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Why Rihanna’s New Beauty Line Matters
Rihanna has a new line coming out in the fall — Fenty Beauty and from the teasers — there is every reason to be gratified.
Watching the ad with gorgeous girls mixing through the collage with carefree artistry — it was hard not to be affected. I shared my initial reaction — and as the day progressed — it was clear that my words resonated.
As long as I can remember — there has been a consistent erasure of dark-skinned women from the globally-certified aesthetic that still propels a certain kind of delicacy as superior and more viable.
I didn’t escape the effects of colorism while growing up in Lagos — Nigeria in the eighties and early nineties. There was always the pride in our heritage and the stubbornness to not allow the resounding effects of our former colonial masters — to completely dilute the primal structures of what makes an Igbo girl different from a girl of Yoruba descent.
But somehow — in the midst of restoring the glory that predated the avalanche of ships — carrying the Union Jack with predatory instincts that were masked under the guise of missionaries and the work of the Lord — we managed to succumb to the viral disease of self-mutilation.
Mentally screwed from the dire effects of being whipped beyond collapse for the awful sin of sporting the hue of darkness and evil. Whiteness is angelic and sinless. The Jesus we were forced to serve looks like a golden-haired fairy with blue eyes and a smile that is meant to torture you back to the holy side.
Slavery didn’t only strip us of basic human dignity and the ability to function as we were without reminders of the short-comings that were preached into guilt for — but the period of enslavement also wrecked havoc on the psyche of our mere existence and turned our beauty into an ugly history of shame that stuck to us like glue.
You can’t scrub off the deep-meaning reasons why people of color bought the hoax about why dark skin is innately revolting.
Black women with skin as dark as mine and darker — have had to endure the absence of us in major ad campaigns that showcase the type of woman that can bring the world to its knees.
Zooming through international airports — you take in the images of beautiful people smiling the truth about the latest gadget or beauty product on the scene. You get accustomed to the fact that you won’t recognize yourself.
Commercials that propel how the intensity of a woman’s appeal can produce encouraging results — overtake our screens — and it usually features a White women or women that aren’t Black. Or they’re classified as “Black” with enough disclaimers to give them the edge.
Esteemed beauty brands like Lancôme, Estée Lauder and L’Oréal— existed when I was a blossoming lass —and the messages were just as potently bare as they are now. The White aesthetic or anything that doesn’t upstage the creaminess of the product and its users — still commands the global stage.
The thick covers of Vogue that I used to cling to while waiting for the 7 Train at Queensboro Plaza sometimes sliced my overly excited fingers as the pages flew by and revealed nothing of me in the spread of models sporting bright red lips with soft tresses drizzling their Whitened shoulders.
I always questioned why being a Black girl without sharp features and the hair that swings with each step — seemed to present the challenge of feeling under-represented in ways that assert finite exclusion.
Living in America as an adult — gave me a wider scope of why White privilege exists and how it permeates every orifice of what is fed to us without the seasoning of empathy or the keen interest to consider what it would be like:
To stalk the aisles in search of you. Trying to find your “one true match” as L’Oréal stagily provides for the masses — except when you’re dark-skinned — as with most things that supposedly cater to all that apply — you discover the brutal nature of being rejected the opportunity of seamlessly picking up what you need — with no fuss.
To grow accustomed to the ceaseless barrage of pictorials that are created to herald the perfection of a blueprint — that stamps you out with no consideration of how the recklessnesses of diminishing the value of particular attributes — that White women will buy, but societally discard — toils with the young hearts who learn how to curse themselves — early.
To compare the way fair skin is idolized while dark skin is demonized and how that plays out in the course of things. The TV shows that make White women subject to heightened emotions that only the male co-stars can quell — while the Black women provide alternative comfort without revealing much of what they feel. The way the music videos of my time cast mostly women of mixed heritage who seemed desirable enough to make grown men cry — clothed in leather — under the desert sun. The way every single magazine cover celebrates the beauty that all brands adore — as blonde hair coverts with the breeze of a fall day and a face that has been painted — to highlight why a much darker-skinned model would’ve infected the vibrancy of pastels and colored eyes as diamonds.
White beauty is a romanticized lookbook that even I was privy to as a child. I read the fairy-tales that presented the delicate templates of Snow White, Rapunzel, and of course Cinderella. Looking back it seems whack as fuck that as a young African girl — I was encouraged to read books and watch classic movies that seemed to convey the fact that White girls will always be rescued — when shit hits the fan.
I also spent my teen years observing how my favorite Nigerian commercial depicted why using Joy soap was the best way to keep fair skin — fair. This was weirdly paired with national magazines that gave a boost to our nativity by illustrating why Black hairstyles couldn’t have chosen a better host.
The point is that cosmetic giants never cared a thing about diversity until the word became a hashtag. Suddenly the Oscar-winner who doesn’t look like she possess any hint of American Indian or Scottish ancestry is offered the prize of a lucrative contract as brand ambassador.
Back in 2014, Lupita Nyong’o was hailed as the breakthrough for an industry that downright refuses to recognize any names that don’t end with Bundchen. But once the “It Girl” of the year descended— it became clear that the authorities were prepared to revitalize the framework with the trend of Black skin against oceanic hues and pompous tones.
Lupita’s arrival was supposed to usher in more prototypes that appeared to be hidden — until her activation. Wow! Who knew that really dark-skin tends to pop in a way that can’t be replicated. How is it that it took this long to finally agree that The Most Beautiful Woman in the World — can actually compete with the moon — in the night sky.
The trend of embracing Blackness forced beauty brands that were revered for maintaining the momentum of a standard that is safely logical and profitable — to expand their reach in ways that would add cushion to the blow of being cautiously inclusive.
Lupita’s ride was inspirational, but it eventually came to an end. Her beauty is still as luminous as ever — and her contract with Lancôme appears to be legit— but she’s certainly not plastered all over the place with the same urgency that greeted her — not too long ago.
RiRi’s #FentyBeauty matters because it will transform the old-school narrative by giving it the reconstructive surgery it needs to survive the future.
As a woman who isn’t that young anymore — there are periods of nostalgia that drift by — anytime I get a whiff of the “more improved” portion that evaded my palette. It feels awesome to witness a young woman of color with enough power to build her own damn army — unleash the strokes that were missing in my youth.
It’s remarkable to watch a short movie with a cast that signals the things to come and a present that is shifting right under our feet. Feet planted for different reasons. Some take a stance to continue to let White be right. Others want to be right — regardless of how much White they might. And the rest of us want the right to be right for the sake of what’s right.
No matter how firm the ground feels — there is no doubt that Rihanna’s latest venture will once again transform an industry that has spent enough time hating women of color — who are too Black to deserve a skilled makeup artist at fashion shows or too dark to provide the imagery that million-dollar showrooms are woefully lacking.
We already know that Rihanna shines like a diamond — and now she will blind us with the truth through colored gems and varieties that teach a lesson in acceptance and the empathy we no longer require.
She’s a mogul who has mastered the market and comprehends what needs to be done in order to switch the game in a manner that finally relishes what has always been a fact — even if fabled fiction tries to disorient the view.
Black girls with black skin and profiles that beauty scientists can’t seem to fathom — have always mattered. And now it’s time to Work!