Some thoughts on beauty, skin care, conformity, and the desire to blend in when you stand out…
(Photograph by Chantelle Nash)
by Britt Julious
We can not escape it, so we want for something, perhaps a momentary reprieve. I am thinking about cultural beauty standards, their insidiousness, and the realities of the world we live in. Little by little, these standards will be broken, if not for good, then at least for a long time. And if we can not break the standards, we will morph them, manipulate them until we’ve found something new or more accepting.
I was fascinated with the red carpet arrivals at the annual Metropolitan Museum of Art Ball yesterday because the event is a platform for experimentation through beauty and style. Or, that is what it is supposed to be. What does it mean to appear against the grain, to dress for one’s own pleasure, to have fun? I have ideas, but they are my own interpretations. For the women who arrived at this event, they were not even asking the questions. For those who exist outside of the mainstream, we cling toward images of alternative beauty because they are public acts of defiance. To conform is to be safe. To conform is to not question. To conform is to not hide from the gaze, but to blend into one’s surroundings. To not conform is to rebel. One is saying: here I am. What will you do now?
My skin is not great and it never has been. What I’ve sought from a young age is the ability to blend into the world around me, to not be seen when I feel like the skin I have stands out for its texture, its scars. What I sought was a conformity of presentation. I desired the ability to blend in to the other black girls.
Conformity is not always as wrong as it seems. In many ways, this desire to feel average can act as the balm to the wound of imperfection.
Sometimes we need acts of conformity in order to parse through the numerous complications and troubles of contemporary life. Two years ago, I went to Sephora. I asked a woman working at the store about concealer and she told me that she would have to get someone else to assist me, someone who knew more about products for women of color. It was not that she knew nothing about concealer, but that she did not know what would be good for my skin. “I don’t know a lot about stuff for black skin,” she said. I thought about the fact that it takes a certain level of privilege to work in a store and not feel concerned with learning about products that cater to a specific “market” and that I wish my life was filled with such obliviousness. It takes a certain level of privilege to assume that we are all the same, a massive force that is seemingly impenetrable and indecipherable.
Earlier this year, my mother, aunt, sister, and I attended Nordstrom’s Beauty Trunk show. The yearly event includes runway presentations, beauty treatments, and samples of numerous products. A representative from Smashbox arrived and talked about their new CC cream. Already a daily user of their BB cream, I was intrigued by the new product.
Smashbox’s BB and CC creams are by far the best and yet the number of shades for WOC (and Black women in particular) is particularly low. Like other mainstream brands, their numbers do little to reflect the diversity of shades that exist. There is “dark” and then there is nothing else. But my darkness is not the same as my mother’s. She once claimed she was asked to join a sorority because she could pass the paper bag test. I am not the same shade as my mother who is not the same shade as my sister who is not the same shade as my aunt, and yet we all clamored for this new product.
“Will this work for the rest of us?” my mother asked while watching a woman place it on my skin.
“Um, yeah, sure. Yes,” she said. “Yes.”
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