Cult makeup brand, The Balm, just revealed face swatches of the latest addition to their product suite - a whip foundation. Known for their cute vintage packaging, clever shade names, and ode to the 50s and 60s, The Balm has gained a massive following with over 1 million devoted fans on Instagram, but this time did they take it too far?
The 12 shades included in The Balm's Even Steven Whipped Foundation have caused many to immediately give this brand the side eye. 👀 Starting their shade range with the name "Lighter than Light," and ending with "After Dark," left many wondering exactly what the brand was trying to say with these shade names. To add insult to injury, the face swatches matched with each shade gave even more proof that this product wasn't gonna work for anyone with more than a lil' melanin. There was only one black woman shown in the photo collage, and the shade chosen for her appeared slightly gray and ashy.
Many of us who have been following The Balm for some time (myself included,) found themselves feeling jaded. One follower commented, "Names and shade range are super offensive. I love your eye shadows! Why'd you have to ruin the brand for me?!
Every time something like this happens, its still amazing to fathom that these shade names and shade choices were able to make it from the ideation stage all the way to production and now promotion. Reminiscent of the shade name fiasco Colourpop encountered with their contour stick shade names, The Balm's latest announcement is just one of many microagressions that happen daily if you are a black beauty lover or one who happens to have a complexion darker than a brown paper bag.
Some may not see the big deal, but when something like this happens time after time after time, the effect begins to weigh on you. In fact, its why many black women don't wear makeup- it's just not fun when big brands continuously fail to acknowledge that you exist; which begs the question - "Should a makeup brand be automatically CANCELLED because of their foundation shade range?"
I posed this question to you on Twitter and it seems like many of you think Yes, they absolutely should.
At first thought, I too thought absolutely, without a doubt, a large resounding HELL YES! But does the response to this question need more nuance? First of all when we "cancel" a brand, who are we actually cancelling? The owner? The creative producer? The chemists? The social media manager? Who are the key decision makers in a brand's rollout of a new product?
Secondly, what about brands who create different product lines for different target markets? Or have multiple foundation lines? For example, L'Oréal was one of the first brands to carry 40 different shades of their True Match Foundation (categorized by undertone), however, many were disappointed by the lack of shades for their latest foundation launch - Infallible Total Coverage Foundation.
And what about a brand like Maybelline, who's Matte and Poreless foundation was just voted by all of you as the best low end foundation?
They are a brand who's caught some flack in the past for their shade range and product development, and they seem to have actually listened and created more shades. Can the brand be forgiven for past transgressions?
Or what about a brand like Benefit, who's known for it's brow products - even going so far as to having its own brick and mortar Brow Bar store in NYC. But their complexion products leave much to be desired. The darkest shade of their Hello Flawless foundation is literally- beige.
And to take things one step further - what about the brands that ACTUALLY DO have the extensive shade range we all want and love, but do not carry the darker shades in stores, making the shopping experience for many of us a waste of time. Popular Italian beauty bloggers Grace on Your Dash and Dark Chocolate Creature reflected on how they felt when Lancôme (a brand that makes my absolute favorite foundation,) announced actress Lupita Nyong'o as their latest spokesmodel, and yet they couldn't find Lupita's shade of Lancôme foundation in Italy because, "Italian women don't wear that shade." (min : 17:38)
The same can be said of the full shade range the L'Oréal True Match foundation proudly touts. Many lovers of this foundation recall never seeing the darker shades in their local drugstores.
Who can we cancel then?
This chain of thought is in no way, shape or form excusing ANY of this behavior. These are all the questions that rush to mind whenever we see microaggressions happen to beauty lovers with underrepresented complexions.
Because the question "Who's to blame?" is really a segue into "Who do we need to talk to in order to effect change?" And what these questions actually reveal is that, it may not be just one person or one department that is to blame, but a system that has historically condoned this type of behavior, making it acceptable as the industry standard.
Those of us with darker complexions shouldn't be regularly told to wait for foundations shades to created for us, because it's oh so difficult. (That's a myth btw.) We shouldn't have to constantly beg for beauty brands to create products that suit our complexions.
Whether you are a B2B or B2C company (brand to brand or brand to consumer), you should know who your target markets are and how to serve them. (And recognize that a product as important as foundation, can lead a consumer to purchase many other product types from a brand.)
Despite all the apparent struggles, it's been demonstrated countless times that black women are avid beauty consumers who spend a great amount $ and time investing in the beauty industry. The same can be said of many other underserved communities, like the Latinx consumer group, which also includes Afro-Latinx dispersed across the globe. So, there's really no excuse for brands not to cater to these segments, other than communicating to them that they are not a priority.
This is exactly why we launched our #ColorConsciously campaign: beauty isn't one size fits all and should be treated as such. Beauty should be fun for everyone.
Thankfully, we see small adjustments, and additions being made that signify things are indeed changing. However, this latest incident with The Balm just confirms we have a long way to go.
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.