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Why is Representation of POC (People of Colour) so Important?

Why does representation in the beauty industry mean so much to POC?

Okay I’m doing something a little different today. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while.

Basically I’m turning this blog platform into more than just a beauty tips and tricks space. I’ve mentioned in the past I want TASNEEM Cosmetics to be a community platform where we discuss everything that people of colour experience, the good and the bad.

For too long I’ve been talking the talk, but in reality really just staying within the safe guards of ‘beauty’ and ‘makeup’, why? Well on some real self-reflection shit, ruffling feathers, speaking out, feeling uncomfortable on my own is HARD. Don’t get me wrong I will re-share a woke comment on insta story in a heartbeat, but ME, speaking out with my own big loud mouth or clapping back with my capable hands. Uuhhfff gives me the sweats just thinking about it. Having talked to family and friends, I think it has something to do with, 1. it being exhausting, 2. sometimes it so damn awkward, and 3. dynamics and relationships change. Which for a needy natured person (like me), is HARD.

BUT, I think I can speak for a lot of us in saying that the year and half that we have experienced is enough to sit in our un-comfort, respectfully distance away from those friends and acquaintances that don’t serve our values and boundaries, and most importantly speak up on the systematic racial, cultural and gender prejudices that spew into our society and communities. 

With all that said, the first topic I want to talk about is WHY representation in the beauty industry matters/means so much to people of colour.

There are a plethora of reasons and facts as to why representation for people of colour is so important and essential, the 3 points that me and my friends and family members constantly talk about are: Inclusion/Exclusion, Aspiration and Appropriation. I’ll touch on each of these topics in individual sections below.

WOULD YOU EXCLUDE EMILY?

The first and probably most relatable feelings and experiences of people of colour has been straight up exclusion. The classic ‘you can’t sit with us’ mentality/reality that has been outrageously apparent in the beauty and makeup industry throughout the years. Personally for me growing up trying to find foundation stocked in my shade, was next to impossible, and this is coming from a lighter skin South Asian girl who could get away with over-bronzing to match to my skin tone, I can’t even imagine the struggle and frustration for darker skin and black girls and women. It has only been the last 5 years that big beauty conglomerates have done the bare minimum and started stocking more inclusive and extensive shades ranges.

Also, let’s talk about the exclusion of people of colour in marketing/advertising and the workplace, because it SHOWS. Having only worked in the beauty and fashion industry, I’ve experienced being the only person of colour a COUNTLESS amount of times. Where my advice and push for diversity through marketing and product development fell on deaf ears.

Insert story time:

If you follow our social media platforms you would have heard me talk about my time working at a skin & laser beauty clinic as part of the marketing team. I remember I was put on a task to create some design collateral for the laser hair removal and skin treatments. Having done my research and asked many of the clinic owners/clinic staff, I was informed that 60% of their clientele were South Asian and Middle Eastern women. Being Bengali myself I completely understood why, when you’re blessed with brows, there is also no skimping on hair everywhere else.

So with all this factual/statistical insight I created the artwork using beautiful imagery with South Asian and Middle Eastern women. Feeling really confident and happy with the artwork, I sent it off to my manager for approval/review. The response I got was underwhelming however not shocking, my manager emailed back saying ‘Not on brand, models are too ethnic. Please send more options’.

I can’t even TELL YOU how many times I’ve experienced this kind of nonsense in the work place.

The concept of taking money from people of colour BUT not including them in marketing/advertising and or workplaces is WILD to me.  

YOU SEE IT, YOU BECOME IT!

So, the crux of why representation for people of colour is so important, is because when you see it you can become it. With years of exclusion and oppression comes systematic racism, that has unfortunately held people of colour back from achieving their full potential and having equal access to be whatever we want to be. For me being able to see people of colour in leadership roles, non-stereotypical roles, niche and mainstream roles has personally given me confidence and drive to strive for my personal interests and dreams. 

I remember for the longest time I thought I needed to study to be a doctor or lawyer and if I didn’t become either I wasn’t successful or a ‘good brown girl’.

Even though social media can be a LOT, I do have to commend it for allowing me to have access to so many amazing and talented people of colour around the globe doing their thing and absolutely killing it!

SIS, THAT’S STOLEN!

Okay, so for me and a lot of my friends and family the MOST triggering and problematic part of the beauty industry is APPROPRIATION! And really, can you blame us?!

Imagine, during your childhood, teenage adolescence, younger adulthood and even current age you were made to feel insecure and ugly about your distinct POC physical features and cultural customs and dress. To then, years later, have the same ‘teased’ features and customs get regenerated 'gentrified' into mainstream ‘Western’ beauty trends that don’t pay homage or recognise the deep rooted POC origins. YEAH, it would feel pretty insulting and like a part of your identity and culture had/has been stolen.

Some of the current harmful forms of appropriation going around include:

  • Black fishing/ over tanning - Extremely hurtful to Brown and Black people who were oppressed throughout history for their skin tone and POC features (i.e. big lips, curvy bodies) .
  • Asian foxy eye trend and surgery - The Asian community has been mocked, teased and villainized by the West for having smaller angled eyes, to now have big name American supermodels get surgery to create a ‘Foxy Asian’ eye shape. It is rude and completely tone deaf.
  • Afro protective hair styles on non-afro hair - For years Brown and Black women with kinky afro hair have been discriminated against and excluded from society because they didn’t have Eurocentric standards of hair/hair texture. Due to this ostracisation people of colour with afro hair created their own underground beauty communities and protective beauty hairstyles because mainstream media and beauty industries did not cater to them. When you see runway shows featuring models in afro protective hairstyles without even having a single model who naturally has afro hair is another example of the beauty and fashion industry exploiting people of colour. 
  • The uni-brow - Again POC with uni-brows were rejected and deemed as ugly by 'Western' beauty standard for not having Eurocentric features. The uni-brow has been a sign of beauty in South Asian and Middle Eastern cultures for centuries featured in countless artworks and literature. However, now the uni-brown ‘trend’ is being claimed as a ‘new’ form of body hair liberation, ONLY because Western media has chosen to highlight cis white females who have embodied their uni-brow. To ignore the history is undervaluing and very dismissive to people of colour.
  • Henna tattoos - Having personally grown up wearing henna/ mehndi for various EID celebrations or South Asian cultural events/weddings/holidays. I remember having to battle the constant feeling of ugliness and embarrassment when fellow school kids would say my hands looked dirty and even school teachers disapprovingly saying I needed to have the henna removed because it looked 'unprofessional'. It was definitely an ironic turn of events to then see henna tattoos popping up at the most popular music festivals and boozy day parties as a casual cute beauty trend.
  • Various cultural dress/clothing - When large fast fashion brands steal cultural dress designs, styles and patterns without referencing the cultures. It’s blatantly rude and disrespectful.

With all the above said, this blog isn’t to demonise and keep frustration in these problematic issues, it is to bring context, awareness and healing. I know for me, being able to discuss the various topics of POC representation has allowed me to feel more connected and have understanding for not only myself but also friends, family and various communities. 

I urge you to speak up or out in a way that is comfortable and serving to you, even the smallest of conversations can lead to positive change, action and perspective. 

XOXO,

TASNEEM

[Mood board images sourced via pinterest]

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