The modern concept of beauty is seldom seen as a product of colonialism by avid consumers of both digital aesthetics and tangible cosmetic products. As with all things during the colonialism of the Americas, Africa, and Asia, European colonizers equated beauty with their ethnocentric standards. To regain control of their autonomy, women of color have taken upon themselves to redefine the concept of beauty using a universal lens rather than a colonial one and applying it to their business endeavors. Billion-dollar brand Fenty Beauty, owned by superstar Rihanna, and Latina-owned Vive Cosmetics are two examples of cosmetic brands which have been slowly decolonizing beauty by ensuring that their beauty products especially cater to absolutely all skin colors within brown and black communities. In doing so, these women have begun the process of destigmatizing cultural attributes and facilitating diversity within the beauty industry. This not only uplifts the spirits of ostracized women, making them feel exceptional in their skin, but it also encourages women to join the cause and put an end to discrimination within the beauty industry.
Beauty standards have always existed in America, but how was the concept of beauty standards established? If we were to analyze the beauty standards of the 20th century, we would find that beauty was equated to blue eyes, blonde hair, and fair skin. The correlation between these three supposed elements of beauty is apparent: they are Caucasian features. An ethnocentric view on beauty was fostered during the early stages of colonialism within the Americas. This racial phenomenon sadly flourished in part of widely-accepted race theories. Race theorists Christoph Meiners and Johann Blumenbach encouraged the idea of the “‘Caucasian’ [race]... being the most beautiful of the races” (NPR). Such comments prevailed in the Americas, becoming the backbone of beauty standards. Prior to 1940, American pageants required that its contestants were “of good health and of the white race,” influencing society into believing black and brown complexions were inherently ugly. The American media straightforwardly proclaimed White women to be the most attractive race, while female minorities were left to try to assimilate into this hierarchical society. Young girls were encouraged to look White as a way to be considered beautiful or to be given more opportunities in the workforce. Other young girls were encouraged to look White as a way to earn respect. The trauma of these generations of shunned women trickled down into the following generations and can be seen within the societies of the past three 3 decades. This brings us to the 21st century— how can women alleviate this generational pain? How can women encourage one another to stop lightening their naturally-dark skin or straightening their naturally-textured hair amidst the unfairness of White women having the ability to act racially ambiguous without having to face the challenges that come with being a true woman of color? A group of revolutionarily-unapologetic women have offered a solution to this problem in the last 5 years that unconditionally celebrates all women of color.
In September of 2017, Rihanna launched Fenty Beauty, a cosmetics brand legendary for being committed to its focal objective of effectively encouraging and creating inclusivity within the beauty industry. Fenty Beauty completely refined the standards and expectations consumers now held for existing cosmetics brands. As a way to counter “unrealistic beauty ideals” and “the blatant lack of representation reflected in campaigns and product offerings,” Fenty Beauty presented women with a foundation product offering 40 different shades meant to suit every complexion (Funmi Fetto). Proving to be undeniably successful, Fenty Beauty made $100,000,000 one month following initial launch, with its “darkest shades of foundations” being the brand’s products to sell out first (Funmi Fetto). In a poor attempt to achieve inclusivity, popular brands began to increase the number of foundation shades they offered. However, this proved to be just as equally harmful because privileged people were selfishly trying to expand their own successes by piggybacking off the hard work of women of color, inciting covert racism. Women dedicated to the cause called out these brands that were seemingly trying to outdo Fenty Beauty by offering up to 100 shades of foundations that still catered mainly to white complexions. The greedy ambitions of these brands, however, failed to distract away from the triumphs of Fenty Beauty. Fenty Beauty acted on the need for diversity in the beauty industry, making all women feel understood. Women of color no longer needed to participate in advancing the ethnocentric agenda of American beauty brands by buying products that weren’t made for them. Instead, they could buy products from Fenty Beauty. At last, thanks to a woman who was dedicated to the cause and not the money, the way in which the beauty industry works was permanently altered in a beneficial way. Beauty lines now have to cater to the needs of women of color if they wish to be considered a respectable brand. As many have noted, “Forty shades [has] became the new standard [and] anything less [is] deemed apathetic” (Funmi Fetto). This is a win for women. Finally, they are being heard and made to feel beautiful by women of their own kind, not by white corporations seeking to make profits off the insecurities and needs of women of color.
Around the same time that Fenty Beauty was launched by Rihanna, a second brand— Vive Cosmetics— set out to expand this sense of diversity within the beauty industry. Vive Cosmetics, a Latina-owned brand, strives to make all different types of Latinas feel exceptionally true to themselves by encouraging them to embrace their individual uniqueness. After realizing there was an “immense disconnect between the cosmetic industry and Latina/Latinx women,” co-founders Joanna Rosario and Leslie Valdivia set out to counter “offensive and tone-deaf campaigns” that were “inspired” by their respective communities by creating makeup products that were directly derived from the community of color itself (Beauty Independent). Seeking to end the constant dependence of the beauty industry on a “one token Latina”—a stereotype that considers all Latinas to be light-skinned women with ethnocentric features— in order to claim the diversity card, Vive Cosmetics celebrates all Latinas (Beauty Independent). This includes Latinas who speak Spanish, who don’t speak Spanish, who have a fair complexion, who have a dark complexion, who have textured hair, or who have non-textured hair. Rather than tearing apart Latinas who happen to fit the one token Latina stereotype, Vive Cosmetics embraces them as well as all other Latinas that exist in the world. No Latina is belittled because of her complexion. Vive Cosmetics has been successful at informing the general public that there exists more than one Latina, and that these Latinas from countries such as Cuba, Peru, Paraguay, Honduras, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and Bolivia are all equally magnificent.
Over the years, we have seen more and women open up about the ways discrimination has made them reconsider their worth of their beauty. Ovava Tonga, a Tonagan woman, shared with YR Media how she has “always worried about changing her facial features to look as white as possible” and fulfill “demanding” beauty standards (Kieu Anh Nguyen Le). The fact that Ovava, who is only 18 years old, has been constantly preoccupied with ethnocentric beauty standards is disheartening. No small child should have to allocate time to thinking about morphing into a different race in order to feel beautiful. It is important that these young girls understand that being concerned over trying to look white isn’t their fault. They didn’t create the problem, the system did— a system that was maliciously eager to assimilate colored women into their society by encouraging them to conceal their ethnic features. With the introduction of Fenty Beauty and Vive Cosmetics, however, progress has been made to eliminate the connotation of white being “the only standard” (Kieu Anh Nguyen Le). These cosmetics brands encourage diversity without having to rely on tokenism, which many brands do as a way to lure brown and black consumers. Fenty Beauty and Vive Cosmetics are authentic, and this authenticity has opened the door to having open discussions about the lack of diversity within the beauty industry. As a result, a great number of women have been inspired to join the cause and to begin formulating alleviating solutions for women deserving of respect, love, and appreciation.