Why A Limited Shade Range Isn’t Racist – Tarte Shape Tape Controversy

Ever since the brand responsible for the beauty community’s most loved Shape Tape concealer rumored a Shape Tape foundation in the works, people went bananas with anticipation. Finally the launch came, and it has caused a stir but probably not for the reason Tarte has hoped. They launched 15 shades of the highly anticipated foundation only a few months ago and the beauty community has been — well, as the kids say these days, shook.

As soon as Tarte released their first swatch photo featured down below, feedback came pouring in and people were not happy.
 Out of 15 shades there are really only 3 deeper tones and 13 shades of beige. Not to mention a huge jump in depth on the spectrum from light to dark. 

Raw Beauty Kristi tweeted “I’ve gotta say, probably the most highly anticipated thus far just crashed and burned with the biggest let down of a shade range. This is despicable and unacceptable” 

(Full video down below)

YouTube beauty gurus have been posting what would have been their review videos on the foundation and instead rant about the lack of diversity in the shade ranges. Many even go as far as to boycott Tarte’s brand as a whole from that point forward. Some who actually chose to review the foundation post follow up videos to their reviews tearfully apologizing for reviewing the new foundation at all and thereby “being part of the problem”.  The funny thing is brands release limited shade ranges all the time. So why have people finally had enough? And why has it suddenly become so politically incorrect? Why now? Not to mention the question on everybody’s mind, why are brands still releasing shade ranges limited to 50 shades of beige? So many questions.. but I think I’ve found some solid answers.

Vox recently released a video titled, “How beauty brands failed women of color”(featured at the end of this post). In the video they use Fenty Beauty, a new makeup brand by Rihanna created with the intention of inclusivity, as an example of how deeper shades are actually profitable. The idea being that, even though women of color are less than the rest of the population, they shell out 80 percent more money on cosmetics and twice as much on skin care than the rest of the general market. They also explain that the so called difficulty of manufacturing deeper skin tones is actually false because all foundations have the same basic base and you need only alter the pigments to get deeper shades. Titanium dioxide is white, iron oxide is red, iron oxide yellow is yellow, and iron oxide black is black. By altering their ratios you can easily make a diverse range of skin tones. Vox’s video brought up other good points such as a lack of people of color in the American Chemical Society as well as in the personal care products industry. However, the conclusion of the video seemed to blame it on current beauty standards excluding women of color, fearing that marketing to them would “damage” their brand. They say that brands have these fears because they think that it will make their brand less glamorous and less beautiful if it’s attached to black or darker skinned women.

My opinion – Vox is simply wrong on this point.
 Racism certainly has played a role in the beauty industry in the past, such as skin lightening products marketed at women of color. But is the continuance of a lack of diversity in shade ranges today evidence of racist beauty standards? I would argue, no it is not. Before you pull out your pitchforks, let me explain…

When Rihanna debuted her Fenty Beauty Line at New York Fashion Week, she wasn’t just considering women of color. In an interview  she stated,

“.. I want women all over the world to feel great.. […] We are women and we have challenges, we deserve to feel beautiful. And I want women of all shades to feel included, and all races, and all cultures to be a part of this. And that’s really what was important for me in choosing the shades, how many we were going to make, especially with the foundation.”

(Quote taken from interview down below)

You see Rihanna was considering very pale women as well as women of color. Because you see it’s not just darker skin tones that are excluded, it’s lighter skin tones as well.
 Fenty Beauty’s first ever foundation launch included 40 shades. Yes, that’s right 40. And not only for women of color, but for the palest of the pale. Even albino women were not left out of the range as proven by Krystal Robertson’s review.

So why are both light and dark shades often excluded skin tones in the beauty industry?
 Because simply, they make a very small percentage of the current U.S. population. 
YouTube personality, Stephanie Nicole, who works in beauty manufacturing, explains from a manufacturers standpoint why there are limited shade ranges.
 (Taken from her B.O.M.B video down below)

“Black population in the U.S.makes up roughly 13% of our population. Now if you factor half of that, half of that population for children, and men and women that choose not to wear makeup, you’re left with roughly 6 and a half percent. That’s 6 and a half percent of our population in need of deeper shades. For the manufacturer, the distributor, (like Sephora) only gives you a certain amount of shelf space in their store. And the way they break that down is every inch on their shelf has to be making a certain amount dollar-wise or its kicked out, because their stores only have limited space. And typically when something new comes in, something else has to leave to make room for that. So companies are constantly vying for that shelf space. I went on to sephora.com and counted how many manufacturers or brands that are on their site right now that offer either foundations or even BB creams and there are 43. Say out of those 43 manufacturers each brand has maybe like a luminous foundation, or a matte foundation, or a powder foundation, or a stick foundation. All of these different formulas and finishes right? Now say all 43 of these brands come out with 52 shades in all of their different lines. Not everybody in that 6 and half percent population that’s in need of those deeper shades is going to buy from the same brand. So if you divide that up amongst the other 43 manufacturers, even if there was shelf space in stores for all of the colors, there’s going to be brands that are losing out on money because those shades just won’t sell. And it’s not just deeper skin that’s cut out of the equation, it’s also those that are extremely fair too. And that’s because brands normally cater to the middle majority where the most people are. It’s pretty much only for a financial reason that they do that. It sucks and I wish there was a better answer.”
 (Quote taken from video at the end of the post).

Only 6 and a half percent of people who wear makeup in the United States are in need of deeper shades. So to challenge Vox’s argument, even if women of color spend 80 percent more on cosmetics and skin care than the average consumer, that would be the same buying power as if this group made up 11.7% of the market, and that percentage would be much less if we were to consider just makeup and exclude skincare and haircare (which is included in the study, but nonetheless), leading us to the conclusion that the vast majority of the U.S. beige-tone-buying population is the buying power, even if they indulge in cosmetics less frequently on average. The majority wins.

It is not racist beauty standards that are keeping brands from including a more diverse shade range, it is simply economics. If anything, current beauty standards are becoming more diverse than ever before. With the rise of social media, celebrating women of all ethnicities and shades are becoming the norm. With people like the Kardashian’s perpetuating this new standard through their culturally ambiguous style and beauty (thanks to plastic surgery and what many would call cultural appropriation), and the rising popularity of inclusive makeup brands like Fenty, it simply boils down to what is more financially viable, i.e. the bottom line. Business isn’t based on what’s fair or inclusive, it’s based on what’s profitable. It always has and always will be.

If that sounds final to you there are a few more things that brands should consider moving forward in the 21st century.

1) The race ratio of the U.S. population is rapidly changing.

By around 2020, the Census Bureau says that “more than half of the nation’s children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group,” However, Asian and mixed-race people are the two fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population. So even with the minority groups over-taking the majority in just a few short years, shade ranges are more likely to resemble 50 shades of honey instead of beige, with super deep skin tones still being a part of the minority.

2) We are living in an era of pop culture where people want unity and inclusivity, and it is politically incorrect to be exclusive especially to minorities. 

Brands need to realize that it is a PR nightmare to ignore these movements. Maybe brands are banking on the idea that no publicity is bad publicity. And that may be true. But people can spot disingenuous motives a mile away, and if negative publicity is what they want, people will catch on and it will damage the brand’s reputation, perhaps irreparably.

3) It’s time for brands to start considering some solutions

Stephanie Nicole suggested some solutions such as having in-store testers for more diverse shades and having the option to order the shade through the store. Or perhaps having a kiosk for custom blended foundation right there in store. These are all great ideas and I hope brands will take them into consideration.

In the same video Stephanie Nicole also discussed why using minority owned brands will be essential for the U.S. future economy.

She says,
“It’s not based on charity, the need to dramatically increase investment in minority owned entrepreneurs is vital to the survival of the U.S. economy. Understanding and supporting the needs of minority entrepreneurs is not just a moral imperative, it has become an economic one as well. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by the year 2060 the minority population will become the majority. In 2015 the minority population came in at 38%, by 2060 its forecast to go up to 56%. This growth coupled with the factor that minority businesses have grown by over 50% over this last decade means that that group is going to be a driving force in the U.S. economy. Business policies and investments need to be much more diverse going forward to really make sure that our economy keeps growing and that the U.S. remains a leader. Attention must be placed on the growth and sustainability of a younger multi-racial entrepreneurial society as we move forward if the U.S. is going to remain a player in the global economy. According to the National Minority Supplier Development Council minority businesses produce more than $400 billion in annual revenue and actively employs either directly or indirectly more than 2.2 million people. Additionally minority owned business contributes close to 49 billion in local state and federal tax revenue. This translates to the contribution of over $1 billion per day in revenue to the U.S. These business owners have the potential to create additional jobs in our economy and it also helps when you support a minority owned business. It helps support their families, and their communities. And the nation as a whole, especially in a time like this where unemployment among minorities is at an all time high.”

She does such a great job of explaining it there’s not much more to say. Other than perhaps that the responsibility of inclusivity not only falls on brands, but consumers as well. Instead of solely boycotting brands for limited shade ranges perhaps we should buy from minority owned businesses more often. Where are all those indie makeup brands on YouTube? New makeup brands are popping up on Instagram nearly every day and many are minority owned. So whether you are boycotting Tarte or not, let’s support the minority owned businesses like Stephanie Nicole did in her B.O.M.B (Black Owned Makeup Brands) makeup tutorial. I personally think that intentionally supporting those minority owned brands is the most positive way we can make a change for the better for all of us. ✌????✌????✌????✌????✌????

1 thought on “Why A Limited Shade Range Isn’t Racist – Tarte Shape Tape Controversy”

  1. It is racist if women of color have less variety in terms of their choices for their foundation and other makeup. Economics is only an EXCUSE for manufacturers to not change, because they’re all afraid of making a change so that you know, things will actually be fair for a change. Are people of color never going to be placed upon the same ground that society places non colored people on? Because of this, a lot of colored women HATE their skin. They long to have fair skin, and accessibility to makeup is a considerably large factor as to why. When a woman walks into MAC, for example, there are foundation tones she can try out. There are limited options as to what she can choose from, but a white woman can walk in and walk out with 15 different bottles of foundation, because they are practically all the same shade. The beauty industry needs to wake up and needs to start paying attention to how they are unintentionally making racist moves, because society isn’t going to take it. It is the 21st century! Society isn’t tolerating it anymore because we’re tired of the evident racism around us, of how hard it is to buy some cosmetics. I must, with all due respect, request that whoever wrote this article consider my comment.

Leave a Reply