When it comes to self-esteem, beauty is serious business
What a society sees as ‘beautiful’ is an idea about what society values.
It is planted in the minds of young girls of colour, invading their most private spaces. Growing up, British-Nigerian writer Renni Eddo-Lodge writes:
“Even in my bedroom, I couldn’t escape a sense of otherness. Black and brown models were in magazines, but they were always exoticised and marked out as ‘other’ (the subject of an ‘out of Africa’ themed photo shoot). Or I’d tear out little sachets of foundation given away in teen magazines only to feel downcast – they were far too light, smearing like chalk on my skin. A universality had been assumed, and my skin was not included.”
At The Body Shop we know that to evolve as a brand that empowers girls of colour, we must understand what it means to feel truly represented.
SO, WHAT DO WE DO?
Firstly, we have to get our own house in order. That means ensuring diversity in our casting practices, developing products that work for all skin types and tones. It means we empower every single woman and girl of colour in our business to have an input on how we change.
Then, we need to listen, learn and do better. That’s why on International Day of the Girl we’re giving the floor to some of our colleagues. This will be the beginning of an ongoing conversation about what The Body Shop gets right (and wrong) when it comes to improving the lives of women and girls of colour.
“From as early as I can remember, I didn't see myself reflected in the world around me. I grew up in Canada and I’m biracial. My mum’s white and my dad’s Ghanaian. I struggled to find beauty within myself because I wasn't society’s norm. As a girl I never saw examples of anyone who looked like me on beauty products and adverts. Some products I was like, ‘Can I even use this?’ Barbies, magazines and beauty products all made me feel like an alien, like I didn't exist.
“My hair was very different from the other girls. When I used to say to my white friends I’m washing my hair as a kid, they’d be like, ‘Ok see you in an hour.’ And I’d be like, ‘Nooo… I‘m washing my hair – this is an all-day thing.’
“I have always been passionate about inclusivity and diversity. I think an inclusive culture goes beyond representation, it means a brand invests time and money into educating teams and the consumers about different cultures. For example, when The Body Shop were developing a new haircare line I had to get involved. So much haircare is developed around Eurocentric hair. I don't shampoo my hair every day and if I did it would probably fall out!
Haircare isn’t shampoo, condition and treat for everyone.
GLOBAL TRAINING MANAGER
“I’ve been helping to develop the new haircare line for textured hair at The Body Shop and it’s been really great to have the opportunity to speak about so many different haircare routines. Haircare isn’t shampoo, condition and treat for everyone. An understanding and respect for those parts of people’s lives we don't see is where I want to get to.”
“I am Pakistani and choose to wear a headscarf. And I can tell you – there’s a particular kind of stare you get if you are a woman of colour who wears a headscarf. Even though I follow loads of Muslim influencers on Instagram, which is great to see, I think people need to live by what they say on social media because I don’t want to live in a filtered version of reality. When I am out in public, subtle Islamophobia is everywhere. I notice when white people avoid approaching me in stores. It makes me sad to feel out of place in my home town.
“I think representation in beauty is very important. It’s upsetting how many young Pakistani women ask me if we sell whitening products. I don’t want anyone to be ‘fixed.’ I am glad I can be a low-key activist, and point them towards products that will make them feel good about themselves.”
It’s upsetting how many young women ask me if we sell whitening products. I don’t want anyone to be ‘fixed.’
“I am French-born Vietnamese. I grew up in a part of central France where there are very few Asian people. I was bullied by the other girls behind my back and called a ‘chink’ to my face. I have been in conflict about my identity all my life.
“I’ve had to constantly adapt my concept of beauty. I didn’t fit the standard of beauty growing up in France which was very Western. It affected my self-esteem. But then I would go to Vietnam and, because I am tall to them, everyone would say, ‘How are you so big?’ People there are very brutally honest and will openly tell you that you need to work out. If I tanned in Vietnam people would try to stop me, then I’d go back to France with a tan and people would tell me I looked so pretty. It’s confusing.
I was going between two countries with different standards I couldn't meet.
BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
“I was going between two countries with different standards I couldn't meet. Beauty is now less important to me than my values. It’s taken a long time for me to find self-love and finally accept who I am. The more I’ve travelled and met different people it’s helped me. I finally realise the benefits of having a multicultural background.
“The Body Shop’s commitment to diverse casting is so important for sending a message to young girls that they belong. I’m glad that Korean skincare is so popular in the West, but now I think the industry needs to step up for the global Asian community. When the #StopAsianHate movement began, it was great to be part of a company that stood with North American Asians by donating $30,000 to charitable funds that seek justice for them. I think The Body Shop could be even more proactive for Asian people all over the world. It will help the next generation struggling to accept themselves.”
“As a young girl I believed my place in the world was a submissive one. My mother was a single parent and I believed it was a woman’s place to do everything for everyone and not look after her own needs. As I grew up, I learnt that fostering self-esteem and the careers of women is a way to lift them up. I help young girls of colour find their goals and how they can tie their role with us to future success. Everyone deserves to follow their passion and live a life full of purpose. I want to hear about what drives them. I want everyone who works in store to go to work believing they rock.”
As a young girl I believed my place in the world was a submissive one.
HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR
“As a teenager there were periods where I doubted my beauty. I used to bleach my skin because even in my own Tamil community, fair skin is desirable. Luckily, spending more time with strong, dark skinned Tamil girls taught me what true beauty is.
“I joined this industry in my twenties. I was suddenly like, ‘Wow, I’m the only brown person on the floor.’ I fell into this career by accident but it’s surprising how few people from my background even know it exists.
“When I was a teenager, my mum had to take me to a department store to buy my first foundation because I couldn't buy it on the high street. Recently, I was sitting in a meeting and I was like, ‘Hang on a minute. I’m buying in foundation for this company and there still isn't a shade I can wear.’ I was supported by my team to say something. Since then, I’ve been part of a team swatching and developing a more inclusive range. Soon there will be 40 shades for different skin tones. It’s a step in the right direction.
Self-love starts from within, but without a support system it’s hard to have a voice.
COMMERCIAL CUSTOMER MANAGER
“When I have wanted to speak out at work, I had a network of colleagues to back me. I’m not afraid to challenge issues like anti-racism. My journey to self-love is 100% down to the people I have been surrounded by. Self-love starts from within, but without a support system it’s hard to have a voice. I hope The Body Shop’s SEEN network can be that for other people.”