The Hidden Anxiety For Women Of Color While Shopping

April 8th 2016

Taylor Bell

A new video advertisement for a Black beauty product is sparking conversation about women of color and the beauty industry's failure to recognize them.

The new ad for Shea Moisture called "BreakTheWalls" addresses the exclusion that Black women, in particular, often feel when they go shopping for beauty products in drugstores and supermarkets.

Beauty and cosmetic products for Black women are placed under the "Ethnic" isle while the same products for non-women of color are placed under the "Beauty" isle, according to the ad. The failure to integrate Black beauty products into "Beauty" isles often makes Black women feel left out the beauty conversation.

"I have often said over the last 20 years that the beauty aisle is the last place in America where segregation is still legal," Richelieu Dennis, founder and CEO of Shea Moisture's parent company, Sundial Brands, told Adweek. "Separating 'Beauty' from 'Ethnic' has only served to further perpetuate narrow standards of what is considered beautiful in our industry and our society — which is why we began leading the efforts to break down those walls."

But Black women spend more money on beauty products than the general market. According to Refinery29, Black women dish out $7.5 billion annually on beauty products; Black women spend 80 percent more on cosmetics and twice as much on skin care than other consumers. Yet, they have been largely underrepresented in the beauty industry.

And when Black women do appear in beauty campaigns, they often deal with magazines lightening their natural skin tone. For example, L'Oreal received major backlash after people accused the company of artificially lightening Beyoncé's face for one of their beauty ads.

In one poignant scene of the ad, the "wall" separating the "Ethnic" and "Beauty" sections comes down.

And in a symbolic move the Shea Moisture hair product is placed on a shelf of the "Beauty" isle.

The ad is receiving praise online.

Although Black women continue to struggle to get more representation in the beauty industry, the ad opens the door to talk about an issue not talked about in mainstream media.

"This movement is about so much more than selling shampoo, or lotion, or cosmetics," Dennis told Adweek. "We're advancing a mission and vision to change the social dialogue about how we're looking at beauty as a society and how those archaic structures and views are debilitating to the establishment of new and more inclusive ways of viewing beauty."

You can watch the full ad here: