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Look, I’m all for inclusivity. But when the news broke Wednesday that Kylie Cosmetics was releasing a new line of “Skin Concealers” that includes several brown shades, I rolled my eyes. Hard. The move didn’t come across as a genuine effort to serve women of color, but a ploy to capitalize on what some in the industry have dubbed “the Fenty effect.”
The term, of course, refers to the unprecedented success of Rihanna’s beauty line, which dropped this fall and included foundation shades in 40 colors. Fenty made Time magazine’s list of the 25 best inventions of 2017 for offering shades to a wide range of women. Damn near everyone can shop the brand — from people with albinism to those with the deepest sable skin.
Fenty has sparked an important conversation about diversity in the beauty industry, but the discussion isn’t new. It’s been ongoing for decades. Viola Desmond, known as the Canadian Rosa Parks for refusing to leave the whites-only part of a Nova Scotia theater, was a beauty entrepreneur. Back in the 1940s, (that’s right — the ’40s) Desmond sold makeup powders designed to “enhance dark complexions.” The dearth of beauty products for black women motivated Desmond, who’d studied under legend Madame C.J. Walker, to develop and sell her own. It guts me to think about how long the struggle for black women to find suitable makeup spans.
I mention Desmond to show that even Rihanna is not a pioneer when it comes to makeup for women of color. Lines from Fashion Fair, IMAN, Shiseido, MAC, and others predate the singer’s effort by decades, but her brand stands out for spawning various social media hashtags, news stories about the darkest shades selling out, and an outpouring of mostly brown and black women into Sephora to try Fenty for themselves. I was one of them, and I’m not the type who usually flocks to stores for product drops.
I ended up with two foundation shades, along with the gloss bomb lip luminizer, and the results stunned me. It wasn’t just that the foundation matched my skin color more than any other I’ve tried, but it was matte, meaning I could wear it for hours without my T-zone turning oily. That may not seem like a big deal, but as a black woman, I’ve found it challenging to find a foundation that not only matches my skin but also suits its texture and type. I’ve settled for makeup that blended with my complexion, even if it was too oily for me. And many women of color don’t have that option. They simply can’t find the right shade.
I suppose this is why I should celebrate Kylie Cosmetics for its 30 new “Skin Concealer” colors. But the makeup brand has been around since 2015. Why wasn’t diversity a priority for the brand then? It should not have taken the Fenty effect for cosmetics companies to realize that black women, Latinx women, Asian American women, and other women of color are loyal consumers who deserve recognition.
I find the Kylie Cosmetics oversight particularly appalling because Kylie Jenner has black in-laws, biracial nieces and a nephew, and is now expecting her own mixed-race child. Why did she evidently need Rihanna to show her the importance of serving a multicultural clientele? Perhaps she’s like her sister, Kim Kardashian, who admitted that she used to think of racism as “someone else’s battle” before having biracial children.
It’s unclear how much the Jenner-Kardashian clan, repeatedly accused of cultural appropriation, have thought about how they contribute to racism. They’ve made a profit from their cosmetically enhanced lips and butts, traits black women have been, by turns, celebrated and demeaned for having. They’ve also allegedly ripped off black women artists and entrepreneurs and co-opted traditional black hairdos like cornrows. When Jenner posted a photo of herself with cornrows and a “hood” manicure on Instagram with the caption, “I woke up like disss,” it was one of several examples that show how the Jenner-Kardashians enjoy the privilege of performing blackness without enduring the struggles associated with racism. Writer Zeba Blay rightfully called Jenner’s Instagram post a “subtle form of blackface.”
Collectively, the Jenner-Kardashians’ history of insensitive remarks, cultural appropriation, and failure to give talented black women their due signifies how little the family knows about inclusion. Accordingly, Kylie Cosmetics’ expanded shades ring false to me. The move isn’t about shaking up the makeup industry that has ignored women of color for far too long. It’s just another lazy attempt to cash in on the work of a black woman who had the idea first.