How Women of Color Shape Beauty Trends
by Brooklyn White
It’s no secret that Black women are often the heart of mainstream culture. We are responsible for creating waves in multiple industries — including music, media, art, and fashion. Though we aren’t always given credit, and are sometimes disrespected when we demand it, we continue to inspire because, hey, that’s just how we operate.
In 2017, the futuristic metallic look is all the rave. People want their personal style to give off an intergalactic vibe (possibly because they want escape from the horrors of reality and move to another planet — hello Afrofuturism!) and what accessory helps best with that? Glitter, of course.
Today, glitter appears on lips, eyes, and cheekbones all over the world thanks in no small part to Black stars like Pat McGrath and Keyshia Ka’oir, two superstars who consistently endorse glitter as a way of life. But Black women don’t always get credit or spots as widely accepted legends when it comes to our innovations. I asked makeup artist Raisa Flowers (responsible for the faces of Kelela and Alees Yvon) to share her thoughts on Black female cultural figures that she believes deserve more love, and her answer provided a generational perspective I hadn’t considered.
“The younger generation will never understand because they do not know,” she explains. “Like, it hurts me when someone doesn’t know about TLC, Missy Elliot, Lil Kim, Aaliyah, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, Brandy, Total, and all the other beautiful Black [femme] artists of the ‘90s. They play a very important part in the way I am as a makeup artist. They had all these different looks that will be a part of my life forever. I was very young when they came out, but growing up and seeing them, reading about them, watching their music videos, seeing a MAC campaign or even just a photo made me so inspired.”
Flowers makes a great point, highlighting several innovators in the process. How many times have you oooh-ed and ahh-ed over T-Boz and Left Eye’s out-of-this-world makeup in the 1999 music video for “No Scrubs”? And how often do you look at throwbacks of Missy Elliott and gag over her glittery eyelids, perfect contour, and lined lips? Personally, I’ve fawned too many times to count. I also wonder if these women intrinsically realized that they were the future.
“Black women have been excluded from an industry that benefits greatly from our ideas and style,” adds Sage White, a young makeup artist who has worked with eauty darling Duckie Thot and singer-songwriter Kehlani. “The beauty industry specifically still has what feels like a grudge towards darker skinned women. Certain stores don’t carry deeper shades, some brands have such a small range of products for dark skinned women, yet they take the fruits of our labor and they become the latest makeup trends.”
“Many models I work with will tell you they bring their own foundation to set, or that we have to mix several colors to get that perfect match,” she explains. “We often have to utilize so much just to keep up.”
Flowers shared a similar sentiment: ”A lot of times the dark skin models are overlooked or not tended to. As a makeup artist, I want to make that my duty to make sure we show the variety of looks because we are a driving force.”
White also discussed how Black women create trends without even trying to — it just happens because we use what we have. I personally could relate to this because it seems like my most cost-effective looks get the most stares and questions. “Girls in the hood with their $2 lip glosses, $3 concealers, and $25 wigs look like supermodels and become the standard Instagram trends because we’re so used to being exceptional on a budget,” she notes.
When I think about that phase that began around 2015 when it seemed like everyone in the universe was a makeup guru, I think about all of the Black women who had been making up their own faces for years. The extra glossy lips, defined cheekbones, and hair just reminded me of the Black girls you would see on the subway.
“Nineties hair styles are coming back, super long nails are still here, gold teeth [are still] a thing,” adds Flowers. “The beautiful women of the ghetto are always trending and that’s why we see a lot of inspiration coming from them because they express themselves however they feel.”
It is definitely worth highlighting that Black style is not just centered around a person’s budget — it weaves a bigger tale of who they are and what’s going on around them. Makeup has long been considered an extension of self, and today people are turning to the art form to tell the world something about themselves and add some beauty to the harsh realities of 2017. Makeup is helping Black women feel better about themselves and I’m here for anything of the sort. Now, the industry must step up.
“I think moving forward with smaller brands and major celebrity lines that are new, fresh, and actively promoting Black women, deeper shade ranges, and products that look better on darker women, we‘re sending the message that not only are we deeply ingrained in this industry, but that we’re greatly aware of our impact and our time to capitalize off of it,” says White. Wise words from a top notch stunna.
The history of makeup and makeup trends is intertwined with the history of Black women. The latter may be able to exist without the former, but certainly not vice versa. We desire and deserve to look cute, so we’ve come up with materials and styles to do that — and I think sharing information like this is crucial to the next generation of beauty because their ignorance is the death of the memory of the women who worked hard before them. So the next time you highlight your cheeks, be sure say a prayer to the Black (and Brown) women who gave you the opportunity.
Read more from Brooklyn at StrawberryBoogie.