The Beauty Industry Is Failing People of Colour Bernadette Basagre

Imagine walking into your local Farmers, stopping in front of the makeup section and finding something you want to purchase, but surprisingly they don’t have your shade. The darkest shade is 3 times lighter than you. You don’t have to imagine, cause for the majority of the dark skin’s out there, they face this everyday.

For many years the beauty industry has been held accountable for their failure of being inclusive towards diverse communities. It has become a huge topic of discussion for many years now. Whenever a brand introduces a new shade range, it is often praised and applauded, whilst brands with smaller shade ranges are faced with backlash.

But why does the beauty industry fail people of colour?

What does the beauty industry look like?

Makeup Revolution's Concealer shade range. Photo by: Bernadette Basagre

“The reference is skinny, white, blonde,” says Melanie Sharma Barrow, a consultant who educates companies on diversity and culture. Originally from the UK, Barrow was shocked at how “Auckland is very uninviting to people of colour,” in contrast to her lifetime experience in London where the local department store, Selfridges, catered to the diverse amount of people of colour. “These spaces are uninviting for woman of colour, you walk in and they look at you, they assume you’re going to steal something.”

Essentially, the beauty industry is catered for the white girl. For high schoolers Shammi Pathirana and Zeenat Ali, the standard of beauty is “Eurocentric”. “Growing up I would think who I would want to be and it would be some blonde haired blue eyed white girl,” says Ali. The beauty industry, especially in New Zealand often neglects the other half of the population who lie on the medium to dark skin tone spectrum, specifically focusing on the lighter skin demographic.

“It’s difficult to find a foundation that matches me,” says Pathirana.
Infographic by: Bernadette Basagre

The New Zealand beauty industry has proven to be catered for white people as the industry is filled with them. Statistics have ultimately shown that New Zealand is facing accessibility problems as many people of colour have led to themselves opting to shop online rather than in person.

Chelsea Evans of New Zealand beauty brand, Living Nature admits their lack of diversity in their brand, “we absolutely acknowledge our range is not diverse enough.” Living Nature in terms of shade range holds eight shades, with their darkest shade fitting a light to medium skin tone.

Living Nature's current foundation shade range.

“It’s kind of like a slap in the face, if you’re going to come out with makeup do it properly,” makeup artist Nikita Chaithoo criticises Living Nature’s shade range.

“It makes you automatically angry because you think you don’t fit in there, I wouldn’t want to support a brand that isn’t open and diverse,” she says. Of Indian descent, Chaithoo grew up buying shades lighter than her skin tone as she couldn’t accept her dark skin, something that didn’t fit the western beauty standard she grew up with. “I was even in that mindset where I was like ‘no that can’t be my shade or my skin colour, there is no way I am that dark’."

Even for Miss Universe New Zealand 2017, Harlem-Cruz Atarangi Ihaia, felt discouraged about participating in the pageant that was catered for white girls. “I stood out because I was the only one who looked different, but it was really hard to feel like I was beautiful when I’m surrounded by what I considered as beautiful which is white and that’s what all the girls were,” shares Ihaia.

Influenced by the ideologies of western beauty standards, New Zealand’s beauty industry is booming of services and products that are catered to this standard, white girls. In this generation, the beauty industry holds a large impact on young girls and how they perceive themselves, and with the idolisation of European features, the mental health of these girls are in danger.

the impact

NARS naming one of their darker shades after a country. Photo by: Bernadette Basagre

Founder of Pretty Smart, a programme dedicated to young girls to celebrate their bodies and appearances, Angela Barnett says that the beauty industry has “narrowed the beauty standard.” Barnett believes that the beauty industry has “inflated” and “marginalised so many people along the way” as the industry favours western features, often able bodied, often white skinned and often the skinny body type.

“What the beauty industry has done is show us such a tiny percentage of the diversity our population has but because there’s a lot of money behind advertising, media, film, promotion and influencers, it gives us a distorted view that there is more people that look like that rather than look like everyone else,” says Barnett.

Barnett who works closely with young girls has seen how difficult it is for young girls of colour who have a lot more judgement on their appearance don’t see themselves as represented. Looking at what the beauty industry has to offer, these girls wonder where they are placed in the world.

“There’s always this subtle desire to always want to be pretty” says high schoolers Pathirana and Ali who face a lot of judgement if they don’t wear makeup. Watching the white girls who are considered the “pretty girls” thrive and get invited to parties is hard on them as they begin to think they don’t fit in.

Chaithoo found it hard growing up in New Zealand as she ended up hating herself for not looking like the white girls in her school. “The brown culture loves lighter skin, I use to put on Fair and Lovely religiously,” says Pathirana, revealing her urge to look whiter by using skin whitening products.

Fair and Lovely, a skin whitening brand that has received much backlash for what they advertise.

Social media plays another huge role on the mental health of young girls, with platforms like TikTok glamorising the western beauty standard. “They like the white… the videos that blow up for no reason at all are pretty white girls,” says Ali.

Morphe 2's new line of foundation shades targeted for younger girls, modelled by Charli D'amelio, the most followed Tiktok creator with over 90 million followers . Photo by: Bernadette Basagre
“I definitely think all young girls especially with social media now struggle to find beauty within themselves because they’re always searching what they have to look like instead of being happy with what they look like,” says 2017 Miss Universe Ihaia.

Barrow who has three daughters fears for their futures, “all my daughters are going to have different needs and I want things to change for them.” The industry’s lack of representation for the colour and size of people of colour is “shutting out a whole community of buyers” and is creating a “villanification” stigma towards them, says Barrow.

Understanding the effects of the beauty industry’s failure to show inclusivity to people of colour, there lies the underlying issue, representation. The beauty industry’s bias towards the western idea of beauty has alienated people of colour, leaving them feeling left out and under appreciated. The lack of diversity in the beauty industry is the leading cause of their failure for people of colour.

is there representation?

“The beauty industry straddles marketing,” says Barrow. Big beauty corporations shaping the beauty industry are led by white males who are not expanding their mind to people of colour because “representation doesn’t sell”, it only brings “shock factor”.

“It’s not about representation, it’s about what brings in money.”

Recently many companies “abused” the Black Lives Matter movement to show off their diversity, performance activism. “They think diversity is Black Lives Matter,” says Barrow.

“It feels like a slap in the face a bit, why does it take such a big movement for you to now recognise people,” says Chaithoo.

For Ihaia who is a person of colour in the spotlight, found it hard getting to where she is now because of the lack of representation in diversity in the Miss Universe programme. As a part of the handful of coloured women in Miss Universe, she felt like she was wasting her time and her chances of winning were “one out of 100” as there were no Maori or brown role models to look up to.

Generally a competition catered to white girls, Ihaia felt out of place on the world stage where there were only a handful of coloured girls. “For us to be in there you have to be strong and believe in yourself and have confidence because you are surrounded by light skinned, blonde, blue eyes that kind of demographic of women and you’ll probably be one out of 20.”

Representation for people of colour in the media has often been a topic of discussion as the media holds an unconscious bias towards casting white figures. Global makeup brands such as Tarte have faced backlash for their lacking foundation shade range in the past, with a shade range of 11 light beige shades and three dark shades.

Tarte's highly anticipated Shape Tape foundation that only had 3 shades for darker skin tones.

On a trip to her local supermarket, Barrow was shocked to see beauty brand Glowlab have brown models in their campaign, “I have never seen a product before in my life marketed to brown people.” Barrow immediately knew the brand was aiming to attract the brown demographic as it was their first time using brown models, but it didn’t sit well with her.

“I don’t want to be targeted as a person of colour, but I also don’t want to be like the secondary person to the main white person,” she says.

Ali agrees and sees that as “tokenism”, who has seen for most of her life a “token Pasifika or Asian person while the rest of the people are there to watch.” The lack of diversity and representation to uplift a minority community has made Ali feel like people of colour are in beauty advertisements purely for the “diversity level tick”.

The underlying and deep rooted issue with the beauty industry’s failure to be inclusive for people of colour is clear. With the lack of representation for the diverse communities in New Zealand, the beauty industry has been targeted to improve their work, ensuring the inclusion of people of colour.


Maybelline's foundation shade range. Photo by: Bernadette Basagre
“It’s definitely changing but not changing fast enough… the beauty industry has tried and been trying for the past 10 years in being more diverse,” says Barnett.

Over the years, the beauty industry has seen improvements in their accommodation for people of colour. In recent years, singer Rihanna released her own beauty line called “Fenty Beauty” which was well received for their ground-breaking release of 50 foundation shades.

“When she came out with Fenty, I was like ‘Oh my god this is it’, finally we’ve been shown in a way,” says Chaithoo. Rihanna’s beauty line has become a standard in Chaithoo’s eyes, who believes that makeup brands should follow in Fenty’s footsteps and cater to everyone.

Rihanna's beauty line, Fenty Beauty's foundation shade range.

However, for high schoolers Pathirana, finding a shade that matches her like the Fenty foundation she has to go to Sephora, but “Sephora is too expensive.” The beauty industry has crossed over to fail people of colour by making these products inaccessible.

In order to combat this, New Zealand makeup brand Living Nature has stated that they have held “discussions numerous times to expand our shade range,” but found it challenging due to “demand” says Evans.

“There still needs to be more diverse colour ranges, there needs to be people of colour consistently used in advertising, we need to keep having the conversations, we need to keep it top of mind, equality and diversity has to continue to be an everyday topic and behaviours need to be changed and need to practice it every day otherwise the change won’t be made,” says Evans.

The beauty industry’s failure on people of colour has been a result of a racial prejudices held towards these communities and Barrow believes that this begins in educating young people which is “key for the next generation.”

As an indigenous country, Barrow criticises New Zealand’s attachment to countries such as America and Britain and needs to take a step further in “capitalising that we are an indigenous country… what separates us in the future is drawing in on our rich indigenous culture of people who are here.”

Ihaia agrees that New Zealand’s biggest asset is its indigenous culture that should be embraced more in an advertising way, in order to normalise that there is no standard or definition of beauty.

Mecca Cosmetica on Queen Street. Photo by: Bernadette Basagre

Despite the slow burning change and shift in the beauty industry, there has been slight improvements over the years. As a melting pot of multiculturalism, New Zealand has a foot forward in becoming a leading force and change in the beauty industry to open its doors for people of colour. The world is evolving but the beauty industry needs to “make up” for its lack of progress towards diversity and “touch up” on what their brands stand for, universal representation.


Photo by: Bernadette Basagre