The Dark Truth Behind The Perfect Latina Makeup Look
May 16, 2018|María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards
Google "latina makeup" and you'll see what I'm talking about.
I’ve been an avid consumer of makeup related videos for some years now. It all started as a simple search for a formal look for an important event, and now it’s one of my main sources of entertainment. To be honest with you, I don’t know why I find these videos so soothing; sometimes I just watch them to relax, and I don’t even pay a lot of attention to them. However, a couple of months ago, I realized that almost all the videos on my feed were related to a huge controversy in the makeup industry, namely the lack of products for people of color. What happened was that a brand released a collection of foundations that included like ten colors for white shades and only three for dark skin. Naturally, this enraged the community so much that the brand had to apologize, and a huge boycott started against them. As a brown-skinned Latina woman, this left me wondering about my own experience with makeup, and how I'd never questioned why we’re barely represented, or better yet, how Latinas are often misrepresented.
After watching some videos from my favorite beauty gurus talking about the controversy, I kept thinking about my own experience with makeup. For starters, I can say that in the three years I’ve been a makeup user, only once have I managed to find a shade that was nearly perfect for me. Most of the time, they're either too light or too dark for my brown skin tone. Even with brands that have a large range of shades, I’ve had a difficult time finding a perfect match. On top of that, I couldn’t help but think about how the most important bloggers I’ve been watching don’t really represent the Latino experience. All this time I’ve been following advice that doesn’t really apply to me nor represents me culturally, but was this related to the people I followed? It must’ve been. I mean, there must be something out there for me. So, I decided to look for videos made by and for Latin American people. Unsurprisingly, I discovered that most of them have a terrible idea of what it's like to be Latino and that most of these videos that say they want to inspire us actually end up perpetuating the same old stereotypes about us.
If you search for YouTube tutorials or websites with tips for Latinas, all of them end up falling into the same stereotypes. To put it briefly, the perfect Latina look is: light brown (almost white) skin, a bright red lip, thick eyelashes with a sharp cat eye, a lot of blush, very dark, long hair, and the occasional hoop earrings (in some cases, they even wear a big red flower in their hair). Is that really what all Latinas look like? Of course not! Latin America includes many countries with different cultures, traditions, even languages, and ways of thinking. In the same way, our skin color range is as diverse as the countries we represent. So, why do so many people believe that we all fall under one race? Yes, we share cultural similarities; after all, we were colonized by the same country. Nonetheless, we’re not a monolithic racial group, but rather an ethnic group with endless racial diversity, so when they want to sell us makeup, and it's all the same color, they’re only replicating erroneous stereotypes.
Unfortunately, that’s not the only problem. As I mentioned before, many of the tutorials and websites I came across were really unsettling. Some of them teach tricks to make your skin look lighter by mixing your regular foundation with a lighter one; one of them claimed that using more concealer and powder would make you look whiter. The thing is that this isn’t only a problem in the makeup tutorial world: it’s an idea that’s been around since before any of us were born. For centuries, the idea that lighter skin is better has been a way to oppress the (brown) masses and keep power in the hands of the (white) elites. If you take a look at magazines or ads on the television, you’ll see countless beauty products that promise to make your skin lighter. And this doesn’t apply to Latin America only. We’ve seen it basically in every country with dark-skinned people and a history of colonization. So, why should we praise one particular skin tone and not learn how to love ours?
The answer is always this: because there’s not a good representation in the industry or the media, and sadly, there won’t be any in a long time, if we continue supporting brands and products whose “representation” is more aspirational than anything else in a society that is deeply racially biased. Magazines, television, movies, and advertisements have all been selling light skin as the ideal of beauty, and that’s the image that’s been spread around the world of what the perfect Latina should look like. Even most of the Latino actors and actresses in the media that have “made it” appeal to that particular look, a stereotypical image of what Latinos look like.
In the end, I think that it’s not only a matter of how other people see us, but rather something that we have to tackle from within first. We are hurt by discriminatory comments made towards us, when in fact, we’re just as discriminatory as a culture. We love associating class status with skin color and vice versa. But that’s still no excuse for an industry whose main consumer group is actually Latinos to continue falling into this never-ending cycle of misrepresentation. Not all of us look like Selena or Sofía Vergara: we're diverse and we deserve better representation.
Here are other stories that might interest you: