In the Land of the Unmarked Case

Cosmetics and beauty retailer, Ulta, is promoting a sweepstakes for which the grand prize is a $1,000 Ulta shopping spree.  Okay.  That’s fine.  But the tagline for this promotion is “The world of beauty is evolving.”  Okay.  That’s fine … or is it?  The tagline sounds so inclusive, so multicultural, so accepting of multiple conceptions of beauty.  In theory, at least.

But, in practice, not so much. 

The main promotional feature is a brief retrospective on styles from the 1920s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s (obviously, ain’t nothing chic about the Great Depression), complemented by contemporary photographs of models with their hair and makeup styled to represent each decade.  I’d like to share them with you.

This first decade highlights what I find reprehensible about the entire layout: the assumption that white looks were and are the most important, and that women of color (be they African American or any other nationality, ethnicity, or race other than white American) mattered only as second thoughts and only during rare periods.  “Ghostly pale skin” not only does not work as a description for women of color, but it also excludes immigrant and second generation women of the period — from places such as Eastern and Southern Europe and the Far East.

“Skin was powdered and pink”?!  Whose skin was powdered and pink?  Does this look a pink woman to you?

Once, again, the assertion of pale skin as the marker of a decade’s beauty ideal excludes the most women.

Well, in any decade, I love my bronze skin.  Maybe that’s what they mean … right?  Nah.

I wasn’t blond in the 1990s.  And it wasn’t just because I was in my teens. 

So, apparently we are finally allowed to accept our face shapes, skin tones, and hair textures.  Thank goodness for progress, for this magnificent evolution of beauty. 

And thank you, Ulta, for once again proving that white privilege is deeply and horribly engrained in the American social landscape.

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