beauty

It's time to finally talk about the decades-old problem with 'nude' beauty products.

Blak makeup artist Kaydee Kyle-Taylor remembers being 14 when she first thought, 'maybe makeup isn't ever going to be for me'. 

Earning a wage from her first high school job, the proud (Aboriginal) Wakka Wakka, Birri Gubba, (Maori) Ngati Porou and Ngati Kahungunu woman finally had money of her own to spend on beauty products. But wandering down the makeup aisle at her local chemist, she didn't see herself on the shelves. 

Sales assistants would point Kaydee in the direction of foundation bottles the colour of damp sand, labelled 'nude' or 'beige', that didn't match her skin tone, at all. At the time, they were the darkest shades available from the brand her teenage self was obsessed with.

"Back then, the darkest shades would have grey undertones, so I had to buy other items to try to warm things up. That's when I started to feel insecure about my skin," she says. 

"Being a little brown girl, I experienced early racism and bullying throughout primary school. I saw myself as the problem. It wasn't ever a question of my culture, it was questioning my skin colour and what it meant to the rest of the world. And anyone else who was darker than me, I wondered, did they ever feel the same?" 

Nkisu Machona did, and sometimes, still does. 

"When I first started getting into makeup during my last two years of high school, I would go to the store and look at lipsticks. Anything labelled as nude just made me look crazy, while all my white friends had no problem picking out nude lipsticks!" the Perth-based Zambian beauty content creator says. 

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Tina Abeysekara, the Sri Lankan-Australian stylist behind the Trash to Treasured Instagram account, added, "All of my girlfriends and I laugh when we see photos from our formal or going clubbing, because we're all ashy". 

"We just didn't have products for us, and especially in our price ranges. I think when [this reality] starts in high school, when you're already excluded from things, it just becomes a way of life."

Tina, like anyone who was a teenager in the 90s and early 2000s, remembers when the height of sophistication was a nude lip. So nude, you might've used concealer or foundation to make your lips look as nude as possible. 

And by nude, I mean white

As a white, plus-size woman, the beauty industry has always been my sanctuary. When clothes don't fit me, my body is the problem. But when I walk into a beauty department, down the makeup aisles at the chemist or scroll through my favourite online beauty retailers, I never have to worry about finding beauty products that suit me. 

I have and always will be able to find my foundation shade - in fact, I'm spoilt for choice - and I can trust any nude lipstick, be it bougie or bargain, will give me the look I'm after. That 'your lips, but better' shade that's not too brown, but not too pink. 

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This just isn't the case for the three women I spoke to for this story, and countless others still feeling left out by an industry that appears to be more inclusive now than ever. They're done with not being able to spend their money on products that cater to them. 

And as Nkisu puts it, "It makes me feel like the beauty industry does not value you unless you're Caucasian". 

Putting aside the many things women like Nkisu, Tina and Kaydee "just have to do", like buying and mixing together multiple foundations to get even close to their natural undertones, custom-blending several lip colours to find their nude, doing their own bases and lips while having their makeup done, and only being able to find suitable products from premium, expensive brands, the term nude when used to describe beauty products is fundamentally flawed. 

The moment nude became a descriptor for one specific shade, a pale, creamy, light-coloured shade, it automatically excluded anyone with even a slighter darker skin tone from being able to participate. 

Whether intentional or not, using the term nude to describe a single colour or a trend (like the smokey eye and nude lip look Tina remembers desperately wanting to try as a teen) sends the message to people of colour that they do not belong here. 

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But really, when you break down what nude actually means, it's... skin

To be only wearing your skin, or a colour resembling your skin. 

And skin comes in more than one shade. 

When asked which beauty brands are getting representation right, Nkisu, Tina and Kaydee all agree the 2017 launch of singer Rihanna's inclusive cosmetics line Fenty Beauty with 50 foundation shades changed everything.

"Fenty set the bar for other makeup brands to extend their ranges," Kaydee says. 

And while a new wave of beauty brands coming out of the US are nailing their ranges, along with legacy brands that are finally catching up, Kaydee stops buying from companies as a whole if they don't have inclusive shades. 

"Brands need to understand, as much as people of colour come in our different shades, we all have different undertones and one foundation doesn't fit all." 

"Over the history of makeup, women of colour weren't considered for such a long time, and we're still really not even now." 

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So, are nude beauty products still relevant in 2020? 

To simply 'cancel' nude-anything wouldn't achieve the shift in perspective that needs to happen for everyone to feel included in the beauty industry. 

Rather, it's time to acknowledge the previous way of doing things was flawed, and move forward by redefining nude as a concept. In fact, it's long overdue.

To Nkisu, nude means natural. "Like your skin, but better." 

Tina wants brands marketing items as nude to include a variety of shades so everyone can choose their nude.

Kaydee's take on nude is personalised. There is not one-size-fits-all.

"It's something you have to match for the person's skin. Nude is to be adjusted for everybody." 

Why? Because nude isn't a shade. It's a spectrum. 

And every single colour on that spectrum is worthy of being represented in a beautiful, shiny tube of lipstick. 

Feature image: Getty. 

What's your experience of nude beauty products? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.

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