50 Shades of Beige

I wake to the sound of my phone ringing and my best friend eagerly chirping on the other end of the phone telling me that she is on her way to Brisbane. We have been planning this day for a while. Amidst our studies and busy schedules, we finally found the time to schedule a proper shopping trip.

She’s particularly excited as she’s driving up from Toowoomba, a regional town with small shopping prospects, to Brisbane where the range and variety of shops and boutiques is arguably ‘bigger’. She is particularly excited as she will finally be able to replenish her makeup collection and will be able to purchase foundation which matches her skin tone.

We are both South Sudanese and have been blessed with unlimited amount of melanin. Her skin is the colour of rich dark chocolate with a cool undertone while mine is a warm undertone of medium alder red wood. While she is optimistic, I, a natural pessimist and realist, am not because I know exactly how this whole scenario is going to play out. We would enter the store, the Makeup artists would start instinctively panicking at the sight of two dark skinned girls walking in to find the right shade of foundation for their skin tones. Shades they know they do not have in stock but will pretend otherwise. They will spend half an hour trying to colour match our tones with foundations from different brands but of course, never bringing the higher end or more expensive products. At first I didn’t see this as a big deal as I am a student and have no business buying expensive products. In addition, the high end brands never carry any colours beyond beige or “tan” which is honestly code word for ‘slightly less beige’. However, this selective product selection happens with every product we inquire about. From lipsticks to contouring palettes to eye liners and primers, they would always show us the lower end products. This could be my paranoia and over-observational habits projecting however, when it has happened one too many times, you start putting two and two together and notice a pattern. A pattern I have not verbalised but have kept to myself because there are bigger things for me to concern myself with other than not being shown a $50 eyeliner. Besides, I always note it down on my mental list of ‘simple privileges’. We would try different shades and in the end, walk out disappointed and with no foundation. This is how it always turns out and I doubt it will be any different this time around.

We do a little shopping for clothes, which is a whole other shit circus show of its own accord, we walk past a guy raising money for starving children in Africa who greets us with “yo whatsup”, I roll my eyes and keep it pushing because this type of greeting is a regular occurrence that I have become accustomed to and somewhat now a norm. It is so much of a norm that if I don’t get a stereotypically ‘black’ greeting a day from at least one white guy, who pretends to be ‘down’, I feel like my day is missing something.

We go have lunch with gawking eyes constantly staring and observing us. I tune it all out and have a nice lunch and conversation with my best friend.

Finally, its early afternoon and we head over to the makeup store with my best friend raving about this makeup brand whose website displays a range of shades including one dark enough for her skin tone. We walk in and undoubtedly they start to panic. The girl at the door greets us and we head straight to different brands in search of their darkest shades. Not to my surprise, it is all 50 shades of beige. I turn to my best friend to express my lack of surprise and disappointment. She is still somewhat optimistic as we are yet to browse the brand whose website she had visited.

In case you haven’t noticed, we are yet to be approached by a makeup artist. 10-15 minutes of arriving or so, a young makeup artist starts walking towards our direction with a nervous smile on her face, she greets us nicely and asks if we need assistance. We express to her that we are looking for foundation and she plays it cool and starts off asking us what kind of foundation we are looking for. My best friend says that she’s looking for full coverage while I state that I don’t like heavy makeup and thus looking for light to medium coverage.

She starts going to different brands and bringing back their darkest shades and commences nervously colour matching. Like I said earlier, I know exactly how this will play out. I was already very pessimistic regarding finding my tone however, my fears were confirmed when I noticed she didn’t bother to tell us what our undertones were and started using the same tones for both of us.

I get it, to the untrained eye, we are both dark skinned however in actuality, we are two different shades and while she has a cool undertone, I have a warm one. At this point, I was done and was ready to go.

The fastest way to find out whether someone is a good makeup artist or not, is to observe whether they first and foremost detect your undertone. After trying several brands, none of the foundations matched either of our skin tones. The issue was, like I said, she was using the same shades for both of us so they were too light for my best friend and too dark for mine. My best friend enquires about the foundation she had seen online and makeup artist informs her that it was the American website and attempts to relate by stating that she too has difficulty in finding foundation because of her pale complexion. I guess that is her ‘attempt’ at relating. I am not doubting that she has difficulties and I am not trying to compare struggles but I can guarantee that her struggles, although valid, are nothing compared to ours.

Sure she’s a woman and may have other struggles in life but the bottom line is, she is a Caucasian woman with

blonde hair and blue eyes, thus, this country caters to her beauty standards.

The truth of the matter is, I can guarantee that this is the experience of almost every black woman, regardless of how light or dark her skin tone is. Of course, the lighter your skin, the less difficulties you have. At least my lighter, white-passing sisters can make ‘beige’ work but if I ever try, I look like an ashy Nigerian ghost in a Nollywood film. In a country that promotes multiculturalism, I do not understand why our only options are ‘making beige work’.

For consumerist and simple economics purposes, I understand that in order to have supply, there must be demand. However, how does one explain when there is demand and supply is still unacceptably low? Well that ladies and gentleman is a reflection of a multi-billion dollar beauty industry that is hell-bent on maintaining Eurocentric beauty ideals and is incapable nor willing to extend an olive branch to other diverse groups of women that do not meet these Eurocentric beauty standards.

Given these type of occurrences, I have become less critical of women who lighten and bleach their skin. Although I do not nor will I ever bleach my skin because I love my skin tone as it is that of my ancestors and clearly tells a story, I can understand why a black woman living in a country with Eurocentric beauty ideals as the norm would choose to want to assimilate rather than suffer in embracing her differences. I just wish that these cosmetics companies would catch up with the times because it is nearing the end of 2017, not the 1800s.

A note to these companies: There are black people in Australia of many different shades – I am tired of going shopping for foundation and seeing only 50 SHADES OF BEIGE.

An Afrocentric and Pan-African recent dual degree graduate of Law/ Government and International Relations who is adamantly passionate about social justice, equality, International Relations and the world.

Be first to comment