It’s not difficult to notice that there is a lack of diversity in the beauty industry. It is, after all, an industry that operates on a fairly static concept of what is considered beautiful. This beauty standard is undeniably visible in media and pop-culture.
In light of this, illustrator Brittany Brown has set out to make a change. Her series of captivating illustrations, Dark Girls, has a powerful purpose—calling attention to the lack of racial diversity in the beauty industry.
Her illustrations are challenging the dominant portrayal of beauty by celebrating women of dark skin tones, in a way that the beauty industry seldom does. Brown believes that this lack of representation is an issue, especially for young girls of colour; she explains in an interview with Buzzfeed, “if little black girls don’t see women like them celebrated as beautiful, they will start to believe that they aren’t either.”
In recent months, actress Lupita Nyong’o has brought the issue of dark beauty into public conversation as well. In her acceptance speech at the seventh annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, she recited a note she had received from a fan—it read, “I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.”
Nyong’o, is now a successful, Oscar winning actress who has been named World’s Most Beautiful by People Magazine in 2014—but she says that she has struggled with loving herself and recognizing her beauty, “I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin.”
Just as Brown feels that girls of colour need to see women that look like them in the media, Nyong’o says that the turning point for her came when she saw model Alek Wek gain widespread admiration for her beauty in the media—she explains, “when I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny. Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty.” Nyong’o ended her speech by stating that she hopes her presence in the media can affect young girls in the same way Wek affected her.
Nyong’o’s speech shows just how important representation in the media can be for the self-esteem of girls.
Brown’s images illustrate the problem that Nyong’o emphasized in her speech and reinforces the importance of representation of all colours in the media. Each of her illustrations also feature how-to information for achieving the pictured look. She lists the makeup brand, product type, and cost. This makes it simple for girls to build these looks for themselves.
She told Buzzfeed that she is excited to expand the series, in hopes of helping young girls of colour with their confidence. Above all, she hopes that her work is able to move people. It seems to me that she has already achieved this goal, as her illustrations have struck a chord with many people, and have received some much deserved attention and praise in the short time that they have been released.
Brown’s illustrations can be purchased through Etsy.