For Rebecca and me, the experience of shopping for make-up when we were teenagers could not have been more different. The first bottle of foundation I bought was the classic Covergirl Clean, which I picked up in Target for about $8 at the time. Unable to find a suitable affordable shade, Rebecca’s mum ended up bringing her to Myer, spending about $60-70 for a bottle of high-end foundation.
That’s not a small price difference. And the difference in the personal experience, and the way those experiences made both of us feel, isn’t small either.
“I want people to understand the seriousness of this issue as more than just a complaint about not being able to find a certain product on their shelves,” Rebecca says.
“I think what people don’t see is that when we ask for dark shades to be stocked, it is not ‘just about make-up’. It is an equal rights issue. It is about equal access to products that currently is not afforded to BIPOC. It is also a matter of representation and the harmful implications of cultures being visibly underrepresented in society.
“Failing to see your skin colour represented on shelves or in the beauty industry, or being unable to buy the products you need easily and at equal prices to others on a regular basis over time can manifest in feelings of anxiety, depression, low self-worth and self-esteem, shame, embarrassment, frustration and isolation. We need to do better.”
Rebecca continues on to say “not much has changed” in the last two decades, with “no shades darker than ‘beige’ stocked in any make-up brand in supermarkets and many department stores.”
That is, until Rebecca campaigned.
In her initial research, Rebecca learnt from a Woolworths manager that the darkest shade in any store in the country was ‘medium beige’.
“I remember feeling so many emotions that day – frustration, anger, disappointment, shame and defeat. I went out to a restaurant that night with friends and cried at the dinner table, all through a movie afterwards and then cried myself to sleep that night. I couldn’t believe that these companies could be so blasé about neglecting and excluding their own consumers.”
This is why Rebecca began her movement, calling on stores including Woolworths and Coles to offer a more diverse range of shades in-store, at the same prices offered to people with lighter skin tones. First looking for support “in Facebook groups for communities of people of colour,” the petition to Make The Space has now received more than 6,500 signatures to date and has received responses from both Woolworths and Coles.
While Woolworths has agreed to a first step of an online-only trial in selected metro areas, Coles has agreed to trial online and in-store in select locations. Both Woolworths and Coles are offering these trials alongside Maybelline, with the 40 shades of the Maybelline Fit Me Matte & Poreless Foundation available for purchase. For both stores, this will count as tripling the current range available to shoppers.
“I was so excited to finally get a response,” Rebecca tells us. “I was initially disappointed to read that the introduction of the new shades was going to be mostly online only and just for a trial period. However, ultimately, I’m really happy that we are starting to see a shift of thinking happening here and if we can get enough people aware of the trials, hopefully we can see permanent changes to the way retail operates in relation to becoming truly inclusive.”
That photo above? That’s Rebecca shopping for her own shade of foundation in an Australian supermarket for the first time in her life. It’s one of the 10 store locations Coles is trialling right now.
“After decades of only ever seeing makeup in light shades and believing that that was ‘just the way it is,’ I honestly never thought I would see the day when brown and black shades would be visible in a supermarket,” Rebecca says of the moment she purchased her product.
“It was a truly surreal moment to be able to physically see the spectrum of all 40 shades of skin colours represented and to be able to purchase my exact shade. It was a moment of hope for me – that progress could actually be possible.”
The most important thing now for Rebecca is to continue pushing the petition and getting the news out there, to try and make the ‘trials’ permanent. Especially since these trials are not being officially advertised.
“These trials are a first for the Australian beauty industry, as no supermarket in Australian history has ever stocked a full range of shades. Australia is also the first country globally to enter the grocery sector with a full range of Maybelline foundation shades during these trials, which is very exciting to see. Hopefully our country can pave the way for other countries to do the same!” Rebecca says.
“If we can show that there is a demand for makeup by Australians of all skin colours, hopefully this will have a flow-on effect into other areas of the beauty industry and maybe even in other aspects of Australian society.”
Acknowledging that the issue can also be traced back to makeup brands themselves, Rebecca wants organisations to recognise the harmful effects on the people they are marginalising and excluding.
“The reality is that even in 2021, cosmetics retailers still think it is acceptable to sell products that only cater to a section of the community, whilst completely neglecting all others,” Rebecca says. “Australia is an increasingly diverse community, yet systemic colourism creates a real barrier to acknowledging, appreciating and including people who are not deemed ‘the norm’ in society.
“I want my kids to grow up in a country that values their cultural background and that visibly represents their skin tone in society. Not just tokenistic representation but valued, respected and celebrated inclusion.”
So, how can we all get involved?
Sign the Make The Space petition here.
Follow Make The Space on Instagram here.
Find your local Coles and Woolworths store partaking in the trials here.