The Ugly Truth: The Impact of White Supremacy and Racism in the Beauty Industry on Black Mental Health
It's important to look into how eurocentric beauty standards might affect the mental health of black people, but this hasn't been done yet. The beauty industry’s continued promotion of white supremacy and colourism is very bad for the mental health of black people. This can lead to isolation, self-loathing, and a bad view of oneself. Many African men and women still don’t know how damaging Eurocentric beauty standards are to their minds. Many people of African descent believe using skin lighteners or relaxing their hair will make them more appealing to mainstream society.
One way in which white supremacy and Eurocentric beauty standards hurt black mental health is through the use of hair relaxers and weaves. Black women are socialised to believe their natural hair is unattractive and unprofessional. To fit in with Eurocentric ideas of beauty, many women change their looks by using hair relaxers or weaving. Black people are especially likely to have their mental health hurt by the continued promotion of Eurocentric beauty standards, which can make them feel alone and bad about themselves.
The recently enacted Crown Act in the United Kingdom seeks to remedy this situation. It prohibits discrimination against those who wear their hair in natural fashions, including afros, braids, and locks. Although this legislation is a positive step towards creating a more welcoming and tolerant society, much more must be done. We need a societal shift that promotes and celebrates black beauty standards if we’re going to solve this problem for good.
The beauty industry is expected to grow a lot because of white supremacy. By 2024, the global skin-lightening market will be worth $31.2 billion. Using skin-lightening products contributes to the stereotype that people of colour are less attractive because their skin tones are darker. Hydroquinone, mercury, and corticosteroids are just a few of the dangerous components in skin-whitening creams linked to serious side effects, including skin thinning, hyperpigmentation, and even kidney damage.
Many international beauty and cosmetics companies have been criticised for promoting a Eurocentric idea of beauty that could make racism and white supremacy even stronger. These companies have been accused of maintaining a racist, white supremacist system where black and brown people feel inferior to white people and suffer from internalised racism. To counter this, some companies are taking steps to move away from Eurocentric standards of beauty.
For example, L’Oreal got bad press in 2017 when it fired transgender model Munroe Bergdorf for commenting on racism in the system. This led to accusations of hypocrisy, with many people calling out L’Oreal for not truly supporting diversity and inclusion. Then, in 2018, LOreal started the “We’re All Worth It” campaign to show they were committed to making the world and workplaces more diverse and open to everyone.
In the same way, Dove has been accused of using its ads to promote a Eurocentric view of beauty. In 2011, the company came under fire for a body wash ad that showed a black woman transforming into a white woman after using the product. This perpetuates the idea that lighter skin is more desirable and beautiful, which can harm people of colour who may feel pressure to conform to these beauty standards. In response, Dove issued a statement apologising for the ad, stating that it had “missed the mark in representing women of colour thoughtfully.” The company also indicated its intention to take measures to create more inclusive ads and celebrate all types of beauty.
Johnson & Johnson was criticised in 2020 when it was found that its skin-lightening products were still being sold in Asia and the Middle East, even though the company had said it would stop selling them in 2018. People often use skin-lightening products to reach a Eurocentric idea of beauty, reinforcing colourism and the idea that lighter skin is more attractive. In response to this incident, Johnson & Johnson also released a statement apologising and affirming its commitment to developing products that promote inclusivity and celebrate diverse beauty.
Estée Lauder has also faced criticism for its lack of diversity in advertising campaigns. In 2017, the company faced backlash after featuring Kendall Jenner in a campaign for its makeup line. This highlights the need for companies to diversify their advertising and represent all races and cultures. Estée Lauder responded to this criticism by committing to include a range of different skin tones and cultural backgrounds in its future campaigns.
Maybelline has similarly been criticised for promoting a Eurocentric idea of beauty. In 2017, the company faced backlash for a campaign that featured a white model with natural curly hair rather than a black model. This perpetuates the idea that Eurocentric features are more desirable and beautiful, which can contribute to internalised racism and feelings of inadequacy for people of colour. In response, Maybelline has attempted to diversify its marketing by including more women of colour in its campaigns.
These instances show how promoting white beauty ideals can harm the emotional well-being of people of colour. Many Black women may be unable to explain why they relax their hair or bleach their skin other than to improve their self-perception of beauty. Inferiority complexes and internalised racism are two mental health issues that can result from normalising these practises.
Many international cosmetics brands, including those mentioned above, have been criticised for allegedly propagating a white, Western standard of beauty. Although many of these businesses have made strides in diversity and inclusion in recent years, much work remains before the beauty industry can be considered fully welcoming and tolerant of all people. Yet, because of the pervasive effect of Eurocentric beauty standards on how society views them, many Black women continue to be drawn to these practises.
Several businesses, however, are speaking out against white supremacy in the cosmetics sector. For example, Fenty Beauty, Rihanna’s makeup line, has foundation hues for women of different complexion tones. Furthermore, the firm’s advertising campaigns have featured black models with unprocessed hair. And then there’s Pat McGrath Labs, which uses various models in their ads.
Raising awareness and getting involved in education and cultural awareness are important ways to fight against how Eurocentric beauty standards hurt the mental health of black people. The effects of white supremacy and colourism on black people’s mental health should be discussed more openly in the workplace and beyond. Companies in the beauty industry need to be willing to take a critical look at their own practices to make sure they aren't adding to negative stereotypes or only promoting Eurocentric ideas of beauty.
Furthermore, black people must be encouraged to accept their natural hair and skin tones and to reject harmful Eurocentric aesthetic standards. With the right amount of cultural awareness and education, we can build a society that respects and enjoys all kinds of differences and where everyone has a sense of belonging. Awareness campaigns, educational programmes, and good media portrayals of Black people can all help.
To sum up, Eurocentric beauty standards’ effect on black people’s mental health is a serious problem that hasn’t been studied much. White people still dominate the beauty industry, and racism and colourism are still a big problem. This makes black people feel more isolated, and bad about ourselves and harms their self-esteem. Businesses must look hard at their procedures and policies and admit they are part of a racist, white supremacist order. Education, awareness, and cultural consciousness are important ways to improve the mental health of black people and fight white supremacy in the cosmetics industry.
- L’Oreal: “L’Oreal model sacked over anti-racism comments” (BBC News, 2017) https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-41148392
- Dove: “Dove apologises for ad showing black woman turning into white one” (The Guardian, 2017) — https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/08/dove-apologises-for-ad-showing-black-woman-turning-into-white-one
- Johnson & Johnson: “Johnson & Johnson to stop selling skin-whitening creams” (BBC News, 2020) https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-53132586
- Estée Lauder: “Kendall Jenner’s latest Estée Lauder campaign is not going over well” (Yahoo! Lifestyle, 2017) — https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/kendall-jenners-latest-estee-lauder-campaign-not-going-well-163316798.html
- Maybelline: “Maybelline slammed for “not bothering” to cast a black model with natural hair in an ad” (The Independent, 2017) — https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/maybelline-advert-racism-black-natural-hair-model-uk-kelley-phillips-makeup-a7999436.html
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