This one beauty category is still not inclusive for women of color, and we need to talk about it

Recently, I began research to find the best bronzers for black women and, more broadly, women of color. But when I typed “bronzers” into my search bar, I found half-ass excuses for deep/dark bronzer shades. One of my most disturbing discoveries was a video on YouTube. I cringed as black beauty influencer Nyma Tang tried on over $800 worth of bronzers from Sephora without finding one deep enough to bronze her skin. At most, they were dark enough to set her under-eye highlight.

After seven years of working in the beauty industry, I was officially welcomed to the beautiful world of bronzer via Prime Beauty, an indie brand that creates Brownzers (its version of bronzers) specifically for women of color. Founded by Shemika Harmitt, the brand broke into a category that has historically dismissed women of color. More recently, brands such as Benefit, Fenty Beauty, and Marc Jacobs have taken strides to make this category more inclusive across product verticals. However, a vast majority of brands have yet to take steps in that direction.

With my newfound love for bronzer and brands seemingly taking note that black women want to bronze too, I set forth to find every black girl-friendly bronzer on the market. With all the talk of inclusivity in the beauty industry, I initially felt confident in my ability to do so. Instead, I was left frustrated, confused, and in search of answers. With all the extensive foundation launches, why haven’t brands put the same energy into making inclusivity an all-around effort?

Since the “Fentification” of the beauty industry in 2017, inclusivity has been synonymous with wide foundation shade ranges.

Since Fenty came out with a bang in 2017, launching their Pro Fil’tr foundation in 40 shades, brands have been scrambling to follow suit. However, they’ve failed to do the same in other areas of business. Marketing campaigns and other product lineups have also continuously failed us.  Yes, having an inclusive shade range is impressive, but when it isn’t met with consistency in all areas of a brand’s business, it raises red flags. I asked one of my favorite influencers, Ndeye Peinde, for her take on inclusivity being limited to shade ranges:

“I think a brand is truly inclusive when they are continually seeking to highlight different voices within the industry,” Peinde said.

"People sometimes limit inclusivity to one thing: shade range," she continued. "It’s more about highlighting and including women and men of color in the decision making processes. If the people who worked for a brand are diverse, there would be voices present that will be able to identify problems and provide solutions when it comes to inclusivity."

Harmitt agrees, telling HG, “A brand is only truly inclusive if the team behind the brand is inclusive. What a brand presents to the world is a direct reflection of the people we don’t get to see in the board rooms and the labs. If one type of person is filling every seat at the table, throw the whole table away. An inclusive team equals an inclusive brand, and one token person of color does not count.”

Prime Beauty was the brand that made me feel confident bronzing as a woman of color.

Though the brand may be small, its impact is enormous. Prime has even had some of our faves, such as Cardi B and Nyma Tang, rocking its bronzers. Since I’ve come across my perfect shade, “Bronzeville,” bronzing has become an essential step in my makeup application. My eyes completely opened to a makeup step that I didn’t realize was possible for black women. Ndeye had the same eye-opening revelation after experiencing bronzing as a black woman for the first time.

“Prime Beauty [in the shade] Chocolate Litty is the only bronzer I have found on the market that works on my complexion. I will never forget when I first used it. I sat and binged watched videos on YouTube about bronzing because I did not know how to do it, trying to figure out what brushes to use, where it was best to apply, etc. It’s sad that I completely ignored this step of makeup because it never applied to me. There was nothing marketed nor available for someone as dark as me,” she said.

Those who have a bit more access behind the scenes in the beauty industry can easily recognize when a brand is not authentic. But in most cases, it’s not hard to tell what brands are just in it for the money. “One of the biggest tells is usually the brand’s social media feed. Who they feature is very telling of who they are [as a brand],” Harmitt said.

When it comes down to it, self-proclaimed inclusivity is not real inclusivity at all.

Beauty influencers are everyday people who have a platform to speak for the masses. They allow people without a large platform to have a voice. As a result, customers can determine which brands are representative of themselves.

I think brands are failing to realize that they don’t get to determine whether or not they’re inclusive," Harmitt said. "Self-proclaimed inclusivity is hardly ever genuine, which is why we are now having this conversation. When you are something, you don’t have to tell the masses constantly: they will see it and acknowledge it. It is insulting to those of us that have lived the struggle of not being included in the beauty industry to now have that same struggle used as a marketing ploy.

Though representation in beauty has come a long way, there’s a lot more work to do. I love the direction that the beauty industry is heading in, but I also recognize that many brands are pretending to be part of this wave of change. Brands who really care about inclusivity recognize that it’s more than a foundation shade range or jumping on the bandwagon when a truly inclusive brand introduces a new product for deeper skin. Diversity must exist throughout every facet of a company, because those affected most by the lack of inclusivity in the beauty industry see through the smoke and mirrors.

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