Beauty May Be Subjective, but Equality Cannot Be

The beauty and cosmetic industry is a major driver of international cultural norms, and it’s time its prejudices were exposed and erased. Curly hair is normal. I’ll venture further into the truth: curly hair is the dominant global hair type. Surprised? I will get to the point through what will surely not be the last of my #necessaryrants. Read on. . .

Just yesterday, while doing my usual social media rounds, I became enraged by a Tweet. No, not him. . . . 

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 13.31

These words, innocuously posted by British Vogue: “How to make an air-dry look as good as a blow-dry.”

While it’s perfectly sound advice, it presupposes that the hair in question belongs to a certain type: straight or wavy hair. This is, of course, the default standard of hair beauty.

3/4 of the members of this house belong to the curly standard–everyone except me. The blow dryer comes out on occasion. Usually something to do with some DIY, or when I am in a rush. Otherwise, it’s actually a partially broken piece of junk that needs to go in the dump. You see, people with curly hair don’t typically use blow dryers. . . not if they want their curls to curl!

So back to my rant. Again, while there’s nothing inherently wrong with British Vogue’s pitch, would you be surprised to know that the beauty “norm” is a minority demographic? There are, in fact, more curly-haired people in the world than straight-haired ones. Even among Caucasian/”white” people, the curly hair gene is dominant, while the straight hair gene is recessive!

But hey. . .  Prejudice in the beauty and cosmetic industry is not news. Let’s take a quick look at colour prejudice. Just a few years ago, Thandie Newton publicly criticised Boots for it’s “badly stocked” selection of makeup for women of colour. But we’re used to it, aren’t we? A thick fashion magazine, but only a couple of brown or black models in it. And when they are, they are dressed and decorated in all kinds of “ethnic” ways. Oh, how I deplore that word, this thing. I deplore equally the fact that I am bound to use it. And can someone answer this question: Who in the world is non-ethnic? To be fair, many of the big fashion houses have partly mended their ways in recent decades, offering up diversity and representation. This is arguably more true on the catwalk than in popular fashion, though.

But what I deplore most is that establishing one kind of hair (a minority, recessive kind, remember) as a standard creates the situation in which other kinds of hair then require “specialist” products, “specialist” marketing. This has led to segregated (yes, I said ‘segregated’) shelves, shops, and when it comes to “ethnic” products, even scents!

This is the Warning sign along the road we are going:

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 14.30
Here we are, at the consequence of normalising one standard of beauty over others.

And that’s the ugly truth about where we are.

Why this is all wrong

Let’s quickly debunk the claims for why things are the way they are, for the sake of argument:

Claim: These products for curly hair are more difficult to make.

Truth: No, they’re not. It’s the exact same process.

Claim: The market isn’t as big, so naturally it will cost more.

Truth: Scroll back up to that bit about there being more curly-haired people in the world than straight-haired ones.

Claim: Caribbean and African people like the smell of coconuts, mangos and pineapples.

Truth: Yes, we do. But we like the smells of other things like lavender, sage, and peppermint just as well. Just because we are of tropical origin does not mean we are restricted in our palette of fragrance to tropical things or smelling always like suntan oil.

You can choose from at least five different kinds of hair straighteners at your local supermarket, but you have to go to a specialist shop to find a curly hair diffuser.

Fair?

In the UK alone it is estimated that black and Asian women are forced to spend on average £137.52 more per year on beauty products due to lack of choice.

Fair?

Prejudice and bias translate into discrimination. We judge by first impressions, which are formed by our cultural norms. Here’s an article in Business Insider magazine about how curly hair is perceived in the workplace. It is not an opinion piece.

I realise that I have singled out British Vogue in the writing of this piece. I’m not claiming that they are any more guilty than any other party in any or all of the things that I have said. But one does wonder about the ways in which they and other beauty magazines make such a distinction between their ‘default’ types of beauty and others. Rather, one should wonder. Again, nothing new.

This rant partly inspired by yesterday’s Tweet and Chi Onwurah’s opinion piece in The Guardian, which you should read.

 

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