One of the questions I get asked often by rising beauty editors, writers or Black women working in predominately white spaces is: “How do I fight for diversity and inclusion?”
It’s simple: Every day I apply sunscreen, a bold lipstick (or hydrating lip balm) and slip into an outfit that makes me feel really good and get to fighting. But, truthfully, it can be isolating and discouraging advocating for Black women in the beauty industry when we are still largely overlooked and undervalued.
When I scroll through my Instagram feed and see another viral post from that family whose last names begin with “K” and “J” ripping off of our style, or I receive a pitch from a publicist that incorporates our language (#hotgirlsummer), I am reminded that we are indeed the lifeline they depend on to remain relevant. Because, we are beauty.
Hairstyles like Bantu knots and Fulani braids, which originated in our communities, have been “reimagined” as space buns and boho braids. Suddenly, they are trendy and chic when worn by white reality stars, models or actresses. The co-opting of Black culture also continues to be profitable, as entrepreneurs repackage our ingenious solutions as beauty “innovations” with outrageous price tags. And just to set the record straight: a white woman did not invent the satin bonnet.
So, whether you’re an editor at a top fashion magazine who doesn’t feel heard or seen in brainstorming meetings or a digital intern working way past “normal” office hours to craft pitches that your manager may consider, allow me to reignite your dimly-lit light with 5 ways to push for authentic representation of Black women in the beauty industry (and beyond):
- Use your platform as a tool to elevate our unique voices. I don’t take my position or platform for granted and neither should you. No matter where you are on the career ladder, as a Black woman no one can better tell your story than you. I’ve seen countless examples of non-people of color attempting to inform audiences about our experiences and it reads very forced and uninformed. Just keep in mind that while we as Black women do have shared realities, we aren’t monolithic. So illustrating the diversity within our community will shed light on our individuality as well.
- Find an ally at work to build a nurturing relationship where you champion one another. You need support. But you also need to reciprocate the lift that you receive from someone who believes in you. The beauty industry is surprisingly small, and the cohort of black editors, writers and professionals in this space is quite welcoming when the support is real. Invest in building genuine relationships that will not only influence your career, but make a meaningful impact on Black women in beauty.
- Speak up in the face of adversity. I’ve reached the point in my career and life where I am no longer afraid of being labeled as “the angry black woman.” Why? It’s become very apparent to me that my “resilience,” “authority” and “knowledge” is perceived as threatening. I refuse to be silenced when someone or something is unsettling to my existence. You’d be surprised how speaking up can gain you the respect and recognition that you deserve.
- Actively seek learning opportunities that will enhance your beauty knowledge. There is a saying that goes something like, “To be a great teacher, you must always be a student.” I don’t proclaim to know it all when it comes to beauty, but I do know a lot. And that’s because I’m constantly soaking up as much understanding from the masters and the novices. Whether that’s by emailing a chemist to inquire about a buzzy ingredient with lofty promises or taking a few minutes out of my hectic schedule to actively listen to a junior editor who can run circles around any veteran when breaking down the best edge control products, I’m forever learning.
- Purchase and promote brands, products and companies created by and for Black women that you believe in. Period. Nothing else to add or explain here.
Hey Beauties: Are you proud of or disappointed by how Black women are represented in the beauty industry? What does authentic representation of Black women in beauty look like to you? Share your thoughts in the comments section.