Structural racism is rooted in America’s colonial past and has historically been perpetuated by the fashion and beauty industries, whitewashing and profiting off of Black culture.
One of the hallmarks of the Black Lives Matter movement today is the process of “unlearning” these deep-rooted biases and misconceptions. This is a crucial element of supporting the movement, particularly for non-Black allies. It’s our duty to learn about the cultural importance and the significant influence of Black culture on the trends in style that we take for granted today. It’s okay to incorporate these into your life and wear them proudly, but remember that they’re not just trends. Learn about the history that accompanies them, thinking critically about who benefits from their popularity and who does not, and consider ways you can support those who are harmed in the process.
- Long Nails
Long, gel or acrylic nails have become a normal, even desired feature in many beauty regimens. This desire is reinforced by influencers like Kylie Jenner, who regularly updates us about the color of her claws.
Not so long ago, however, this style was seen as unprofessional, largely because they were popular among Black women. In reality, the history of long and colored nails dates back thousands of years, but they were problematized when Black women sported them.
Florence Grifith-Joyner, an African American Olympian known for breaking several track and field records in the ‘80s, was also notorious for her nails. Her long, bedazzled acrylics were mocked and demeaned by the media, despite these styles being praised as trendy today.
The next time you’re picking out a color or design for your nails, remember that they were once deemed as less because Black women wore them. Wear your nails proudly, but be aware of the narrative that is often erased about their history and consider sustainable ways you could help amplify black voices and respectfully pay homage to Black experiences.
Until the late 20th century, glitter was largely seen as an accessory for either children or prostitutes. Today, however, it is widely used in makeup as a form of highlight, eyeshadow, or even lipstick. Its popularization is partly due to Black icons like Pat McGrath and Keyshia Ka’oir, who incorporate glitter in their regular makeup routines.
The previous assumption of glitter as cheap was thus rebranded over time, starting in the mid-20th century. Now, glitter is a popular form of self-expression, particularly in the LGBTQ+ community, and even more recently for festival looks in mainstream media.
- Coconut Oil
Oils like coconut oil are largely used by Black women (and men) to maintain moisture in their hair and skin, for sustenance and for beauty. The benefits of oils have become a means of profit for the beauty industry as there is now a wide variety of oils available, from castor oil to avocado oil and more, and is used by all kinds of people. Before buying from these large corporations that often perpetuate harmful structures, consider Black-owned beauty brands or other sustainable options.
- Plump Lips
Extra plump, glossy lips have become quite popular in celebrity and influencer culture, with high-end brands selling all kinds of products promising to enlarge your lips and give them extra shine. Large lips are a feature Black women have often been shamed or bullied for because Black features were associated negatively. Just 10 years ago, there was still a great stigma around both medically enlarged and naturally larger lips. This took a turn in the mid-2010s as celebrities like Kylie Jenner became known for their lips injections, leading to overlined lips and plumping serums becoming the new trend.
These few items are likely just the tip of the iceberg because history shows us there are a great many things that people have taken advantage of without crediting the origin. So the next time you’re going about your normal beauty routine, realize the privilege you possess in merely mimicking the features that others have been mocked for, and invest in a more diverse and inclusive future.