How the Language of Beauty Needs to Change

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How the Language of Beauty Needs to Change
How the Language of Beauty Needs to Change
How the Language of Beauty Needs to Change

The language we use is important and has consequences.  Adjusting our language (or being aware of the impact of language) is a way we can reduce harm as individuals on an on-going basis. By being aware of how the word choices we make and whether there’s room for improvement, we really can make the beauty space more inclusive, respectful, and kinder.

Let’s Use Specific Descriptions

Is there any product that’s universally loved? Any?  Regardless of product category, price point, color, texture, or whatever, not everything works for everybody and that’s literally the point of having a billion brands and products released every year — something for everyone.  There are several examples of the language used under the guise of one-size-fits-all that need to change.

Nude is a concept, not a color.

The color of what is “nude” depends on who it is being applied to, and it really is a “me but better” kind of concept.  It’s the natural flush your skin makes when you blush, it’s your natural lip color but better, it’s your skin tone but more defined (through playing with light and dark).  A lot of brands use the word “nude” to describe something that is a shade of beige.  This is also done with words like flesh and skin.

It is infinitely more useful to describe something like, “This is my favorite nude [product type] on my [insert skin tone/coloring] because it enhances [color/undertone].” For me: This is my favorite nude lipstick on my light/light-medium, neutral-to-warm skin tone because it enhances the rosy undertones of my lips.  I’m so bothered by the word nude that I would rather say “my favorite lips-but-better lipstick is” than “my favorite nude is,” though.

Examples:

(Links go to product reviews, I’ve consciously not linked to any retailer in this post.)

Some of the brands above have more inclusive shade ranges in their foundation or concealer products, but even within those ranges, sometimes they still use Nude as if it is an actual color. Is the word “nude” really descriptive of a specific color or undertone or depth?  Would it not be better to describe it as “light beige, pink undertones” or “pale pink, neutral undertones” or “mid-tone brown, pink undertones” — would those descriptions not be more useful for everyone anyway?

A lot of times brands will be more descriptive for shades that might be “nude” in concept — NARS Belle du Jour is listed as “sheer nude beige,” but shades like Rosecliff (“satin soft rose”), Pigalle (“matte neutral pink chocolate”), Pour Tojours (“matte warm pink”), Tonka (“matte rose brown”) all get clearer descriptions but don’t use the word “nude.”

Some brands seem like they are trying to expand on what “nude” means, like Natasha Denona’s “I Need a Nude” Lipstick, which has 18 shades, or Pat McGrath having Flesh 3 / Flesh 5 under “Nudes” (along with several other shades) and neither are light beige.  Huda Beauty released three versions of their Nude Obsessions Palettes (Light, Medium, Rich).

Honestly, as customers, we would be so much better served by brands who were specific in their color descriptions across products. There are a lot of brands that use all sorts of names that indicate nothing about the color and don’t even bother to provide descriptions of colors, undertones, and/or finishes. Which is more useful to you as a consumer?

Description #1: Giggly Bot
or
Description #2: Giggly Bot, a light-medium green with muted, olive undertones, metallic finish.

Similarly, if you talk about products you love, whether as passing comments on forums or social media, or write reviews, whether on your own space or on a retailer, being more specific about how a color looks to you, on you, and what your characteristics are (that are relevant to that product type) goes a long way to making your recommendation/review have more value.

Universal? Far From It

The more aware you are of how different formulas, finishes, and colors work across skin tones, the more obvious it becomes that “universal” shouldn’t be used… but especially in context of color cosmetics.  Not only is it more useful to be descriptive and say, “This shade is so flattering on my [insert your skin tone, undertone, coloring details here] because it [does whatever]” than “This universal bronzer adds warmth to all skin tones!”

Hourglass Ambient Lighting Palettes are loved by a lot, but they have routinely been harder-to-use or have completely left deeper skin tones out of it.  The original trio is described as “three universal shades,” when I know readers have mentioned this is not the case. Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze/Glow originally came in one shade (probably not bronzing on anyone beyond medium) and described it as universal (it’s still described this way but now has a second duo available).

I’ll give you this: something that’s clear–colorless–like a lip balm could have greater mass appeal and wearability regardless of skin tone (but it’s not going to work well universally!).

Not Everything is For You

If there’s one thing I’ve tried to really, really build and enforce in my community is a respect for each person’s individual preferences.  A lot of the products covered here are from mainstream brands, who likely dump tons of money into figuring out what their demographic will purchase, so when a color gets released, they had someone in mind who wanted it.

It’s important that when making commentary about a product, especially when it’s in regards to its color, to speak in a way that clearly gives it as a personal opinion on that color on you.  When someone says something like, “Who would wear this?” it puts boundaries on what is or isn’t acceptable, what is or isn’t the “norm.” It implies that there’s something wrong with those who would wear it.

This often occurs when a highlighter is released in a shade more geared toward deeper skin tones, say in a copper, and you might see a flood of comments like “how is that a highlighter?” It is a highlighter… just not for you.  You might approach it from a different perspective going forward: “It would be too dark for me, but it has a gorgeous finish!” or “I love the color, but I’d use it as a shimmery blush!” or you might refrain from commenting since it’s just not a product for you (it doesn’t need to be!).

This also applies to your preferences.  Share your preferences without casting judgment on other people’s preferences.  If you don’t like blue eyeshadow, then that new blue eyeshadow palette isn’t for you, and that’s okay, but it doesn’t mean that someone who wears it is wrong/different for loving it.  Saying “That’s only for Halloween” or “That’s clown makeup” are typical expressions whenever a color is released that is nontraditional.  Again, center your opinion of a color to yourself: “That color wouldn’t work for me!” or “I don’t know how I would use that in my routine!” or–I know it is hard sometimes–you don’t have to participate in that conversation.

(Seriously, have you ever seen how mocked 1-star reviews are when they effectively say “wrong shade, one star”?)

Need for Gender Neutral Language

The continued, prevalent use of female pronouns in beauty is dangerous and doesn’t acknowledge the diversity of the community.  This ranges from the assumption that people in the community are all female to how retailers divide the beauty category into male and female product categories, which is first and foremost, not acknowledging the full spectrum of gender identity but also supports the idea of makeup is for women, not for men.

If you go to Nordstrom, Beauty is a separate section, but “men” remains a section and under “men” you’ll find select beauty product types; if you browse sale products, “beauty” shows up under “Women.”  If you go to Sephora, there’s a “Men” section, which only includes fragrance, skincare, shaving, hair, etc. products. Beautylish is pretty much all-beauty, and they only segment by gender under “Fragrance.” Some beauty brands’ direct shopping sites don’t categorize under gender, like Bite Beauty and MAC, but some do, like Clinique.

I became much more aware of this when I had a male reader reach out and said he felt included for the first time because I used “they” instead of female pronouns, and he appreciated that he was just included. This was many years ago, and it has stayed with me, and as I’ve learned more about gender identity in the last few years, trying to ensure I use gender-neutral language is something I try to be more and more aware of.

Let’s Learn Together

These are some of the ways I’ve changed my language over time.  “Nude” is probably the hill I will die on when it comes to language used in beauty. I try to use the term “beauty enthusiasts” over “beauty addicts” as I don’t want to encourage shopping addictions or rampant consumerism. I also try to be very aware of when I say “need” over “want” for similar reasons.  I’m not a huge fan of the term “wearable” because I feel like it isn’t a neutral descriptor, so I’ve been using “nontraditional,” though I’m not fully satisfied with that either.

What are some ways language in beauty could be improved? I’d love to learn from readers as well!

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Christine,
As a dark-skinned black woman who reads your blog daily, this post meant a lot! “Nude” is rarely nude for me, so certain brands don’t even catch my eye. I will say that the beauty industry has come a long way but there is still a long way to go.

You made an excellent point, that I did not even know how to articulate prior to you mentioning this. I don’t know how many times I have refrained from commenting on a release when I see someone post “WHO WOULD WEAR THAT?” or “THAT IS TOO DARK TO BE A HIGHLIGHTER?” It just kinda makes me shy away and feel, a bit discouraged, or unrecognized. You have always (in my opinion) done a great job at reviewing makeup objectively which I why I always come to your blog. But you addressed a very subtle, yet relevant example of not being sensitive to others who do not look like you.

Last point, if you find yourself reading this and think that I am being sensitive and it isn’t that serious about makeup, I encourage challenge yourself to think about the last time you felt underrepresented or hidden, maybe that MIGHT shift your perspective. What is happening in the world now is NOT a phase or fad for some of us, it is our every day life. Tired of hearing about it? Well, I am tired of living it 🙁

Ok rant over, I loved this post. Thank you, I will always support your work 🙂

I’m glad I could help articulate one of the ways that has been a point of pain for you, LeToya! 💕

I know you know this, but your last point reminded me of something else – part of suggesting these types of changes is because 1) they’re often things a lot of us do unknowingly (until pointed out) and once you know, I feel like they’re easy adjustments we can each make, and 2) makeup is supposed to be a fun space, not a place that triggers and further depletes your mental energy. Like you said, there’s a long way to go, but these are low-hanging fruits that we (as consumers) and brands (as the ones who name shades and write the descriptions) can easily adjust and reduce the microaggressions that permeate the beauty industry for BIPOC.

“Regardless of product category, price point, color, texture, or whatever, not everything works for everybody and that’s literally the point of having a billion brands and products released every year — something for everyone. ”

This statement is so valid from my point of view, but strangely from a different, slightly opposite perspective. Each time someone complains a brand doesn’t have a product, a texture or a color… I:m like… Why? There’s plenty of other things to choose from? Why waste your energy in something that doesn’t exist, when there are plenty options?
But still, I am somewhat hypocrite; because I did complain when a foundation was slightly to yellow, when I had to mix two foundation shades because even if the line had 40+ shades none matched me ideally, when my favorite eyeshadow was discontinued.
The good and the bad are in our human nature and unfortunately (and fortunately at the same time) we cannot change this fact, just our actions.

I think it depends on the context and how it’s being articulated, but complaints can indicate where a brand is lacking. This could be a diversity/inclusivity issue (lack of shade range that works across skin tones) or simply, “Wow, Natasha Denona, I love this formula but WOW, it’s too intense of a glow for me!! I’d love it if you had something subtle but with this texture!” it could be useful feedback for the brand. It can also be useful information if it’s conveyed in a review context, I think!

For example, a reader will ask why I don’t have XYZ brand, and I interpret it as, “Hey, I love your content, and I wish you covered XYZ brand, too!”

There are other instances where the opinion isn’t adding value to the conversation (potentially derailing it), too.

Hey Ana Maria,
No confusion but I am glad you commented because I do want to answer your question. While you make a valid point, for a long time and currently with some brands, there are NOT options at all for my deep complexion and as a makeup enthusiast, I want to try the latest and most exciting makeup formulas. However, I have learned that some brands just aren’t marketed towards me so I made peace with that and focus on the ones that are. Thanks for the commentary 🙂

So much this. Some of my beauty enthusiast buds have this exact same issue.

Only in the recent years have they started making color correctors for darker skin colors. They HAD to get creative and go to stage makeup. And the formula thing is a big deal. BareMinerals has this issue with its Veil setting powder. My friend loves that they have her color but the darkest veil, when they finally came out with it was way too light for her.

It really is one of those things hard to articulate but you hit the nail on the head. When someone’s skintone has long been a close match for the shades advertised as ‘universal’ or ‘nude’ they can actually start to think of themselves in that way, and then you see reviews from them decrying a product’s worth because it wasn’t formulated with their tone in mind. You are not being sensitive!

Thank you for this, LeToya! I support you!! I know Black women have had major issues with shade ranges for years, and I am happy that y’all are finally getting the recognition that you deserve from this industry that’s wanted to profit off of your beauty but never include you for years. As a white woman, I have been rooting for this for a long time, and I will continue to support the heck out of Black-owned businesses that show why inclusion is real and important. And you’re right, this is about so much more than just makeup. Makeup is the tip of the iceberg!

Recently, I saw that Crayola released new skin shade crayons, partnered with some dude from MAC, to give kids more options for coloring human skin tones, and while I don’t know if we can credit Pat McGrath, Beauty Bakerie, Juvia’s, Fenty, and brands like that 100%, we can see that these steps towards inclusion matter far beyond just our day-to-day makeup.

I will say that there is still a lot more work to do. Those Sydney Grace palettes that come in Dark and Light versions need to become the norm, honestly, and more brands need to get on board with expanding their shade ranges. If you can’t represent people in your foundation then maybe don’t sell foundation til you can!

Thank you, Stephanie!
Your comment and support means a lot. I agree, inclusivity is so important! I love the idea for the crayons. I work as a counselor in a diverse school district (which I LOVE), so I can’t wait to get them for my office as it has been hard to explain to a 5 year old why there is no crayon that looks like their skin color (from my middle eastern babies up to those from Uganda).

Here is the article where I first saw them: https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/22/us/crayola-skin-tone-crayons-trnd/index.html

It talks a little about how they came up with the colors and stuff. I am in education too, and I cannot tell you how many times just in the past three years I’ve been doing it that students (mine were adults) completely changed when they knew that they were actually being seen. For younger students that absolutely could come from a crayon, so I think it’s amazing that we are making this kind of progress.

Keep doing good work too, and I hope your students love it as much as I think they will!

“It just kinda makes me shy away and feel, a bit discouraged, or unrecognized.”

LaToya, this actually teared me up. I am so sorry you felt invisible. Big hugs sweetie. You do matter and don’t deserve to feel that way.

That last point is absolutely perfect, LeToya. I do wish there was more empathy is discussions about inclusion. It’s not “being sensitive” to want to be acknowledged!

Latoya, you have expressed the exact same feelings I have. As a woc, I have come to understand that “universal” and “nude” Really means not for me. There are so many things I have seen and have said to myself “I wish they made another version for deeper skin tones.” I have to applaud brands like huda, who made the nude palettes in 3 different versions. Becca and Jaclyn Hill who made highlight palettes in 2 versions. And of course all the brands who have 40+ foundation shades, so we can all find have a chance at finding the right match. I hope other brands will evolve and really have more inclusive products. Thank you Christine for posting this article.

The idea of how descriptors shape our perceptions is something I’ve been mulling over for a while now, and your post addressing specific instances is timely and well-said. Inclusiveness has been a low priority for beauty companies, and it’s disappointing.

In addition to your points, I’ve realized I don’t like the word “haul” particularly as a verb (but it’s also part of the current vernacular and I don’t judge anyone who says it) and don’t say it anymore because I personally feel it plays into what I’ve come to think of as ‘accumulative tendencies’ in beauty (not counting reviewers such as yourself Christine! You are very encouraging of thoughtful purchasing), and have decided to think of my own collection in only respectful terms that delineate the thought I put into my purchases, and how I value them. I hope that makes sense.

I also like Lisa Eldridge’s lipstick website, which is both inclusive of skintones and doesn’t present them in a formulaic gradating order– and uses thoughtful, accessible language when describing the individual lipstick shades. Out of curiosity I double-checked and she doesn’t use the term “nude” at all that I can see.

Yes, I strongly dislike the word haul too, for my taste it screams too loud t
‘ compulsive buying’ . Sometimes, seeing influencers’ videos such as as ‘my new haul from sephora’ with dozen if new products bought weekly (or more often), I’m very concerned about where the beauty community (or at least a part of it, headed by the so called influencers) is leading us. Luckly enough, there are still some few blogs, like this, which encourage smart and mindful purchases

I like this whole discussion about hauls and avoiding phrases like “make-up addicts” and I appreciate that Christine handles even this with care. Most people are very careful with addictions when it comes to food or drugs, but there are many types of addictions and it can be triggering for some people, while for most it’s just a lightheaded topic.

I remember I updated “free for haul Friday” to haul/discoveries” for this reason – so you don’t have to buy something to participate but maybe you can share a product you’ve rediscovered!

Excellent points, Lauren! Especially about how haul can be perceived, I definitely can see how that has affected my spending in the past. Now I am really trying to be more conscious, so that hit the nail on the head for me. Thanks for sharing 🙂

I have seen people bring up issues with the word “purge” as well, as it is heavily associated with eating disorder behavior and recovery and therefore can be somewhat triggering. That’s one I have been trying to delete from my vernacular in favor of “destash.” Language matters, and it may seem like such a small thing, but the more conscious AND precise we are, the easier we can navigate this world of ours.

I do agree that Christine is very pro-“make your own decision about this product” vs. other bloggers/influencers who are just “omg buy buy buy” without much critical reflection or thinking past that initial hit of endorphins. Using the Vanity feature here really has helped me curb my impulse spending so much, just because it’s so easy to see dupes, and no matter how cool or pretty or LE a thing is, I probably have something that I can appreciate just as easily. Very little of the beauty world online is about that!

Great article highlighting that the industry still has a long way to go with the language it uses for products. Its great to see brands expanding ranges and whats available but the language used needs to catch up with this.

Any suggestions of brands that are at the forefront of this? Fenty jumps to mind but I’d love to see more suggestions.

Brands owned by BIPOC tend to be better, but even brands that I consider to be very socially aware, like MAC (who has one of the greatest charitable projects in the industry, Viva Glam) and often have been inclusive for a very, very long time still has room to improve, IMO.

One of the things I love about Fenty is their marketing – there’s a lot of diversity in the shade ranges, across product types, as well as in their marketing and what they publish to their feed. Even Fenty describes the shade Unbutton as a “peachy nude,” but describes Unveil as “chocolate brown” and Uncuffed as “rosy mauve” – even though all three are sold as a “universal” trio of “nudes.”

“or–I know it is hard sometimes–you don’t have to participate in that conversation.”

I certainly don’t expect moving social commentary from your site – no judgement, it’s not what I come here for! – but this whole piece was well organized and made several excellent points. It also functions as a good list of brands to avoid when I’m making a purchase, until they clean up their casually insensitive labeling.

That quote in particular is gold. If ONLY we could all opt to just NOT participate a lot more often, on all topics, from beauty and favorite books, to politics and religion. There’s a lot of us in this world, which means it’s my turn to talk a whole lot less often than it is my turn to listen, or at the very least, to just quietly go away if someone else is talking and I don’t like it, but it’s not hurting anyone.

Social interaction in a virtual world has given us the often priceless opportunity to listen to a lot of people we’d otherwise never have met. It also gives us the opportunity to spout off as often as we want – often anonymously. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more of us regularly invoking the latter privilege, and rarely the former.

It feels like my faith in humanity takes two steps back for every step forward lately, so THANK YOU for being an extra step forward.

Thank you Christine for this post !!! I saw a few time people were getting frustrated that Pat MGrath was “too dark”, well as a black women myself I’m glad to not find be super light beige in her palette. I love the dark matte too.

I wish more brands offered a go-to “neutral” quad by skin tone – like “here is a brow bone highlighter, a transition shade, a deepening shade, and a blending shade” and then (at least) three depths. Then, you could pair this with ANY palette and it would be a lot less necessary to have so many palettes with so many very light shades.

I don’t bother so much now (kind of use whatever is closest in a given palette), but I loved Burberry Trench eyeshadow (a single) as my brow bone highlight because it just suited my skin tone so well – I would happily use that as my go to brow bone shade and not want it in a palette (just taking up space for a more fun color!).

Diane, this is frequently my complaint (I’m pale) – I often lament the lack of a highlight shade for my needs in a palette because, well, it’s makeup and we all want what is easy or convenient. I hope I qualify it that way – I really hope I have and if I haven’t then I am sorry and apologize because words do matter and contrary to the children’s rhyme “names (and words) CAN and DO hurt”.

Recently one of the brands – one I don’t have access to like Colour Pop or Sydney Grace – came out with a lighter and deeper version of the same eyeshadow palette (and when I looked at them, I realized I wanted BOTH). I think that is a good and forward thinking move (and a good business move too).

Mariella, you don’t need to apologize. If you are frustrated because a lot of palette are too rich, that’s ok. The complains that I felt a type of way was people that were surprised that Pat McGrath shadows are saturated in colors and were nearly wondering who wear them … I was annoyed because she is a black women, it’s logic that she is doing shades that will appear on her skintone !!!! The Sydney Grace palette was a great idea. I know Huda did it too !!!

It’s the seemingly little things, sometimes… my personal hill is trying to eradicate “fair” from my description of skin tone. It’s hard to do out of habit, but etymologically, “pale” is much more neutral, whereas fair is much more loaded with connotations of goodness, justice and beauty. Terms like medium and deep don’t have those same associations and are much more neutral, so I think it’s important to not then use an adjective that implies beauty to describe the lightest skin tones. Like I said, hard habit to break though!

That is an interesting point, Julie! I will think on this, too. I know that–at least online–the notion of “pale princess” is not usually used in a positive way, but I will look into other alternatives as well.

I was just thinking about that recently. I have a multi-melanated family and was talking to my children about the beautiful variety of skin tones we all have. I defaulted to “fair” to describe my shade as it’s familiar, but I caught myself wondering about the inherent implication of beauty in that word. I too am going to try to use pale more often.
Christine, thank you for consistently applying conscious work to creating an inclusive space.

That’s very interesting! As a non native English speaker, I always assumed that while ‘fair’ had positive connotations, ‘pale’ had negative connotations as in ‘sickly pale’. Having to chose between a positive and a negative sounding word to describe a person, I had then of course always called people the positive one. In German we usually use the word for ‘light’, which to me therefore sounds neutral but in the american makeup market mostly isn’t the lightest shade in a range (meaning that e.g. the shades ‘fair’ or ‘porcelain’ are lighter than the shade ‘light’). You have given me a lot to think about!

Here’s hoping that all the “we’re listening” they posted about means they’re still paying attention! 😬

What a thoughtful, thought-provoking and informative post. I’m sure many of us – whatever our skin colour or tone – has wondered about this whole “nude” descriptor. Whose nude? How nude? I really enjoyed reading this and agree with so much of what you wrote, including the need for a gender neutral singular pronoun that doesn’t sound as snooty as “one”.

Thank you so much for this, Christine. When the world is catered to one’s worldview, skin tone, gender, etc, privilege gets in the way of seeing that other people’s experiences are likely very different. That’s a hard message to hear for a lot of people, but it is so important to hear.

I will also say that one of the most helpful and most crucial things is educating people on why this matters, and I think you’ve done a good, fair job of that here. There are TONS of men and non-binary/non-gender conforming people who wear makeup, and during Pride month of all times we should remember that, because all that corporations care about is making money off of the concept of pride and inclusion. Inclusion and welcome to the community doesn’t happen until WE do it, and I am so proud that you are doing it.

As a white person, I have dedicated a lot of my life undoing my own internalized white supremacy–which is what this is. The makeup industry at large caters to white clients first and foremost and there are about a billion examples of this!–as well as trying to teach others critical thinking so that they can make up their minds for themselves on where they stand on issues. Even though I am a teacher by trade, I know that the learning never stops once you “get woke” or leave school or whatever. Sometimes we slip up and make mistakes because we are human, but putting in the effort to consciously try to make the world a little safer and happier for everyone is worth the heartbreak and discomfort and anger and sadness and disappointment that opening our eyes brings us, at least for me.

It being Pride month definitely the idea of gender neutral pronouns more poignant. Sephora Stands has done a lot of videos showing how diverse the community is, including with respect to gender identity, but I feel like we don’t really see it reflected in how products are organized on retailers. I expect that it will be a long while before we see less reliance on male/female as categorizations.

I know when we built the user profiles, we deliberately omitted gender (I think this was ~2013ish) as part of the profile (which does have things like age range, eye color, skin tone, skin type, etc.). Though in the last two years, I’ve wondered if asking for the information but providing many options would be better or neutral.

I think adding more options is always better, if you are going to ask for it. I don’t like that in the beauty industry it always seems to default to female. It’s very alienating, at least for me personally, to be only presented with the binary and having it be a required field.

Oh for sure, if asking, all applicable options (including something like “decline to answer”), but I’m wondering if it’s worse to not ask at all vs. asking (and providing multiple options)! Like I’m wondering if people want to declare their gender loudly and proudly as part of their profile.

If it can be hidden I think it’d probably be the best of both worlds. I think demographic information is important, but also allowing people who aren’t comfortable sharing it openly to hide it until they are comfortable is very beneficial.

I think that you’ve built a lot of mutual trust with your readers and that’s shown in how effectively you’ve used this platform to engage and educate. You really do listen to what’s going on in the world and with the members of the community here, and that’s what sets you apart in my book. And that’s why we all keep coming back.

Nice point Christine! Maybe it’s a bit off topic with the meaning of your post, but I will also add that beauty language could also improve if some brands stop to using drugs, alchoo and very vm
explicit sex acts as naminig for their products! I am not a puritane, not at all, and some slightly allusive or sensual names that could indeed fit a certain type of product, but there are some other examples which cross the edge between something funny and something vulgar

Yes, definitely off-topic. I think it’s important to not de-rail this conversation. These two issues are nowhere near the same level of importance, we are talking about the ongoing struggle with diversity in beauty and the cosmetics industry, in light of ANOTHER murder of a black man in the United States. It’s time to pause and self-reflect and build on what Christine is addressing here. Also re: explicit products names etc, you might also take Christine’s advise of just realizing not everything may be for you, and that’s ok, so you can leave it. It’s definitely appreciated by someone else out there.

Such a great post! I love the take on a HIGHLY relevant topic, making it both relevant and important both for the current situation and for the beauty community. Excellent work, and excellent examples on how we can all improve ♥️

Christine you are my favourite writer in the industry and continue to impress. You describe everything so eloquently in ways I wish I could.

I have been an avid reader of your blog for 10 years. I read it every single day. I have never commented. I wanted to say thank you for this article and for all the positive contributions you’ve made to this industry. You are a legend to me and to so many others, Christine.

Very good article, Christine, especially when so many companies still carry foundation ranges in nothing but beige. I also appreciate your mention of “Halloween” and “clown makeup.” I get so tired of hearing that. A few years ago, I recognized I was doing the same thing by calling neutral collections “boring.” I actually love a pretty neutral, so I’ve been trying to be more specific. Such as: “the shades all have the same undertone, which doesn’t interest me” or “not my thing, but it’s a nice range,” if I have to say anything at all.

That’s awesome, Rachel! I remind myself that 1) brands like to make sure they have the “answer” to current trends (hence why every brand had to have a “neutral” palette!), and 2) there are new people entering into beauty or previous fans who are returning, so maybe they haven’t yet found their perfect XYZ product that seems like same ol’ same ol’ to those who of us who have been here for years.

In general, I’ve tried to put more energy and focus on things I enjoy/like and give less space to something that’s not my cup of tea – in all aspects of my life! I feel like it’s shifted my mood upwards, slightly.

Thank you for the great article Christine! You put the right emphasis on language.

I personally am to the viewpoint that we all stand equal, while acknowledge that our cultural, biological and physiological characteristics makes us different.
But I grew up in a non-diverse small city in an East-European country; I went to college in a big city, but again, not so much diversity. I didn’t have any prejudice, but I didn’t had the language. Until I moved to the US, I couldn’t understand how language can hurt. How can the fact I don’t mean something wrong, it doesn’t mean than my language is appropriate. For example, I couldn’t understand how black face can be wrong; don’t people dress up and wear costumes for many occasions?
But I have learned through the patience of my diverse co-workers who corrected me when I was wrong. Maybe some people would have even reported me to HR; but they choose to show me their viewpoint and even when I didn’t understood why people are offended, I understood they are offended and it’s their right to be offended.

Word choice is so important and I deeply appreciate this post pointing out gaps in inclusivity and how it doesn’t even help the accuracy of color descriptions. I also enjoyed reading the comments and I hope brands are paying attention. I’ve always appreciated this blog for its description of color–it helps the artist in me understand the color. Thanks so much!

I don’t think I would mind “nude” if it was used for a wide range to describe various shades of skin and undertones. But I think your post about “nude” can apply to so many things. Funny thing – I was shopping for underwear yesteday looking for “nude” shades and realized that nothing that was labeled “nude” was warm or dark enough (NC30/35 golden olive neutral). I ended up searching for “brown” to find more suitable stuff.

Sunscreen is another area that is a pet peeve of mine — especially those that say “no white cast” for mineral suncreens. About 90% of the time they leave a white cast. I was thrilled when I saw Venus Williams come out with a line for mineral sunscreen.

I feel we absolutely need to change our language and direction in beauty. Many of the new generation of children in my asian family are mixed and all across the spectrum in skintones and there needs to be more representation of what “nude” can mean. As we become more integrated the beauty industry will need to do so as well. Language certainly needs to change so that the beauty industry is truly speaking to a global audience.

“I don’t think I would mind ‘nude’ if it was used for a wide range to describe various shades of skin and undertones.”
My thoughts exactly, Cherie!

Oh, that’s so great! I’m happy to have helped. I have Knix bras in a few different styles and colors, but not this particular cut/support – I hope it works out for you! At the very least, it’s nice to see brands approaching their products in a way that is more appealing to how a range of people shop. Have a good one!

I’m a loyal reader of yours, Christine, but this is the first time I’ve commented. THANK YOU for these thoughtful words, you’ve taken so many of my thoughts and feelings and put them beautifully. Please keep up the good work, I appreciate all you do. Give Mr. Mellon a scratch from me. 😘

It’s not just the makeup that keeps me coming to Temptalia, it’s also these excellent, to the point editorials on the far more important aspects of the beauty industry, and the changes that need to happen going forward. The beauty world language does need to become far more inclusive and sensitive to the feelings of ALL its consumers. This is long overdue. Some of the most irksome ones to me, personally, are the terms “universal” and “nude”. Because when I was first getting back into makeup around 11 years ago, “nude” lips were becoming the thing. Well, it took many an awkward try on to realize that those “nudes” so popular then, like MAC Creme d’ Nude, just weren’t going to work on me. Nude for many still isn’t nude for most! And “universal” is just… don’t even get me started, because that one literally burns my biscuits.

I appreciate how conscientious you are with your word choice and having been a follower since my teen years and now in my late 20s, it has allowed me to make intelligent and knowledgeable purchases for products that actually work for my skin tone. I have very yellow undertones and my lips are very rosy so I find it challenging to find a “nude” lipstick that suits me. I am no longer purchases beigey lipsticks that wash me out, I am now being more mindful to find shades that enhance my natural lip color.

Vague product descriptors are maddening to try to make purchases online particularly when images are unclear and could be misleading. It also frustrates me when people will leave terrible reviews on products commenting on how they think it is a bad product simply because it is the wrong shade and not considering the formula and performance. Those reviews are so important to online purchasing and can easily influence purchasing or not purchasing.

Thank you for this excellent post and emphasizing how “universal” is just marketing that does not truly reflect actual inclusivity.

What a wonderful post! While I generally try to personalize my makeup experience in my comments, I am certain I have slipped up on more than one occassion. If I have ever offended anyone or made someone feel excluded, I apologize from my heart and endeavour to try harder. We are all one. We all can and must do better. Xoxo 🤗😘

Thank you for this Christine. In my experience, this is part of how consciousness changes. And therefore, how change happens: more and more people become aware and start questioning and changing otherwise embedded habits and presumptions around tons of “small” and more obviously large parts of life . I think it’s about understanding the partial and particular experience of being you, rather than assuming you are universal and everyone else is “different”. Yes we have deep things that unite us as humans, and also, that no one group’s experience should be taken as ‘the norm’, imo. Thank you for inviting this community into the dialogue.

I also think that the word “fair” to describe pale-skinned people, should be used differently as well. “Fair” implies inherent beauty and is actually a really loaded word… I learned more about that this week in my research with BLM.

I love this post. It’s positively cringe-worthy when I see something pushed as universal or the like. I hated the original pillow talk and my coworker and I mocked it endlessly. Only until she released the medium and dark did I finally get the dark one. I also don’t like wearing pastels, pinks or purples but I think they look fabulous on others. They just don’t work for me.

I come from a mixed background (Spanish/Italian, Creole, & Asian) on my mother’s side. I used to struggle with foundations when I started using them, ironically in the winter I was thrilled when medium and darker foundations started respecting different undertones. I used to have to mix 3 different colors to get decent coverage and work with my undertones. I actually learned this when hanging out with some drag queen friends in the early 90s. I really admire the brands that have started to respect that medium and darker skin has as many variations of undertones like paler skin does.

I am also so grateful for the expanded “nude” lip colors. I was actually kind of surprised when a Sephora worker tried to push me towards a lighter color when I was looking at the ND nude lip range. I told her I didn’t need her help. “Nude colors” or “universally flattering” flesh colors make me look washed out and look like I have chalk on my lips because of my undertones. And I have given lighter nude lippies to my fairer friends if I purchase something online that was a miss.

I was honestly surprised though at how “universally” flattering ND’s cheek quads work for most people. Now that is not to say what may be a bronzer on me won’t be a highlighter on someone with a darker skin tone. And I have both of Charlotte Tilbury’s Filmstar Bronze/Glow palettes. Both are fabulous and the both bronzing shades make excellent contour shades for me depending on the time of year. I think people would be surprised at what they could be missing out by limiting themselves to products based on targeted skin color.

I also remember discrimination for my uncle who was very dark in the 70s. One time, someone asked me if I was “safe” when he took me to a book store in Georgia and I remember running to him thinking they were going to take me away. I’m also quite fortunate overall with my family from the Keys. I remember growing up kind of color blind…the only thing that made a difference in how you get treated was if you were a jerk or not. I always felt culture shock when I was a kid after spending time there and going somewhere else. I hated how I looked when I was younger and hated questions about my ethnicity. I grew more confidant as I got older. I lived in a certain state after hearing derogatory comments aimed my way and could only imagine how much worse it is for others who are darker. I was older though and always snapped back that I’m human and bleed red. Ticked me off.

I have also been a big Ouidad hair product fan for over 25 years. I love how she addresses all the different types of curls…NOT a one size fit all. I believe her from Lebanon and having a passion for curls really has contributed to her expanded line. I learned to care for my curls from my African American friends growing up. Also, “nude” pumps. I always wanted a pair but the “nude” colors looked white on me. When I finally saw something that was diverse, they were out of my size. Same thing with “nude” clothing.

Again, thank you for this. I didn’t even realize until I started typing this out that I had avoided “nude” products like the plague. I’m hoping your recent interview with Allure brings people here. I’d love to see a beauty magazine pick this up or brands that work with you take note. I’ve bookmarked this post and have already forward to my gorgeous friends who will love this.

We’ve definitely seen some improvement in applying the concept of nude across more shades, but it is really impressive (in a bad way) how prevalent it still is as a single-shade name despite making strides in offering greater complexion ranges — just shows there’s still a lot of room for improvement!

Thank you for sharing your stories! I enjoy hearing about your experiences!

I agree. I believe there is a lot of room for improvement. But it is encouraging to see more brands coming out with a range of nude colors. I especially appreciate this with lip colors. I’ve noticed other brands starting to catch on. I’m also very glad to see swatches online are starting to show how they look on different skin tones. But many brands can do better.

Wow. Thank you for this post. One thing that has impressed me mightily over the last few years as some brands expand their color ranges or new ones with broader ranges emerge is that you test them with zero comment. Like the highlighter issue you mentioned – you wear all of them as you would wear a highlighter made just for you. You never say “Well this is obviously not a highlighter on me.” You just show it. You have always stood alone in this industry and this post shows why. Will always support you and your work.

Part of why I prefer / try (sometimes, it’s not feasible, budget-wise!) to review all shades in a range… because you don’t actually know who’s looking for what shade. It also means that even less popular shades get reviewed, since many formulas are inconsistent to some degree!

Thank you, Lela!

Thank you so much, Christine, for pointing this out! I wish someone had done this before, but I’m so grateful to you for raising awareness of our use of descriptives. It’s necessary now more than ever.
You have always described colors specifically and well, and your swatches are my go-to. I appreciate
your blog, always have.

Thank you for this! I always try to be intentional about what words I choose in general, but it’s nice to be reminded again. The concept of “universal” anything is I think what bothers me the most (in all areas, not just makeup). The idea that there is *anything* that “everyone” likes/should like/is/should be/does/should do can be hurtful to people who fall outside of that category (whether it’s about skin color, physical appearance in general, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, relationship status, religion, or even seemingly frivolous things like taste in music). I wish more people would realize that just because someone is not a fan of a certain food or movie that “everyone” likes, it doesn’t mean that they’re weird, or that it doesn’t mean something is wrong with them because they don’t want something that “everyone” wants in life (as an example, I have zero interest in having children for various reasons, and the amount of “what’s wrong with you, *everybody* wants kids!” comments I’ve gotten is just ridiculous).

(Sidenote: it’s interesting to read your thoughts on the term “nude” and how you prefer to say “my lips but better” because those are two different conceps to me. To me “nude” for my skintone is a lighter color, more of a pale pinky beige, whereas “my lips but better” on me is more of a medium, slightly mauvey rose type shade. This isn’t meant to be a criticism at all, it’s just always interesting to me how people can interpret things so differently!)

Anyway, thank you for posting this!

You forgot about “Wait X more years’ or “Wait until you get 25/30/35”, “You’ll change your mind once you find the right person”.

But the whole discussion is just bothersome for people who don’t want children.
The hardest is on the people who can’t have them and don’t necessarily share their struggles (miscarriages, infertility, etc.) with everyone inquiring about having children.

Definitely. My response the second one is “well, if they want kids then they’re not the right person for me” but it’s really frustrating.

And you’re right. People that say those kinds of things don’t know that the person they’re talking *doesn’t* desperately want them and can’t have them, and they don’t even think about how potentially hurtful that could be.

I honestly don’t understand why it’s so hard for some people to realize that not everyone is like them.

I would like them to lose the sexual innuendos (language) and foul language – Tom Ford, NARS and Two Faced are the biggest offenders. I refuse to buy any Tom Ford products because I find the names of some of his products offensive. It’s just not needed and it’s FAR from classy in my opinion.

Urban Decay also. I love the lippie color “Backdoor” and my mother coveted it. This past Christmas with my whole family sitting around opening gifts, I got her another tube. She asked how does “Backdoor” have to do with a tan color. All of a sudden my brothers, husband and stepkids were rolling on the floor as I delicately tried to explain what it meant and no Mom, had nothing to do with the color.

Thank you, Christine! I appreciate your willingness to draw attention to ways that we can all serve and celebrate diversity.

Excellent post Christine! I completely agree with your comments about shade names and the lack of accurate color descriptions, especially since so much is bought online.

We as a society need to be more inclusive, and I think some brands understand that. Others not so much. Thanks again for this well said and timely commentary.

As someone who has never been able to figure out what a “men’s” fragrance is or why, I’ve always preferred them to things traditionally called for “women”. I don’t want to smell like food, flowers or musk. I’d rather smell like grass, trees, water or wood. I’ll find something that’s really “me” that I love and someone in a description somewhere will say “this is for men”. Well, not really. It might not be for that particular woman, but it’s much more something I might pick and love for me.

Have you ever looked into any indie fragrance brands? There’s a lot of great atmospheric options out there! One of my favorites is During the Rain from Solstice Scents: “petrichor, soaked Earth, limestone, loam, clay and wet concrete.”

I loved this post. I’m a fair skinned Asian but am always frustrated when ‘nude’ underwear is beige. Yes it’s nude on me but not on everyone, why not call it beige?!

I think the language used around the beauty industry is often heavily sexualised and lots of brands buy into this hype (Nars, UD, PMG. Too Faced etc), without being cogniscent about how offensive some of their product names are. It”s as if the customers would think these names are ‘cool’. They’re not – they are just offensive.
I know that brands have generally made an enormous effort over the past 5-10 to diversify their range and include more products for those of all skintones – and so they should!
Australian makeup brands are completely behind the times when offering foundations in a limited range. I think of all the Koorie and African-Australian girls, who would never be able to find a foundation match with our brands and wonder why our brands are so colour blind.

THANK YOU.

As someone on the asexual spectrum, heavily sexualized shade names turn me off so, so much. :/

Oh Christine! You are a gem! You definitely fill my cup! I am so glad that I stumbled onto to this site years ago. You speak for so many people and put it in words so genuinely. Keep doing what you do you Christine, we love it.

Thank you. ♡

100% agree that “nude” isn’t a color. It just isn’t helpful when only one shade (beige) is considered “default” and everything else an aberration of said default.

Also thank you for addressing the gendered language that’s still very rampant in the beauty industry. As an AFAB non-binary make-up lover, it gets frustrating to feel like I have to give up my gender at the door if I still want to entertain what is now a special interest of mine.

I’m also highly repulsed by the idea that liking beauty products and presenting ~feminine~ automatically MAKES me a woman — Because that’s 100% not how gender works. Non-binary folx don’t owe anyone androgyny. Not to mention, cis women who aren’t into make-up don’t usually have to give up their gender, either!

I feel like this binary categorizing is a problem in the fragrance industry as well, and I wish they’d just use descriptions instead of gender-based categories! “Floral” and “Gourmand” are certainly more informative than “Feminine”.

Just. Use inclusive language. My dislike for capitalism aside, companies will actually expand their consumer base by doing so, and in turn makes more money. (See also: The depressing reality that is the plus size clothing industry, because companies would rather lose money than to be seen catering to us)

The product is $xx value.

$xx is price. Not value. Value is what people are willing to pay for it. You shouldn’t tell people how much they should value a product. Two lipsticks with the price of $10 may be of different values to two people. They might even be $0 in value.

Hello Christine,

I became a member yesterday because I have really enjoyed your articles, swatches and reviews and I am once again blown away by your thoughtfulness and eloquence. In these days and ages where many a brand slaps on a rainbow or a BLM sticker for a couple of weeks to market themselves as ‘woke’, you have written them a guide on how to be an ally to the communities in their actual products. Brava!

Love from Germany,
Sharon

THANK YOU !!! I am so pissed off by the judgment made on certain shades, like you need a special permission to enjoy your makeup. It’s just colours, so you wear it wherever and whenever you want !

For example, one of my favourite shade ever for cheeks is Drop of a hat by Colour Pop. You can see it is designed for darker skin tones in mind, but I assure you that on my very light skin (think MAC N10) it looks stunning. Just because something isn’t made with you in mind doesn’t mean you are not allowed to enjoy it.

One that really bothered me–and stood out–was when Bite released a brown shade of lipstick for their Astrology collection, and a lot of people called it “poop brown,” which is a really awful way to describe a color that is actually the color of some people’s SKIN!! And I’m sure someone who commented about the lipstick being “poop brown” wouldn’t think to say that to someone about their skin tone – but that’s why words matter!

I had to pause my reply to you, I still am so shocked by what you describe. I remember this collection, Leo was gorgeous. And this brown shade had an incredible 80’s feel to it from my point of view. Those people really need to be more tolerant and human toward others.

Thanks for this post. The Not everything is for you part is something that I see regularly in comments and it drives me bananas. Why do people feel like they have to comment and say that a product is too dark to be a highlighter or whatever the case? Just move along!

Thanks, Christine! Well-thought out as usual! Re: fragrances, I have to (and I encourage others to) carefully read the fragrance notes and reviews every time if I am blind-buying a scent because I don’t care what gender a brand is trying to market to, I know what I want to smell like! Gendering fragrance for marketing just confuses the whole thing sometimes.

Same with swatches, and I always check for yours because the lighting is so accurate, I am a light skin tone and many shades in blush (for an example) are brighter on me than I prefer to wear or I feel they are too pigmented for my preference, the term “wearable” is so useless!

Thank you again for your ongoing engagement with these issues, being vocal, and for testing so many shades in a range of products! I appreciate everything you do and this is also my first comment on here.

Yep, fragrance is very much binary and really, a breakdown by type/category is more useful than gender.

Thank you, Lauren! Welcome–at least from a commenting perspective! 🙂

I come at this as an aspie who has a rigid view of the world and who’s brain can only focus on a few things at a time coupled with short term memory issues.This applies to people as well, which makes things interesting, especially with my face blindness.

I am in favor of niche and targeted brands and markets. Brands with too many products,product types,shade ranges and colors overwhelm me and turn me off from purchasing them.I don’t boycott,though I suppose choosing one over the other is an implicit boycott at times,but begrudge others that right.

I’ll also admit that guys in obvious make up freak me out for some reason but that’s a me issue.

I don’t have a dog in the shade name fight.Honestly I don’t usually notice them unless I need to use it to find a product or if it’s puny.

Mind you my favorite brand in Clinique because it has the perfect pigmentation (though sometimes it can be too pigmented) and style for me.My make up style is mid 2000s mixed with if you see I’m wearing make up you’re too close.

I am looking for an eye shadow trio,quad or palette with only light to mid tone satin or shimmery shades.No mattes or dark smokey colors.Any suggestions?

It is good that you recognize it’s a “you” issue and hopefully, it’s something you’ll be able to move past in the future!

Chanel tends to have the most satin/shimmer quads, though obviously at a higher price point! Smashbox has some trios that might catch your eye but sometimes include one matte shade.

Yeah,I have things I’m working on but changing automatic reactions is tough.

Chanel has gorgeous eye shadows and I’ve liked Smashbox’s products in the past.

I might need to look into singles.I tend to just use one color on my lid and one as a highlight unless I need to do more formal make up.

This is an incredible article. I learn a lot from how you write your posts, and also how you to respond to comments. Great use for your voice in the industry, and great place to spark a discussion!

I’m chiming in the post really late, my apologies. Christine, thank you for such an excellent editorial and for providing a different worldview about the description of color. Being an older Black woman, my preference toward higher-end cosmetics was due to the lack of diverse color selections from drug store brands in the 90s, I’m in the range of NC45/Tahoe/PML 21 range, and sometimes my color was the darkest color for certain foundation brands and sometimes one more shade deeper, yet often extremely red or orange based. The idea of olive undertone and – forget about it! I felt we were invisible. I welcomed higher-end brands providing more accurate color ranges and they deserved my patronage. I fell in love with your website because of your accurate descriptions of color. I knew when you described a lipstick as a “medium pink” it would be a suitable light pink on me. Or if you stated that a highlighter was silver-based, there would be a good chance it would look “ashy” on me. Thank you for doing what you do and being a part of the solution.

Not late at all, Shawn! 🙂

Thank you for sharing your experience as a Black woman and having to find shade matches in the 90s and 2000s!

Because you choose to pick words a part to make an impact, I’m no longer going to read this any more. I use the blog for enlightenment, not a preaching forum. Stay on task and maybe people won’t leave your blog, plus sponsors since you have no idea what you are saying or why.

Hi Donna,

These are actually a lot of things that I’ve put into practice over the years here on Temptalia, the very place you’ve been reading. If you have insight or are able to educate on me, since you’ve said I “have no idea what [I’m] saying or why,” I’m certainly open to a dialogue. If you look at other publications in the beauty space, you’ll find that many — like Allure and Glamour — are also discussing important issues and problems within the beauty community/industry as they relate to race and diversity.

This is not the first time I’ve written about issues and problems with the beauty industry — I’m curious why it’s a problem now. It is actually very much part and parcel for me to make commentary or write long-form when there are areas where I feel I can add value to a conversation that’s going on in the industry or community.

Here are some of my past long-form editorials and/or commentary:

https://www.temptalia.com/reflections-on-brands-celebrating-pride/
https://www.temptalia.com/full-spectrum-by-covergirl-is-this-what-a-celebration-of-people-of-color-looks-like/
https://www.temptalia.com/stila-little-white-lies-collection-for-spring-2019-2/
https://www.temptalia.com/thoughts-on-new-beauty-brands-and-authenticity/
https://www.temptalia.com/why-do-beauty-brands-resist-diversifying-their-shade-ranges/
https://www.temptalia.com/nars-x-guy-bourdin-color-collection-photos-swatches-commentary/
https://www.temptalia.com/mac-vibe-tribe-collection-for-summer-2016/
https://www.temptalia.com/natasha-denona-safari-eyeshadow-palette-swatches/

Let’s also look at keeping racist and bigoted words and imagery, as well as cultural appropriation out of our makeup names. I’ve seen makeup products using the slur “G*psy” in their name, and am getting really tired of it. And does that red lipstick NEED to be called “Geisha?”

Great post. Brow products seem to often have a ‘universal’ shade. They look insane on my super blonde brows. I’ve often thought that it is just lazy. They is no way they work on people with deep skin tones either!

The piece about sections in stores bothers me a lot. It’s infuriating. And frankly confusing. I always forget that some sites do this and can’t find it.

I am proud to be a supporter of temptalia!!! We all need to do better, but brands REALLY need to step up their inclusivity.

Thank you for writing this thoughtful piece.

I have thought about this post a lot and I’ve come to share my thoughts in a way I hope makes sense.

I want to start by saying I 100% agree that there should be further changes with regards to race, and it’s despicable that beauty is a billion dollar industry that still doesn’t care about people with any kind of dark skin. Anything that wouldn’t be a “”normal” white person” skin tone. This is long overdue and I really hope that if anything comes out of this current environment, it is the acknowledgement of the racism in the beauty world.

That being said, I have things I want to say with regards to changing the gendered language around makeup, and this may turn into an essay, but this is something I have been thinking a great deal about over this past year and something I think is very important.
Using gender neutral language is like putting a plaster on a bullet wound. It’s not addressing any of the root cause. The problem is gender, not the language. Gender is the societal expectations and stereotypes pushed upon us from before we’re even born because of our sex. The patriarchy enforces this, by men being allowed (and expected) to be aggressive, active, and the leader. So women are made to be passive, submissive, and the follower. We have been traded around from man to man – still are in parts of the world – because we create the heirs men long to have. We are expected to look good for men, to make them want to choose us. We have to follow the beauty standards, we get the makeup and the hair and nails and surgery. It’s only just being a thing amongst some men, but we’ve been doing this our entire lives. I know I played with free makeup I got from kids’ magazines. I used stickers as earring and had pretend jewellery. And men don’t experience that pressure, seeing every woman in media (even children’s programmes) have long eyelashes and long hair and makeup. And certainly as a young lesbian, it really messed me up only being able to see girls crushing on boys, as if that was the only way love could exist. I was definitely acting out that gender, as well, because I felt so insecure as a female. I liked climbing trees and digging in the mud and catching bugs and playing with science kits and trainsets – things I only ever saw boys doing. And my friends at school would reinforce that that was for boys, and we play these games. Earlier this year, before the pandemic fully arrived, I was diagnosed with autism, and I really think that explains my reliance on gender and gender roles to explain myself and how the world works. Up until about a year and a half ago, honestly. I was sure, from the age of about 4 (to about 24) that I was born a boy and my parents wanted a girl so they gave me some weird surgery to make me into a girl. But I was too afraid to ask them straight out because I thought they wouldn’t want me. I tried on all the different gender options, and none made me happy.
Because the problem wasn’t me. It was the categories I was supposed to fit in. I like makeup and I’m aggressive and stubborn and I wear dungarees and cross stitch. It wasn’t until I realised that the categories that these things are put in (“masculine” and “feminine”) are hurting us all by not letting us actually be ourselves. It’s hurting young girls by telling them from childhood that their purpose is to be pretty, it’s hurting young boys by telling them they can’t express any emotion other than anger. It hurts our brains: our brains are so plastic and mouldable, by separating children off to do different activities by sex, no wonder there’s brain differences. Boys play more sport and active games, they get better scores on spatial awareness and coordination. Girls are told to make friends and play with dolls, we get better scores on emotional intelligence and vocabulary. That’s not fair. Boys need emotional intelligence as much as girls. But it’s not encouraged for them to build up that part of their brains.
So, tying this back into makeup: using gender neutral language isn’t going to help while women are still expected to wear makeup and it’s still part of the “feminine”. It’s not addressing the core problems, which is that only women are expected to look a certain way. And even that doesn’t get into *why* we’re supposed to look a certain way. We need to get rid of these gender categories, make “masculine” and “feminine” turn into “everyone”. Let anyone dress how they want, wear makeup or not wear makeup, with it having no bearing on how much they are conforming to the expectations set for them because of their sex.
Women are still expected to wear makeup as part of a uniform in some jobs, alongside high heels and skirts. Men aren’t. These things aren’t comfy for long periods of time, and they can injure our bodies. We have to look good to outside parties, men just have to exist and work.
I think the only way to fix this – and I realise I am saying this in a beauty community – is to get more comfortable, as women, with our bare faces. Stop applying makeup to cover flaws or follow (white) standards of beauty. We need to stop looking at our faces as things to fix or hide and we need to show other women that they are normal. That women have pores and dry skin and oily skin and acne and facial hair. And we need to stop letting the marketing of beauty products tell us what to feel about ourselves.
Makeup, as it stands, is not empowering. It’s doing what’s expected of you. It’s hardly a choice because, again, it’s expected. And while women are being oppressed using makeup, nobody has a free choice to wear it or what it says about them. We need to address this before makeup can become remotely equal. And then maybe it’ll be a choice and fun for whoever wants to wear it. I love makeup, but I have to accept that I put on makeup in a way that follow the standards of beauty. I am getting more comfortable with my bare face. I hope one day I can apply makeup actually for myself and how I would want to apply it, and not how I’ve been told to.

Christine, this is why you are the undisputed best beauty blogger ever. The thoroughness and rigor of your testing is one thing. But the self aware intelligence and articulate viewpoints you have add so much more; Whether it’s on the unhealthy way makeup is marketed (constant releases, shopoholic encouragement, wasteful packaging), or posts on color theory.

Peach colors named “nude” has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time (not to mention when used in the fashion industry). I am so glad you are bringing it’s white-normative context to a broader audience. Also, the sometimes gender-exclusive terminology brands use.

Nice nod with the “wearability”/clown line. I can’t tell you how many reviews I read say “it’s not too sparkly, so you won’t look like a disco ball”. Well maybe I want to look like a disco ball! Don’t tell me how to live my life lol

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