CSSB: Reply to @ELFCosmeticsUK – tackling #racism in the fashion and beauty industry


It was so good of you to finally get in touch. I know some people think I might have taken things a bit personally about your recent tweet:

See, truth be told, I never know when to shut up and when I see something that’s unfair, even if it’s not unfair to me, I have to say something. And it was the use of that word ‘nude’.

I’ve spoken about there sorts of issues before on this blog and recently got into a chat on Twitter with the Media Diversity crowd about it and this is a bit of an issue.

Using words like ‘nude’ and ‘natural’ and ‘flesh’ to be synonymous with tones which you only find in the ‘white’ sections of society is fundamentally racist. It implies that any other skin tone is not ‘natural’ or ‘flesh’ or shouldn’t be associated with someone who is ‘nude’. And while using them isn’t a sign of overt racism, it’s a sign of blind acceptance of white privilege, something that the fashion media are notoriously bad at, it has to be said. Which is a real shame, because after the international and sustained success of models like Naomi Campbell and Agbani Darego, you think that they would have learned by now that beauty comes in more than one colour, even if it’s still being convinced to strive towards one body type.

Your tweet didn’t offend me on my own behalf, ELF, but it reminds me of my own white privilege and I am trying really hard to remember that these things I have been told by society, such as the correlation between ‘nude/natural’ and a pale beige colour tone, aren’t inclusive of everyone. In fact, they’re only inclusive of white people. And this has got to stop.

What shocked me so much was that you’re normally so GOOD about this sort of thing! For years I have happily been buying my ‘Apricot Beige’ products from you, knowing that you meant them to match my relatively pale skin tone, and I’ve never seen any use of the words natural, nude or flesh in your tonal descriptions. I’ve recommended you on my blog, promoted you online and never once thought that you’d stumble into this trap of unintentional but privileged racism. I expect better from you because you’ve always been better than that. To the point where I had assumed it was your policy to avoid these words.

I’m sorry, but I had to protest at. If the entire world sat silent in this type of situation, we would never challenge any stereotypes or make any progress. And it was nice to get a response from you:

  I never thought that you would intend to cause offence. But friends tell friends when they’ve done bad and expect better. I mean, you deliver all over the world, there is no way that you only have white customers.

Call it what it is. Beige. Champagne. Cream. Stone. Sandy. But please – don’t call it nude, or natural, or flesh. That isn’t true for all of your customers, after all. 

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CSSB: Sunday Times Magazine ‘Pearls Of Wisdom’

So let’s get back to the Sunday Times Style supplement and see what else it has to say.


Make Up Suggestions

Oh look! A feature on make up suggestions. Let’s start with the title – Pearls of Wisdom. Quite a clever title for a magazine aimed at slightly more wealthy, slightly more mature women. Just 17 this is not, this is a magazine aimed at the slightly more experienced lady who is managing her own budget and salary rather than waiting for her allowance.

Pearls immediately makes you think of wealth, class and style and the word Wisdom gives you the impression that all of this knowledge is gained from experience. This is the voice of an older woman giving advice to someone joining the ranks.  But there’s no accompanying photo. Because it wouldn’t do to have a more mature woman featuring on a page about how to look good.

The products are handily numbered and pictured with a string of pearls intertwining through them. There’s a good selection, a mix of brands, a mix of products – some lips, some eyes, some skin. It seems to hold all the answers. Let’s look at the prices shall we?

Adding all eight items up, we come to a total of £219.

£219! For eight items of makeup! I have to be hard pushed, pressed and bullied into parting with more than £20 for an order of makeup which would include more items than that. How can they be so much? Well the brand names speak for themselves really. Chanel, Dior, Tom Ford, Bobbi Brown, Illamasqua… The high end of make up couture.

They do look nice though, and the blurbs are very alluring:

“The most expensive looking nails this season are wearing two layers of this polish”

At £18 a bottle, they ARE some of the more expensive nails this season, not just ones that look it!

“(this product) can be used to lighten dark bags and make cheekbones pop on the go”

Look! This product fits with your busy life, it will do two jobs at once, it will fix the damage your life has done to your face and make you look better. Hooray! Oh yes, and it’s £40…

“The temptation with this beautiful molten pearl is to slather it all over your face. Exercise a little restraint.”

Oh how luxurious. And how prudent – not too much luxury dear just a little bit! Couldn’t exercise that restraint at the till and save £18 though…

“Radiance is the season’s skin must-have…”

Is it now. Just for this season? I thought it was a good thing all the time.

You get the picture. The language is rich, flowing, filled with imperitives and sexy inviting descriptive words which conjure up images of richness and luxury. Words such as golden, warm, pearl, sparkle, mother of pearl, moonbeam glow (I shit you not) are scattered over the written article with a lavish hand. The subconscious imperitive is there: buy this and look and feel rich, successful and gorgeous.

If you’ve got £219. And that’s just this week’s magazine. How much will there be in next week’s? And the week after? And after that? If someone actually buys all of these products, will they get used up? By next week, they will be last week’s news. And will languish in a drawer, alongside the ever unfulfilled hope of being ‘Better’ through making fashion purchases because the industry tells you to.

There’s a lot to be said for knowing your colours, as I said yesterday in my Odd Job Slot article. But obeying this artificially generated compulsion to spend hundreds of pounds on products which don’t necessarily work for you, just because the writer constructed an enticing article radiating maturing, knowledge, and experience, is foolish at best and heartbreaking at worst. You can look good for far less. This month we move onto looking at makeup products, where you can get the good stuff for far less and how you can make the best of your pennies and your own natural gifts to look as good as you can for as little money as possible.

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