Brown paper bag test: The lack of foundation ranges and how cosmetics companies still perpetuate racism

I’ve never really had serious issues in finding my foundation shade. The worst that I’ve encountered is the makeup artist at MAC giving me a darker or warmer shade than my actual complexion. Apparently, I’m more of a neutral undertone than some artists are willing to accept, especially since I’m as fair as I am as a woman of color. But otherwise, I hardly ever have an issue finding foundations, powders, blushes, eyeshadows, bronzers, or highlighters to suit my skin tone. It’s a privilege that comes with being as fair as I am, and I understand this.

As a woman of a fairer complexion, I’ve accepted my placement on the wheel of hues within the black community. It is what it is. I’m very fair. But it’s heartbreaking when I’m shopping for makeup and see shades that I would buy listed as “dark” or even “medium-dark.” I’m nowhere near either. (Seriously, many times a white woman is showcasing my foundation shade, and during my pageant days my complexion was matched to that of a “darker-toned” white woman.) I’m closer to the lightest of the light than the darkest. There are far more shades after me than there are before me. And for a beauty brand to list me anywhere near their darkest range is complete disrespect for all women of color. It’s as if they’re saying that there is a cap to how dark a woman can be. And those who are deeper in complexion are not considered. And when I see myself labeled as “dark,” it instantly poses another social dichotomy of colorism within the women of color spectrum.

Shopping for beauty products, I can easily find something to suit my needs but always wonder about women of a darker hue. Why is it that my tone is more favored than theirs, why is it easier for me to prove my identity as a woman, of feminine virtue, of beauty? Clearly, there is still a concept of beauty being equivalent to being white — white skin, European features — where black women have to play a role of being ugly, where our features are not as desired, where we have to strive to be as white as possible with bleaching creams and extreme contouring kits to erase our attributes of genetic history. It’s blatant racism that beauty companies sell. And as consumers, we support the racist ideology when we buy.

The cosmetics industry continues to do well and grow, unlike other retailers. More people are venturing into Sephora, more Ulta locations are popping up, and with the help of beauty influencers, any and everyone can feel like a beauty guru. As a society, we are finally accepting makeup as a way of self-expression, that anyone can do it. You don’t have to be a professional makeup artist in order to know how to find the best shadows to complement your eye color. Fortunately — and unfortunately — anyone can showcase their love for cosmetics, and it’s helping to boost the industry.

With this in mind, more women of color are seen showcasing their love for beauty trends. Society is becoming, slowly but surely, more inclusive and accepting of varying looks. But it would seem as if more brands would continue to market towards this growing culture, that brands would have shades to suit any woman. Not every brand can be as extensive as Fenty Beauty, but they should at least try to act like they care about a wider market than a woman of obvious European descent.

However, major brands continue to leave out women of color purposely, or minority women just are not considered as priorities. They chalk up limited ranges due to a lack of store space, “winter shades,” or they think they’re being inclusive with 40 shades of cafe au lait but continue to ignore the millions of people in the world who are still looking for their perfect “deeper than a paper bag” hue.

Women of deeper complexions have limited choices. They either have to buy from expensive luxury brands that not everyone can afford, or, if shades are available with more affordable brands, they tend to run extreme in undertones. So, women have to mix different foundation hues together in order to try and find their perfect shade. Issue here is they’re spending twice as much money on a homemade concoction that may never be consistent day-to-day or make them look too orange or too pink or gray. Black women ultimately are pressured into buying twice as much makeup as white women just so that they can create their own shades at home. If you spend enough money, you want the makeup to be a perfect match without having to play cosmetic chemist in your bathroom.

Black-owned brands are great, but not always accessible. Iman is carried at select drugstores, and Vera Moore can be found far and few in-between some retailers. (Both of which, do not carry liquid or cream shades light enough for me, and I, personally, get tickled with this but still support through other products.) Cover Girl’s Queen line is only sold in areas where there’s a “noticeable” black population (and the range still isn’t wide enough). Black Up is not sold in every Sephora, not every black woman wants a matte finish like Fenty Beauty, and indie brands have to be purchased online where it’s trial and error to know the perfect skin match for a foundation shade. Black women’s options — even within their own realm — are still very limited.

As a black woman who has the opportunity to find a shade in nearly every makeup line, it’s frustrating to me when I find something that is great for my skin and provides all of my needs as far as a foundation product goes, but I cannot recommend it for my mother because the range doesn’t run deep enough. (My mother, by the way, is also still considered fair.) Of course, my disgust doesn’t equal anywhere near the amount of let-down that, I’m sure, plenty of other women experience when shopping to find a product to suit their deeper skin tones. It’s embarrassing — on my part — to buy from a brand that is not universally considerate enough to be mindful of each woman who wants to feel a sense of glamour and beauty while wearing makeup.

As a collective unit of women, we definitely have to be more mindful of who and what we’re supporting. I have come across amazing foundations that worked miracles for my skin, improved my complexion, but I could not continue to buy their products knowing that, essentially, I’m the darkest that they would accept. It really all comes down to a game of playing Token: Which person of color is white enough to be allowed in the beauty party? Who cares? We should be accepted at the party as-is. Otherwise, we’ll just keep hosting our own.

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