Category Archives: Colonisation and Beauty

What I Think Wednesday:Nigerian Weddings and the Nigerian Economy: Can one save the other?

In 2005 I moved to DC to go to grad school for African studies at Howard University.  In the two years of course work, one of the things that I remember vividly are all of my professors, i repeat all of my professors who happened to each be from a country in Africa saying that all of Africa was waiting for Nigeria to step up to the call/challenge of being the African super power to help lead the continent out of colonialism and debt and into real political freedom, progress, and economic security.  It makes sense, Nigeria is the most populated country on the continent, its people are amongst the most educated in the world, and the country itself has tons of natural resources including oil, petroleum, natural gas, zinc, limestone, etc…

Fast forward to 2016, Nigeria’s economy is suffering immensely, and according to Dan Steinbock from Valuewalk.com, “without aggressive economic moves and harsh security measures, the economy could face a disastrous free fall.” One of my best friends, who happens to be Nigerian has shared stories with me of brick and mortar businesses being bulldozed by the government without warning to the business owners because of unpaid rent.  In some cases, the rent had been paid, but the landlords of the properties never gave the Nigerian government their cut, so innocent business owners are now taking the hit literally!  International investors are fleeing, the naira is about 315 to a US dollar, and people’s human security needs i.e. food, water, shelter are not being met.

Im sure that folks who are reading this are going, “Okay Michanna, what does this have to do with the beauty industry or makeup?”  My answer? Its bigger than makeup!!  Over the last year and a half, I have had the wonderful opportunity and privilege to work side by side a well respected Nigerian American make up artist and provide artistry services for some Nigerian weddings that make the wedding scenes in my favorite movie Coming to America seem like a little shot gun wedding with a $100 budget!  From the decor, to the locations and venues, designer dresses, suits, and shoes, etc… the money spent on these occasions is just mind blowing. According to bloomberg.com, $17 million US dollars have been spent on parties in Lagos, Nigeria over a five month period this year so far, and at least one fifth of them were weddings.  Forget about the parties,  I have heard of brides paying some Nigerian makeup artists $1,000-$1,500 just for doing their makeup alone!  Now before all of you start packing your kits and purchasing tickets to Nigeria, please note that the market over their is already over saturated, attorney’s and doctors have quit their full time jobs to open makeup studios, and it has become a survival of the fittest environment.

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While I have observed all of this with my own two eyes, I also have observed something else.  Every Nigerian bride and groom that I have met doing the makeup for these weddings are educated with great careers.  They are doctors, lawyers, engineers, bankers and economists, and have attended great schools either in the US or Europe.

Back to Nigeria being a super power.  When I put all of these things together a very glaring question always comes to mind.  What if Nigerians who were preparing to spend thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars on their wedding figured out how to somehow funnel the money back into their own economy with checks and balances for how the money is managed?  With all of the education, and money, and number of Nigerians having these opulent weddings, surely it could make a difference!  Lets look at this thing in more detail.

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When I am doing makeup for some of these wedding I notice that the whole wedding party has designer shoes, I mean there are “red bottoms” everywhere!  Lets say that on average, the bridal party is 16 people and at least 12 of the women in the bridal party have designer shoes.  If each pair of shoes equals roughly $500(i googled average cost of designer shoes in 2016) and you multiply that by 12, that equals $6,000 and 1,890,000 naira! If you add another $6,000 from the groomsmen which is another 1,890,000 naira, that is a nice sized chunk of money, and all that we have calculated were shoes!  Based on the stats of money spent on shoes alone, I think that my point has been made for how much money is spent on Nigerian weddings.

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Now no diss to Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, Chanel, or any of the other European designers, but the last time I heard any of those companies discuss police brutality(Nigerians who live in the US no matter how educated can be pulled over because of the color of their skin too), inequalities in education for people of color, brain drain on the continent of Africa, or the failing Nigerian economy was … let me see… um never!!  Way back in 2005 when my professors said that Nigeria had the potential to be a super power in Africa, they got it wrong.  Nigeria has the potential to be a super power for the whole entire African diaspora!  Right now people of African descent are having to rethink many things, one of those being whether or not we want to continue to live in a country  where we risk being gunned down for trivial things like driving, selling loose cigarettes, and walking down the street no matter whether we are educated and can afford expensive weddings or not. In the large scheme of things, if Nigerians started to really plan and focus on channeling some of the money from these opulent weddings into the Nigerian economy where they could control how the money is managed once it gets there, that could very well be the start of an economic revolution!

Imagine if young couples getting married organized a way to do this by only supporting Nigerian vendors abroad and stateside for everything including dresses, shoes, fabric, photography, cakes, food, planners, rings, venues, airlines, hotels, travel agents, and  all entities involved agreed to invest a portion of the money made back into the economy in a controlled way weeding out mismanagement of funds.  International investors would come back, jobs would be created, and the young couples could essentially create a new infrastructure dismantling corruption, and the absence of checks and balances.  As it is related to those of African descent like me who may be looking for a new place to reside, Nigeria could be the place to be!

Now I know that I am being very opportunistic, but our countries have to be our priority.  It  saddens me to know that while we spend billions of dollars to celebrate one day, a potential super power of Africa and of the African diaspora suffers greatly.  It is time for us to be selfish and support our own!

 

 

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What I Think Wednesday:Gifts With Purchase, Do Black Lives Matter?

Given everything that has happened in the last week, well past 300 years, my heart is pretty heavy.  The only way to be triumphant in anything is to keep pressing.  Since my blog is called “Make up in Black and White” and addresses gender, class, and race as those topics apply to the vast world of beauty, I thought it would only be right if I discussed race this week.  I  am going to be very specific, and discuss one uber frustrating thing.  Gift with purchases that major companies give out for earning points, birthdays, holidays or for spending a certain dollar amount never include products that women of color can use when it comes to color!

Every year when Christmas season pops up, I am always working in a retailer that provides amazing goody bags chock full of skincare, haircare, and makeup.  When ever I service a client that has a deeper skin tone who has earned one of those goody bags, they always ask if the bag is even worth them spending the extra money to earn.  Depending on what brand/retailer I am working for, the bag is 25-75% useful, and obviously if they can use only a small fraction of the products, they choose to pass on the gift or GWP as we call them in the retail world.

Out of sheer curiosity, I would love to know how much it costs a company to make lets say a tinted moisturizer sample?  I happen to freelance for a company that makes the best tinted moisturizer but when ever there are samples made it is always in the third to lightest shade that the company offers.  Realizing that the shade is the most popular, I can’t help but to wonder what would happen if that same company made a test run of a deeper shade, put it in magazines geared towards women of color i.e. Ebony and Essence to see what kind of return on the initial investment of making the samples in the first place.  I tell people all the time that just because you build it doesn’t mean “they” will come.  So for all of the cosmetic companies that offer make up for deeper skin tones, samples must be made in a broader range of shades, and marketed specifically to the demographics that speak to those women who have deeper skin.

To put it plainly, all lives matter so companies should do whatever they can to accommodate all people who do and could potentially become loyal supporters of their brands.  This for many of these companies would appeal to demographics that have tremendous spending power and have the ability to positively impact their bottom lines.

Bottom line?  Make the samples in a broader range of shades and market the hell out of them, its time!

My Natural Journey…or not!

This past couple days have made me aware of one major thing that I never really put much energy into.  I realize that because of the color of my skin, and the texture of what is on top of my head, my last statement is almost blasphemous!  If you haven’t figured out what “topic” I am speaking about, it is my hair!! I have avoided writing about this topic for a long while, because while I know it is a hot topic for so many women, I give it about five minutes a day!

A few days ago, a random guy came up to my friend and I while we were just walking down the street to congratulate us for being “natural”.  He gave us this long speech about how he loves and values “natural black women”, and how he “would only marry a black woman who was natural”, etc…

The very next day my same friend and I decided to grab a bite to eat for lunch at a popular restaurant and this sweet young black woman asked us in a whisper if we were on a “natural journey”, and wanted to know tons of details about this “journey”.

The last “naturalvention” happened while I was watching a show that I decided to watch mainly because of where the show was filmed.  Several of my friends and clients talk to me about The Housewives of Potomac, so with my two days off I decided to watch the show and see what all of the fuss was about.  As far as the topics of race, ethnicity, culture, and hair texture there were fireworks everywhere honey!! After each episode I found myself asking all types of questions.  Surprisingly, I ended up appreciating this show mainly because it pushed the participants and viewers to grapple with difficult topics like race, ethnicity, culture, and hair texture all based around western ideas. The unfortunate thing in the show which happens too often in real life is that when folks are forced to discuss touchy topics dealing with race, ethnicity, skin color, or hair texture, conversations are dropped and/or swept under the rug instead of hashed out completely.  I have been guilty of avoiding the “Black girl hair” conversation for many reasons, but feel compelled to say my piece.(or is it peace?)

I was super lucky to have been born into a family that never talked about being dark or light, pretty or ugly, or about having good or bad hair.  My grandmother was a hairstylist among many other professions, and always could make anyones hair look great.  As a result, my mom was also great with hair, and ultimately the “do hair gene” was passed down to me!  I honestly think that because we always knew how to “fix” our hair, our opinion on black hair was simple, we knew what to do to have the styles, length, and texture we wanted.  I didn’t learn until fourth or fifth grade that my hair texture was considered “good” because my fellow classmates told me.  I didn’t understand until I was a grown adult that my hair was considered “a good grade” because when I put gel, jam, water, or hair lotion it had an obvious wave/curl pattern depending on the hairstyle that I wore.

I remember the first time a class mate told me I had “good hair”. I was kinda nerdy, had natural hair which was unusual because most of my classmates had relaxers or “perms” as we used to call them, and this girl that I could not stand screamed across the room “Hey, you got some good hair.  I bet it would be real pretty if you had a perm.”  At the time I was just confused because the term was so foreign to me. I was raised by a mother who was/is a performing artist that put me in a West African dance company where everything African was celebrated.  It was super important to me to have natural hair because the styles that I wore for performances looked more authentic, and I fit in with my fellow dance peers.  Most of us had parents who embraced their African heritage and passed it down to us making West African food, music, languages, clothing, religion, and education the norm.  Because I valued dance and my dance community more than my peers in elementary school, I didn’t mind not fitting in.

Now as a grown adult I am learning from several other women that I am lucky to have had the unique childhood experiences which helped to establish my views on my own hair.  High school was another story, but we will discuss that in the next post!! Peace and a bottle of hair grease!! lol

 

Lips that broke the internet: MAC’s Instagram page and the image that revealed everything

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When I first interviewed for MAC cosmetics, I did tons of research on the company so that I would be prepared for my interview ( which turned into like five!).  Anyway, while researching the company I learned that the slogan was “Makeup for All.  All ages, all races, all sexes.” That slogan meant a lot to me mainly because I had never really seen women of color working for make up brands like MAC, Chanel, Bobbi Brown, Lancome, etc…until I moved to Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C in 2005 was still chocolate city, and because of the high population of people of color, I saw more diversity within the world  of retail in D.C, Maryland, and Virginia than I had in my whole life!  D.C also had a high population of gay, lesbian, and transgender folks who also came from various ethnic/racial backgrounds, and I saw all of the above working behind the counter at MAC cosmetics making their slogan legitimate.

Fast forward to February 18, 2016, MAC cosmetics posts a photo of a black woman with a deeper skin tone and full lips on their instagram page, and all hell breaks loose!  Folks obviously not knowing the slogan for the company commented writing awful things like “fish lips“, “Jay Z lips“, and “N!gger lips“, just to name a few.

I couldn’t help but thinking about Kylie Jenner and the uproar that she caused when she started getting collagen injected in her lips so they could look similar to the model MAC posted on their instagram page a few days ago, and how subsequently she has been able to capitalize on her surgically enhanced lips and create a liquid lipstick line that sells out in seconds whenever they hit the internet.  Not only that, after she revealed her “new” lips, young women everywhere started putting their lips in plastic bottles and other contraptions to interrupt circulation creating a temporary swelling effect that made their lips look larger.  If we go back five to eight years, Angelina Jolie was celebrated the same way because of her naturally full lips.  There are countless other examples of women of European descent being celebrated for having full lips, large butts, tan skin, etc… but comments still pop up like “N!gger lips” when women of African descent are put on platforms to celebrate their features.

What I would love to see happen are “lean in” conversations amongst people from all different racial backgrounds regarding this reoccurring phenomenon.   There is an obvious double standard as it relates to celebrating African features on people of African descent vs. people of European descent, and the glaring question is WHY?? (nobody seems to have the answers Sway!)

Why do we think full lips on Kylie Jenner are beautiful but not on a women who is obviously of African descent?  Why are Kim Kardashian‘s “box braids” considered trendy and fashion forward when women of color are often considered “ghetto” for wearing the same cornrows?  Why did every man on the planet go crazy when J’Lo came on the scene with her large butt? If we truly sit down and attempt to come up with honest answers to these questions, we will inevitably face an ugly truth about the world that we live in.  Admitting the problem/s is the first step right?

 

Black Models Matter!!(Zac Posen says so!)

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After Beyonce shocked America with her political Super Bowl performance, Zac Posen decided to make a statement of his own.  During this months New York Fashion Week, Zac Posen made the choice to use mostly black models for his show proving that black models are just as valuable to the fashion world as any other.

Like Viola Davis said in her speech at the 2015 Golden Globes, “The only thing separating women of color from everyone else is opportunity.”She followed by saying “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

In this case, roles are replaced by runways, but the message is still the same.  Zac Posen you are appreciated!!

The Oscar Effect: Should I boycott certain makeup brands?

The Oscar Effect

A few weeks ago the nominations for the Academy Awards were announced and to many people’s surprise, there were hardly any people of color nominated! Oh what a surprise!!(sense my sarcasm?) Jada Pinkett Smith went on a social media rant proposing that people of color and especially black people boycott the show.  All this talk about boycotting had me thinking about my field and whether or not I should boycott the cosmetic brands that refuse to sell foundations for a broader range of skin tones, and what that would look like.  Most of the brands that I sell currently have many shades that would match any persons skin no matter what color, but there are brands that I have sold and sometimes still do that have nothing for darker skin tones.  I have had countless conversations with fellow retail make up artists, account executives, regional and national trainers, friends, and several other people about why certain brands offer no products for deeper skin tones, and the only answer that makes the most sense is that they just don’t want to!!

After reflecting even more about the brands that refuse to make foundation shades for deeper skin tones, the Flint water crisis, Donald Trump’s ideas on immigration, racial profiling and police brutality, and all of the other nasty things happening to brown and black people all over the world, my conclusion made sense.  I still wasn’t satisfied with my answer so I decided to start researching  brands one by one to find answers. I started with one that is extremely prestigious and offers a lot more than cosmetics.  This brand offers cosmetics, fragrance, clothes, shoes, and hand bags.  This brand is French and causes some women to skip out on paying rent to buy their hand bags. I have had several women tell me that they love using the cosmetics from this brand because pulling out the compacts make them feel luxurious!  Young teenaged girls also love this brand and the luxury and status that it promotes spending their parents hard earned cash on lipsticks just so they can pull them out of their backpacks and feel special.

The interesting thing about all of this is that luxury and status are important to many people no matter what color or how old they are.  In the era of Social Media striving for status seems to trump common sense so even if these brands that are so in demand care nothing about people of color, people of color still support them in droves! Some how if there was a “mass awakening” that caused folks of color to stop buying cosmetics from these companies that don’t really care about catering to them would it make a difference in these companies bottom line?  In the sixties when black folks boycotted the buses, those boycotts definitely hurt the transportation systems financially.

Would it help to create more brands specifically for people of color? I can’t help but think how black communities thrived during segregation.  Black Wall Street is a great example, so great that once they created their own educational and financial institutions among other things, the US government became threatened and wiped the whole community out!(just google the full story, I know your curiosity is itching to understand what I mean when I say “wiped the whole community out”)What would the effects be via social media? Would a successful boycott push brands to be more inclusive or not? Our current public school systems especially in poor and urban communities does not make the whole inclusive argument sound promising. Guess those are probably really similar questions that we can ask about the film industry right?