I have been using makeup since I was in 4th grade. In reality, I didn’t have a lot of choice since my dance teacher needed them for our performances. My mom was never a fan of this idea, but it didn’t really bother me. I liked wearing it. I spent my free time watching tutorials and reviews, making desperate attempts to recreate looks with the few products on my mom’s vanity. It wasn’t until I entered high school that my mom let me buy my own makeup instead of using hers.
With a newfound sense of independence and enthusiasm, I started shopping for products on websites and in stores. I spent hours going through every foundation and every shade of concealer, reading their pretty names: Cloud, Swan, Snow, Pearl, Porcelain, Seashell … but it all disappointed me, because none of these shades were it was even remotely close to my dark skin tone. If I wanted to have one that matched I had to browse the dessert Ray: Pecan Nut Butter, Caramel, Praline, Chai, Cocoa, Tiramisu, Ganache, Truffle …
I have always been annoyed that the shades I had to choose weren’t quite as pretty and delicate as the lighter shades. But, at the time, I didn’t realize how problematic these soft-inspired names were. The association of dark skin tones with chocolate and other foods is so normalized and deeply entrenched in our society through makeup, meet and daily conversations. Many people find it flattering to compare our skin to caramel or mocha, but it’s blatantly dehumanizing. And yes, white skin is sometimes labeled as white chocolate, but only when the the context includes brown or black people. These dessert labels were probably popularized to show people that brown and black skin can be beautiful because it looks like food we crave so much. But it went too far and reduced us to just these labels. When I see these names, I start to feel like people can only see me as beautiful if they compare my skin to desserts. My skin shouldn’t be compared to food to be considered attractive. It is attractive in itself.
This verbiage is dehumanizing because it implies that dark-skinned women are consumable products. While the lighter shades are marketed as abstract and intangible, the darker shades are named after purchasable items. All the names of shades are also unhealthy desserts that people call guilty pleasures. I felt like even though people liked my skin color, the same people would still feel embarrassed. These shade names are a classic example of fetishization, reducing people of color to their race and its corresponding stereotypes. This contributes to the idea that the lives of people of color should be white-centered, implying that whiteness is the norm and therefore desserts-based comparables are necessary background for darker skin tones. By reducing our skin color to something to consume, the beauty industry fetishes us.
Maybe companies are calling the darker shades dessert because they want to have a nice sugar theme. But, if so, why don’t they name the lighter shades after food? Why is it pearl instead of white chocolate, snow instead of cheesecake, swan instead of coconut, shellfish instead of cashew? Few companies create a full line of products focused on desserts. For example, Huda Beauty’s #FalseFilter The foundation has shades ranging from Milkshake to Hot Fudge. As a South Asian woman, I’m not upset by the skin-friendly comparison trope as a whole, but rather by the fact that the trope is used only for brown and black skin. Time and time again, brunette and black women have expressed discomfort with these names. Companies ignoring these reactions make me wonder if these shade labels were designed to appeal to people with fairer skin more than actual users. When companies use these soft-inspired names, people with fair skin are more likely to see these names as a way to uplift browns and blacks. Acclaimed companies like Fenty Beauty try to avoid these cliché labels by naming their shades like numbers. For the most part, the lightest shade will be the first in the range and the darker the last. While the shade ordering seems trivial at first, it still perpetuates colorism in the makeup industry by hinting that white is the norm and comes first. To remedy this, beauty Bakery rearranged the order of their shade numbers, putting the darkest shade first. The makeup industry needs to understand that these dessert-inspired names have racist undertones. We don’t need someone to compare us to caramel or chocolate so that we can achieve our own beauty.
Big makeup companies need to find new ways to label our shades so that we feel comfortable wearing them. These shades are made for us, so the names should be too. Our skin is copper, topaz, umber and red. We are more than our skin color, and our skin color is more than the desserts you can find at Meijer.
MiC columnist Roshni Mohan can be contacted at [email protected].