In praise of Rihanna's Fenty Beauty
On September 8, singer, designer, actress, and overall 21st-century icon Rihanna staked her claims on yet another industry: beauty. But Rihanna’s first makeup line, Fenty Beauty, was met with insatiable hype not only because of the pop star’s popularity, but also in large part because of the distinct nature (and brilliance) of Fenty itself. In the context of a market that has long failed to provide products for countless potential customers of color, Rihanna created products featuring myriad tones that embrace a diverse array of skin types.
Women of color have long been marginalized when it comes to general, conventional standards and practices of beauty. Certain features of women of color’s bodies — like their butts, for example — are often cherry-picked as desirable by white society and then fetishized. But overall, women of color are encouraged to conform to eurocentric conventions of beauty. Black women’s natural hair is often regarded as messy or unkempt, until straightened like that of their white counterparts. Their complexion is also relevant, given centuries of imagery that celebrates fairer, lighter-skinned women, and ostracizes those with darker or uneven skin.
Just as women of color have been overlooked by general societal beauty standards, they have also been overlooked by the industry that caters to those standards. For years, women of color have had to scour for products that actually match their skin tones and compromise based on what they find. Mainstream makeup lines have long neglected to provide a vast number of shades that would accurately match minority consumers. It’s not that women of color haven’t or don’t buy makeup, but that few mainstream cosmetics brands so acutely recognized this overlooked gap part of the market.
Rihanna herself was no stranger to this longstanding reality. “No line really had what I considered to be my foundation,” the star told The Chicago Tribune of the inspiration for Fenty, which includes 40 shades of foundation. As Rihanna told Refinery 29, she wanted to create makeup “that girls of all skin tones could fall in love with” and wanted every product to have “something for a dark-skinned girl; there needs to be something for a really pale girl; there needs to be something in between.”
It wouldn’t be hard for such a financially successful artist to find or even create a beauty product that would flawlessly match her own skin tone and leave it at that. Or if Rihanna had wanted to get into the beauty industry in general, she could have easily slapped her name on any product — her star power alone would generate lines around the corner, no matter the nature of the product or its price. But Rihanna thought bigger. She used her resources to essentially capitalize on providing a product to millions of overlooked consumers.
Beyond being indicative of Rihanna’s entrepreneurial genius, Fenty Beauty sends a broader message to both producers and consumers: Creating beauty products in a wide variety of shades is not only inclusive or the “right” thing to do, but meets a significant market demand: Fenty has made $72 million since its release. Fenty takes a measured grasp of the reins that control the beauty market and has steered them in a direction that recognizes a vastly larger array of consumer than would usually feel seen in an industry that is based on looks.
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