By: Piper Lewis
People constantly ask me where I come from- they’re expecting some interesting answer, and are always disappointed and confused when I tell them that I grew up in Altadena, California. To the people asking me this question, my answer is never enough. They don’t understand that a brown girl with curly hair could possibly hail from Altadena.
I feel like an alien when people ask me where I come from, like I’m supposed to respond I’m from the planet My Dad’s Black and My Mom’s White and That’s Why I Look Like This. I know that these questions are coming from a place of curiosity and not judgment- I’m unique looking, and I think I’m beautiful. I love my skin tone and my hair, but loving the way my skin looks has been a long time coming considering there are very few makeup companies that recognize women of color.
I feel like it’s such a taboo to talk about makeup since talking about cosmetics makes you seem vain. Women are supposed to be beautiful, but not self centered enough to actually be interested in how they look. It almost seems like we’re expected to roll out of the bed in the morning looking like Kendall Jenner (that would be amazing, don’t get me wrong), but this is impossible…unless you’re Kendall Jenner.
But for women of color, it’s so much harder to talk about makeup and about feeling confident in yourself and about being beautiful when in this day and age we’re told that black beauty is only considered beautiful on white women. A perfect example of this was at the 2015 Grammy Awards when Zendaya was horribly spoken about (by white women) for wearing her hair in dreadlocks- then white celebrities are applauded for wearing their hair in dreads, because it’s “edgy”.
As a young mixed race woman, it’s very hard to find women to look up to when it comes to beauty, because biracial women aren’t really honored within the fashion and makeup industry. As I’ve grown up, the two biracial women that I look up to most when it comes to beauty and general badassery are Zendaya and Misty Copeland. They’re really lucky because they have makeup artists to do their makeup for events, and these wizards can concoct a perfect foundation shade for them. But I’m expected to either buy my foundation from Target (or Sephora if I get a gift card), and there aren’t any companies that fully honor how being a woman with a mixed racial background affects your skin.
I don’t think it’s a personal attack against women of color, I just think that these drugstore makeup companies don’t understand how being mixed race or a woman of color affects your skin. I’m pretty pale, but have strong olive and yellow undertones. During the winter, I get really white, and during the summer I tan like it’s the end of the world.
When I was a baby, people thought I was white and often stopped my father on the street to ask why he had a white child. To which he would respond that I was his daughter, and that people should mind their own business. Well, he didn’t say that exactly, I’m embellishing because that pisses me off.
I didn’t really experience any more of that ignorance until this past October, when I asked my parents for makeup from MAC for my seventeenth birthday. When my mom asked the woman helping her for my foundation shade, the MAC employee was baffled at the fact that a white woman would be buying a brown foundation. It just doesn’t make sense!
I feel like the lack of recognition of women of color in the makeup industry shows that while we have made great strides against racism, some institutions haven’t caught up with the times. I don’t think makeup companies are trying to exclude women of color or multiracial backgrounds, they just don’t realize that our undertones, skin tones, and skin types are affected by the fact that we come from different racial backgrounds. A foundation in the bottle can look like it matches me perfectly, but once I put it on and it oxidizes, it then looks like I’ve put my mom’s foundation on.
High end makeup companies have a much larger variety of shades, but because they use better ingredients, they are much more expensive. Personally, I think that investing in high end makeup if you’re mixed race is a good idea, but there are a lot of people who can’t afford to do this. Which brings up the issue of drugstore makeup products again.
The lack of makeup for women of color in drugstores not only creates a racial divide in the makeup world, it also creates a socioeconomic one. I’m really lucky because my parents are willing to pay for high end makeup as gifts, but there are mixed race women who aren’t in such a position.
Walking into a drugstore is a crappy feeling because I don’t feel like I exist. And this feeling of isolation is reaffirmed when I read a magazine. It sucks when you don’t see anyone that looks like you in the media. Magazines are a monthly update on what’s beautiful, and when you’re never in it, it’s an awful feeling.
I don’t think that anyone needs makeup in order to be beautiful. I know that I’m beautiful without makeup. I love it. I love creating different looks and characters through makeup. I love the different transformations that you can be a part of. It’s fun. I feel grown up when my cat eye looks perfect, or when my foundation is perfectly blended, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I also realize that I’m still within the bubble of childhood.
I know that not every young girl likes or wants to wear makeup- I totally understand that, and I am in no way saying that they should! But if you’re a young girl that wants to wear makeup and play around with it, it should be accessible to you, no matter what racial background you have. I want to start an affordable makeup company geared towards biracial women which honors various skin tones and undertones that come along with coming from two different racial backgrounds.
Being mixed race is such a beautiful thing. I love how I look, and I love being a combination of the two cultures my parents come from. I want the world to start realizing that women of color are just as relevant and just as beautiful as the European standard of beauty.