ventured toward Iman instead. But I like the post. It is annoying that being a dark skinned sister with ebony skin the above Estee Lauder the others white owned cosmetic companies still don’t meet the needs of todays black woman. Even with Covergirl with Queen Latifah representing is an inferior product. Black women are still under served. There is Black Opal another black owned company. But this was of interest to me since I love beauty products. Good post. Now if we african americans could get a foot in the door on the hair import/export business.

    1. @ Mary

      I don’t feel any make-up line will truly ever be able to meet our needs. For one I believe black women just have a natural glow and brown skin beauty about them that can not be found in a make-up. I believe blacks should get into the business of make-up so that a form of make-up can be made that does what we need yet does not take away from our natural beauty.

  3. @Sharina ; I totally agree. However I don’t wear as much as i used to. But I see where you are coming from. I think it great that you don’t allow your young princess to wear make up. If she has nice skin encourage her to keep it healthy.

  4. One thing this post has reminded me of is that women of African descent have practiced beautifying rituals for centuries…some of the ancient Kemite women would spend an entire day on it–and it was to enhance what she naturally had.

    I use make-up, but it is for enhancement not distortion. Anyway, just heard that FF has opened its first counters in Nigeria.

  5. Excellent post. What I have always found strange is that white makeup companies would have numerous shades of foundation for White women and only a handful for non-White women. And we all know that POC come in a million more shades & complexions than White people. I used to have issues with the various makeup companies (Maybelline, Cover Girl, Revlon, etc.) and the result was always the same – the makeup was too light, too dark, too red, too brown, too orange. I used Estee Lauder for many years and then switched to Prescriptives. But once Prescriptives got rid of the makeup line I used, I went over to Bobbi Brown and have been happy ever since.

    1. Thanks for sharing that Mickey. I mean don’t get me wrong. I would like to try make-up, but I have my fears of what it will take away from me.

  6. As a PoC I can identify with this 100%. My experiences with make up started off rocky. I used to always notice that there weren’t a lot of shades available to people with skin the darker end of the spectrum, heck there weren’t many for those of us who are really in the mid-light range.

    I have learned now that we can manipulate even traditionally white brands to fit our many different skin tones as long as we get the higher end products and put a lot of time into actually matching shades and blending like crazy. We can’t just go to a counter and get a shade and be happy with it, unfortunately. I’d be lost without RuPaul…and that is what bothers me. I’ve had easier time with theater make up and drag make up than I have going to a traditional counter, all because many brands aren’t made for people with darker, ruddy skin. I feel kind of embarrassed going to make up counters for that reason.

    1. @ Ace

      I am so inexperienced that I could not manipulate anything but a mess out of the make-up. LOL. Also it is the matter of having certain areas of my face that appear to be lighter than the other. I often feel as if I have two different skin tones.

  7. Fashion Fair is a wonderful product – it’s a shame that I can’t find it anywhere in malls in the Pacific Northwest. I had to request a catlogue for their line, back when I was modeling. I have never used Clinique, Cover Girl, Maybelline, etc. I refuse to buy “whites only” products, even if they have a “sista” shilling for them.

  8. This article was great until…

    “And for the record, black women do not have orange or pink undertones–many of us are light chocolate brown (me!) brown with olive undertones, tan brown, golden brown with flecks of yellow, etc…

    Actually I am dark brown and all I see is dark brown sisters. I don’t know who you’re looking at, but we’re called black people for a reason. I have a very hard complexion to match becuase alot of foundations now are too yellow, even with the red undertones.

    i live in a small white town and we have a Fashion Fair at our Dillards. Their lipgloss is the business. Now, speaking of promotions they must not be doing them lately becuase my sister used to work at the fashion fair counter, and every once in a while there would be free samples of makeup. Fashion Fair also did holiday palettes that they would give away with a purchase.

    As far as other black brands go they are terrible when it comes to keeping up with their customers, product lines, social media, and their website. When was the last time you saw Zuri, Posner, and KissNewYork trying to chat it up with us online? At least Black|Up, Black Radiance, and Iman keeps up with us and post often. This also applies to skincare companies. Ultra Glow does a good job keeping up with customers, but you don’t see Clear Essence doing the same thing. Alot of these companies are to blame for their demise. Social media is free to use, and you can put up your own online store. The products lines are lacking in the cheaper end brands. The colors are usually bad, and too clubish.

    Don’t get me started on Covergirl, Maybelline, and Revlon’s half-baked lines.

  9. This article is so true! Stick with supporting the make up for the women of color! I’m wary of ads and makeup games out there from companies that don’t have a clue about women of color and our needs.
    I use Fashion Fair creme to powder foundation, and the pressed power which both have many shades to choose from. The make up industry for African American women has been a struggle, however we can support the companies that are committed to our makeup needs and celebrate our needs and choices.

  10. For the record, chanel never has free anything. We are a luxury brand along with dior and bobbi brown. Estee, clinique, shiseido, lancome, origins, philosophy, Elizabeth arden ALL do free gift specials with a min purchase. So no…black women dont “have to pay full Price” has dark shades, so does estee…shop there if its a problem. They removed FF from our store as well….business was down and the demand is low to none. Mac has become to new “makeup for black.people” not my words! But i get asked that all the time since i work at chanel my customers ask me that all the time. They need to get some diversity!

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