At 13, my mom gave me the OK to wear eyeliner and lip gloss and I never looked back. By high school, I hurriedly expanded my makeup collection to mascara and Cover Girl pressed powders, which I didn’t even need on my baby face which was flawless at the time; and by college I was the 2003 version of beat: meaning I had a MAC Studio Fix powder and a clear lipglass so you couldn’t tell me nothing.
Actually you could; asvthat was also the time I learned other Black girls weren’t really into makeup like me. At 20-something I was flattered when dorm mates would ask me to do their makeup before heading to an off-campus party (or shape up their brows with one of those mini eyebrow razors; thank God for no fatalities). Looking back, I realize not everyone grew up in a household with a mother who wouldn’t dare step outside without foundation, blush, lipstick, mascara, and a lower lash line filled with black eyeliner (or earrings either for that matter, but that’s an entirely different subject). Everything I learned about makeup up to that point I learned from my mom and I took for granted that we had that luxury. Being rather fair skinned, my mother could walk into KMart and find her warm beige shade of liquid-to-powder foundation hanging under a sign marked Revlon. A few shades darker, I made the cutoff with the drugstore brands that saw shades like honey and caramel as inclusive. Had I actually had to work to find my color, I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have even bothered — especially when it wasn’t something I needed. And that, I believe, is the crux of Black women’s aversion to makeup.
When I say makeup, I mean foundation and full faces because, trust me, I know we love lipstick. In fact, the bare-faced, lipstick-popping Black girl is who I’m posing this question of why don’t you wear makeup to. To the brown-skinned video producer who just told me “I don’t like makeup” and then pulled out two new Make Up Forever lipsticks to show me. To my fellow editor who casually proclaimed in the office one day, “Black women don’t wear makeup like that” (which Google confirmed). To the uptown girls whose conversation I overheard while waiting for the MAC store on 125th to open last Thursday so I could buy the Mariah Carey collection.
Black girl 1: “I don’t like that store, they be messing up people’s faces.”
Black girl 2: “No they don’t! We don’t even wear makeup!”
Black girl 1: “I wear lip gloss!”
A new documentary from i-D on the lack of diversity in makeup is how I came to the conclusion Black women don’t necessarily dislike makeup, we just feel excluded from the party. (Well, that and my video producer saying outright, “I don’t feel like brands make shades for me.”) And when it comes to all of the other diversity battles we have to fight, this one falls pretty low on the totem pole, especially since we’ve got that whole Black don’t crack thing going for us. #WontHeDoIt.
Still, there are some of us who do want a seat at the makeup counter. As one woman in the special which talks to Black women in London and New York about the lack of beauty options for darker complexions stated: “You feel like you’re not important. Like, what’s happening? Why am I not being represented like everyone else? We’re not just two shades.”
And while there are, of course, a wider range of options for women today than when Iman, who stars in the documentary alongside fellow model Pholomena Kwao, was walking runways and had to start her own cosmetics brand, I’m not sure many Black women have gotten the taste of exclusion out of their mouths just yet. Or care to. Couple that with the intimidation of having to ask someone in a store like Sephora or Ulta how to actually apply a product, assuming it comes in your true shade and they know how to match you, and the cost of that product versus a drugstore brand item where your financial investment is less but the trial-and-error period likely to much longer, and, suddenly, it makes a lot of sense why “Black women don’t wear makeup like that.”
So I ask: Where do you fall on the makeup spectrum? Are you a makeup wearer? If not, do you feel like makeup simply isn’t something you need? Or, have you gotten the message makeup brands don’t have products that are for you so you don’t bother?