Note from BW of Brazil: This is yet another facet of the “we’re all equal” ideology that is so pervasive in Brazil. We’ve touched on topic of today’s posts in previous posts but today’s story provides a personal view of an issue that affects many black women in the country: the lack of access to name brand makeups that match darker skin tones. In reality, this issue ties into the nation’s long history of a process of embranquecimento, or whitening. As the media divulges the ideal of white beauty on a widespread level, in reality, the lack of makeup for darker-skinned women attests to a reality as well as sends a message. The reality is that the rate of miscegenation continues at an elevated pace, the number of black women of the darkest skin tones continues to diminish. The message would be, “you’re not supposed to exist” in a country where everyone is supposed to be a mestiço (person of mixed race).
Of course, in the plan of embranquecimento, the mestiço is only seen as a necessary step to the ultimate goal of whiteness. As such, even with a large population of negro-mestiços, a large percentage of Brazil’s population doesn’t have a wide variety of products specifically for them. The situation is even worse for those whose skin tones looks as if there was little or no racial mixture in their families from the time the first Africans set foot in the country that would later be known as Brazil nearly 500 years ago. Below we present the story of “Cécile”, the dark skinned black Brazilian girl who sees no representation of herself in the media or in the cosmetics section.
50 Tones of Beige
By Naomi Faustino of The Black Cupcake
“This is the story of Cécile. She’s a normal girl, like you and me. Cécile is beautiful, smart, funny, but very shy. Cécile likes makeup, but never bought anything, much less tested anything on her face. She is ashamed that they look at her differently, call her clown, mocks for her to putting something different on her black skin. Every week she buys fashion magazines and spends hours of her day reading. Cécile looks at women’s magazines (1), all different from her, but very beautiful. She loves the fact that all the women in the magazines wear makeup and it looks good on them. But Cécile doesn’t see herself in these women. She reads tutorials and knows how to braid straight hair. The last magazine she bought had a very important story about how not to turn pink in the cold.
One day, reading these magazines, Cécile came across a story about a woman who had won an Oscar and the most beautiful woman in the world award. Her name is Lupita and looked a lot like Cécile. Both had skin as dark as night, cabelos pretos e crespos (black and kinky/curly hair). Both were beautiful, each in her own way. For the first time, Cécile found herself in one of these magazines. She was dressed up with colorful and beautiful shadows. Cecile was delighted by the fact that she was not ashamed of using bright colors. In all the pictures she appeared smiling and happy. Cécile ripped the photo from the magazine and put it next to her bed. Cécile wanted to be Lupita and slept dreaming that she was.
The next morning, she took the page from the magazine and ran to the perfumery. It was a great store, full of products, light pink tone to rocket-power-shines-in-the-dark orange lipsticks. She was fascinated and walked to the shelves of bases, compact powders and pancakes. But getting there, the smile faded. In front of her a sea of beige appeared. Light beige, medium beige, dark-but-not-brown beige, light-almost-white-beige, just-beige, baked beige. In front of her there were 50 shades of beige.
Cécile asked the salesperson what was going on. She didn’t understand why there was no other tone that was not beige. His mother was like her, her sisters, cousins, aunts and some of the women in the magazines were like her. Lupita was like her. The seller didn’t understand. She said manufacturers don’t export here their darkest lines, “they don’t make money,” she said. She said she had beautiful skin and didn’t need to wear makeup. She said that she was lucky. She said what she said. She said so many things that she ended up saying nothing. Cécile returned home saying a thousand things about that store.
Arriving home, Cécile ran to the computer. There, she found the makeup she wanted, but it was very expensive, money that she could not spend. She decided to enter sites in other countries and was able to buy cheaper makeup, maybe it was her tone. She managed to send this makeup to a friend of an aunt of her neighbor, she promised to deliver when she arrived in Brazil. Cécile waited days, weeks, months, until the makeup arrived. She tested the makeup, but it was not the right color. And so the saga began again.
Every day, several black Brazilian girls buy magazines and don’t see themselves in them. Magazines filled with white women, who have no resemblance to the majority of the population, which is black. Every day, many girls feel ugly because they can’t reproduce what they see in the magazines they love. In a country that is proud of its diversity, the beauty industry has not yet understood the need to modify its models, which are outlined in Eurocentric parameters.
Contrary to the current economic scenario, the Brazilian beauty market is on the rise. Neither inflation nor the economic slowdown has prevented women from consuming beauty products. Unlike other countries, the Brazilian woman has a unique way of taking care of herself, daily using various types of products for the skin and hair. What strikes me is that in a country so focused on aesthetics, black women, who are more than half of the female population, continue marginalized.
Cécile is one of many women who are invisible to the Brazilian beauty industry. Anyone who has looked at the color scales of bases produced by national companies and the bases imported from major international brands, knows what I’m talking about. Normally, color scales have only one dark tone, and having in others a variation of beige. This dark tone does not satisfy the diversity of skin of black women. The beauty industry places us as a single color, generalizing our beauty and forgetting that we are many. And this doesn’t only occur with the makeup, but with specific products for cabelos crespos, among others.
The use of makeup offers to the woman the ability to look at herself, touch herself, know what suits her color, which pleases her or not. The use of makeup empowers women, especially black women, who can’t see themselves in magazines, who think they are ugly, since they are always marginalized, and which are seen as less attractive (even being always sexualized). “But who doesn’t wear makeup?” those who don’t wear makeup, understands what doesn’t please her, what doesn’t do her well and what makes her feel good about herself without any embellishment. It’s not wrong to use it, much less not to use it. What’s wrong is an entire system chosen for us of what to use or not to use.
“Não sou eu uma mulher?” (“Ain’t I a Woman?”) (2) The beauty industry doesn’t see us and presents no concrete answers for this. Will it be that I am not a woman? Am I a beast, an animal that cannot touch, that cannot paint? Are they doing us a favor and I didn’t understand this thus far? Am I not a woman worthy of having something made for me? Am I not someone? Why doesn’t the beauty industry see us? As a student at a business school, I know that the main goal of every business is profit. I also know that nowadays it is almost impossible that there are unexplored sectors, mainly as lucrative as this one. What is the real reason? Could it be the structural racism acting again on our heads? If black women started taking account of the strategic sectors of the beauty industry, would the Eurocentric standard of beauty come down? Could it would be the racist Brazilian system trying its best to isolate black women? Are we not women after all?
All drawings to illustrate this post were made by magnificent Yna Santos.
Source: The Black Cupcake
2. Reference to the Sojourner Truth seech, “Ain’t I a Woman?”