Game-Changer: Robyn Rihanna Fenty

Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 16.32.43.png
Source: @FentyBeauty

Taking the music industry by a storm for almost 15 years and being hailed as a style icon for just as long, it’s no surprise Rihanna’s beauty range, Fenty Beauty, had around the block line ups at Harvey Nichols stores across the UK. There is no denying the brand’s success is clearly here to stay, but the question plaguing so many brands seeking to emulate Fenty’s success is not ‘why?’, but instead, ‘how?’ Whilst for some the answer is straight forward – Rihanna’s personal brand is so strong it almost guarantees everything she touches turns to gold; for others – like myself – it goes beyond this, and remedies an issue that has been long-fought for by women of colour in the beauty industry.

Before launching her first line of Fenty cosmetics, Rihanna pressed that the point of Fenty Beauty as a brand was to be inclusive of ALL types of women, and ALL of the skin tones these women come in. In response to a personal message she received enquiring whether the rumoured 40 shades of foundation was true, Rihanna responded with a humbling ‘You knoooowwww it!!!!’ going on to explain women of colour had been overlooked for too long in the industry. Rihanna’s vision of making Fenty Beauty a brand with a universal shade range is clear from the outset of the campaign, especially social media, which focused on using diverse women, and the continued explanations of how existing brands were failing to cater to certain skin tones, specifically those on each end of the shade spectrum. The inclusiveness of Fenty Beauty doesn’t stop at colour, though. The line also featured women of different cultural and religious backgrounds, one of which received the most attention being a young muslim woman who wears a hijab, Habiba da Silva leading to young hijab wearing women and beauty gurus alike to rejoice in such an inclusion; Youtuber Dina Tokio even mentions this as one of her favourite parts of the campaign in her online review of Fenty’s products.

Image Source: @FentyBeauty

Why does inclusiveness mean Fenty Beauty’s success is here to stay?

From a personal point of view – it’s obvious. I grew up surrounded by brands doing little other than marketing their products to a select few women. Most brands used well-known models or actresses making the idea of these products being for girls like me an even more distant thought than it already was. Sometimes coloured women were lucky to get a mention at the end of a commercial or in the fine print at the bottom of the billboard which read something along the lines of ‘available in 12 shades’ but only going on to be disappointed in realising none of these shades were a match for my skin tone. It made me feel like even more of an outsider when I’d browse the beauty section drugstores trying to find products that would match my skin tone only to go on and be disappointed. This feeling is largely reflected in the reviews I’ve come across from leading publications like The Telegraph but more so from the Instagram/ Youtube community, whose reviews I’ve been shamelessly binge watching.

Whilst it could be argued there are others in the industry looking to remedy this underrepresentation – like Maybelline’s release of the FitMe foundations, which now stocks over 40 shades. However, hunting these shades down is a dilemma in its own. Most drugstores tend to stock between 4 to 5 of their most popular shades; two ‘light’, one or two ‘medium’ and one ‘dark’ and Maybelline not having a storefront of it’s own makes getting shade matched correctly almost impossible, unless you’re willing to order a few shades directly from the website or use their online matching system which doesn’t include the full range in its results. Alternatively, MAC’s Studio Fix Fluid exceeds Fenty and Maybelline’s 40 shades with a whopping range of 42 colours and corresponding undertones, with plenty of storefronts and staffed counters to match you correctly. Though Maybelline and MAC may remedy the shade representation, Fenty hits another ethical dilemma by opting to be a cruelty free brand. If shoppers are not cruelty-conscious, Fenty Beauty’s final reason to stay is for the line’s ultra competitive price point; every product is priced at under £30 – packing a punch against it’s non-cruelty free competitors (NARS, Bobbi Brown, Dior) and falling just below or in-line with those who are (Too Faced, Urban Decay and Tarte).

From using diverse women in the launch campaign, to it’s cruelty free status and price point, Rihanna seems to have hit every box on the checklist. But this isn’t just about Fenty’s success – it’s about the gap Rihanna saw in the market that clearly needed filling and took it upon herself to do so. While other brands may be starting to roll out larger shade ranges, for the ones who are not, Fenty’s success will be sure to give them a kick up the backside. Yes – it cannot be denied that price-point, the anti-animal testing and personal brand affiliation has rendered the brand successful, it also cannot be denied that the shade range is a big part of the success, too. Fenty’s campaign goes to show when women of colour are represented, women of colour engage. The line is set to extend it’s release to eyeshadows and lipsticks by the end of the year, and I’m confident Ms. Fenty will change the game, yet again.



Game-Changer: Simran Randhawa

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 16.05.53
Image Source: @Simisear_

Simran Randhawa – better known to some as Simisear – is bearer of an extensive list of achievements, ranging from assistant political editor of Gal-dem magazine; to orchestrator of the movement #DecoloniseYourWardrobe ; to both subject and writer of Vogue. Among her loftier achievements, Randhawa is under twenty-five years old, and is working tirelessly to complete her final year of University as an undergraduate, making her work surrounding mental health, cultural and gendered issues resonate that much deeper with an audience of young women and girls able to connect to her and her words, with ease.

In the wake of widespread xenophobia Western political climates are currently exuding, and the blurred identity lines East-West upbringings foster, Randhawa is the symbol of empowerment so many teens and young adults with multi-faceted identities in today’s society need. Rooting from her shame and subsequent neglect of her Malaysian-Punjabi heritage in the face of a predominantly white group growing up, Randhawa’s work is a result of her realisation there was no shame in her culture nor heritage, for it largely shaped the individual she is today.

Her work around cultural appropriation of her heritage includes:

  • campaigning to reclaim the Bindi – a decorative Indian piece commonly misappropriated as ‘festival wear’
  • reminders of how growing up, Indian girls were once mocked for their body and facial hair, by the very groups now claiming the naturally thick hair and eyebrows these genes lend themselves to are ‘desirable’
  • perhaps most famously, Decolonising your wardrobe; an effort to showcase the beauty of Indian culture in its entirety, by fusing the fashion of our ancestors with Western pieces (like Randhawa’s fusion of a Sari-style pinning against jeans and trainers, pictured below), whilst crediting where these pieces are from, and who and what they symbolise.
Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 16.50.10
Image Source: @Simisear_

As well as neglecting the deeply embedded idea of beauty being a Western-centric, ‘one size fits all’ concept, Randhawa is working to fight the misconception that mental health only impacts individuals that look a certain way.  In a recent piece she penned for Vogue, Randhawa explains how her beauty regime is actually a key element to combatting her mental health, and called out another social media user on Instagram for accusing her of being too beautiful to experience any form of mental instability. By speaking openly and honestly about her experience with mental health, Randhawa is changing the stigmatism surrounding the topic by encouraging young people to talk about their experiences, practice self-care, and treat mental health with just as much importance as physical health. In her shorter yet just as sharp uploads on various forms of social media, Randhawa addresses issues of importance to women of colour,  and continues to unapologetically be herself whilst educating others on her choices.

Ultimately, Randhawa reminds us how mental health has no set-group of targets, how beauty is faceless, how there is no shame in Eastern heritage, and how we must take every opportunity we are given to change rhetoric which suggests otherwise. Thank-you, Ms. Randhawa, for filling the void we never saw, by being the hero of a generation who did not ask for one, but most definitely needed one.


Game-changer: Alicia Keys

Screen Shot 2017-04-23 at 15.56.04
Source: @aliciakeys

Last autumn Alicia Keys took Hollywood by storm with her decision to ditch wearing make-up when in the spot-light, and otherwise in her daily routine. In a powerful essay on Lennyletter, Keys outlined the reasons behind her decision, which ranged from self-reflection, to looking at the bigger picture of how the concept of beauty is constructed, and ultimately, distorted.

In an age of a multi-billion-dollar beauty industry, fuelled by Kardashians, Beauty Gurus and Touch-up teams, Keys’s decision is both bold, and unorthodox. Keys details the personal insecurities which developed as a direct result of the juxtaposition of her need to appear ‘strong and tough’ during her New York upbringing, against the stark Hollywood backdrop that demanded a far ‘softer’ and ‘more feminine’ image. These demands slowly grew to burden the reality of her identity, with fears that she did not dress or look the way she ‘should’.

For one, Keys’s story highlights the assumption that one cannot be strong and tough whilst being feminine; how the adjectives are too often placed on polar opposite ends of the scale as though they cancel one other out, when really, who is to say they do not work in conjunction? The widespread belief that to be strong and tough is not feminine, because to be strong and tough is not within the fundamentals of being a woman (clearly whoever thought up this dichotomy has never read a book, looked outside, or heard of Chrissy Teigen). Second, this story highlights how young women are falsely led to believe there is a universal standard of beauty that they must adhere toward to be successful in almost every professional capacity. To wear their hair in its natural state, to dress as they please or leave the house bare-faced would be a faux-pas.

Though Keys’s decision has attracted criticism in some arguing her actions have created a ‘new standard of beauty’ (that women must be just as beautiful without make up as they are with it), and others pointing out that she fills in her brows and follows an intensive skin-care regime, Keys herself presents the disclaimer that echoes the primary issue every feminist movement is working toward; choice. Keys’s decision to go bare faced is not founded on shaming women who are not comfortable in going bare faced, but instead, empowering those who are, but are constantly put down by societal standards that teach them otherwise.

In Keys’s Words:

‘I was really starting to feel like that — that, as I am, I was not good enough for the world to see. This started manifesting on many levels, and it was not healthy.’

Seeing and hearing Keys on a multitude of platforms every day, embodying success, happiness and dare I say, beauty, it would be difficult to phantom her having such thoughts. The idea that a singer who has sold over 30 million albums world-wide, felt she was not good enough to be heard, purely because Hollywood made her feel like she was not good enough to be seen. In the true nature of a Game-changer, Keys stepped aside and decided to look the way she wanted to look, instead of the way Hollywood wanted her to. For this courage, I both applaud, and thank you, Ms. Keys.