Can We Please Put An End To "Ethnic" Beauty?

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EthnicBeauty_slide01Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Beauty is going global. We've come a long way from when blue eyes, blonde hair, and fair skin were its archetype. Now, Lupita is everyone’s favorite — not just the darling of dark-skinned women. But, as our realities change, our language races to catch up. We try our best to say the right thing while we chart new beauty territory.

Even so, it still feels like we’re in a language vortex where very little is clear. Words like textured, natural, kinky, coil-y, transitioning, the big chop, wet set, and doobie all confuse the heck out of us. One night on television you’ll see Rihanna sporting some strange and mesmerizing hair wrap, and the next day #doobie is trending. Yet, we’re all still a bit confused by what it is, what it signifies, and exactly how to pronounce doobie (myself included). Perhaps because beauty and race are so closely connected, it all gets very touchy.
EthnicBeauty_slide02Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
When beauty means so much to so many people, who wants to put their foot in their mouth and potentially mess with someone’s identity? Not me, not you, and especially not big brands as they develop words that, in an attempt to be politically correct, are completely meaningless. Empty. And, where has this gotten us? Just take a look at the comments sections of any natural-hair site, where you'll witness women pointing fingers and ultimately pulling out of conversations entirely pissed off and turned off.

All this chaos around words is ruining a perfectly good thing: beauty. So, I’ve decided to make it my personal mission to get us back on track by rewriting some of the most outdated terms and ideas — like "black beauty," "ethnic beauty," and, the most ridiculous, "ethnic aisle."

What’s ethnic anyway? Does my brown skin make me more racial than Gwyneth Paltrow? I’m absolutely sure she comes from some sort of heritage as well. Don’t we all? And, who chooses these words anyway? A supermarket creates an ethnic aisle and now I’m ethnic? Are we really defining ourselves based on how an industry chooses to sell products?

Let’s debunk the myth that hair and skin are ethnic. Beauty has been segmenting people for too long. Black women in the ethnic aisle, white women in the general market aisle, Latinas vacillating between the two, and Asians…well, are they supposed to shop only in Chinatown? We see how ridiculous this becomes.
EthnicBeauty_slide03Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
I’m black American, but what does that mean for my fine, thin, curly hair? I use the French brand Leonor Greyl, a general market brand Rahua, a sure-thing-brand Shea Moisture, and my very own niche brand Georgia by Jodie Patterson. I definitely can’t find all of that in the ethnic aisle, where only a handful of brands have existed since the '70s. No innovation. No price differentiation. It reeks of neglect.

Beauty should be shared, cross-culturally and globally, regardless of where the trend originates. We can find inspiration from others and make what used to be someone else’s our own. Nora is Swiss and Vietnamese and cites Rihanna as her beauty icon. Erika is from The Bahamas and looks to Victoria Beckham for posh beauty ideas.

So, let's get honest about the conversation. "Ethnic beauty" is officially out, and "brown beauty" is fortunately becoming the trend. It's also looking like most of the world at this point — blacks, Caribbeans, Latinas, Africans, some Asians, and Mediterraneans, too. Anyone with brown skin tones. I started using the term a few years back, and now it’s a hashtag.

So, let’s approach beauty through exploration, experience, and enlightenment. Let’s not allow brands to choose the words we use to describe ourselves. Let’s work together to get this right. Let's shop and think globally and make the entire world our beauty aisle.

We know you folks have lots of thoughts on this topic, so take to the comments to tell us your opinions on race, beauty, and the language we use to describe them.


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