Many people are aware that beauty standards exist, yet not everyone understands the particularities of how beauty standards influence the beauty industry, especially when they are informed and affected by settler colonialism*.
As consumers demand more diversity from brands, it is essential to understand the social implications of beauty standards. According to Traackr’s data, the amount of posts about diversity and inclusion increased by 49% with engagements also climbing by 135%, comparing Mar. – Sept. 2019 V Mar. – Sept. 2021.
*A preferred definition of settler colonialism is that it is a system concerned with the removal, displacement, and genocide of Indigenous Peoples (Tuck & Yang, 2012). This system applies to both the physical (removal or displacement from land) and more abstract (removal of representation in media, displacement of culture, etc).
Beauty in the eye of the beholder
Beauty standards are arbitrary social qualifications that dictate who is perceived and considered beautiful and those who are not. We understand who is beautiful and who is not through media communications and social media algorithms. For example, Dove commissioned a global study of 3,200 women, aged 18 to 64, and found that just 13% of all women say they are very satisfied with their beauty.
When it comes to challenging these colonial standards of beauty, it is important to be diligent and intentional of which Indigenous communities are being celebrated, collaborated with, and supported.
For example, Sephora Canada’s June 2021 campaign, in honor of National Indigenous History Month, highlighted an array of wonderful local and well-known Indigenous activists and influencers, such as Michelle Chubb (Bunibonibee Cree Nation) and Shina Novalinga (Inuk).
Although the campaign involved Indigenous creators, the curated representation did not feature and celebrate the level of diversity among Indigenous People within, what is now known as, Canada, and excluded Black Natives and/or Afro-Indigenous Peoples.
Now, this example speaks to a larger issue around indigeneity, because understanding who is Indigenous is complex and nuanced, which requires brands to be more intentional, diligent, and conscious of who they invite or collaborate with when celebrating and supporting Indigenous communities.
How to flip the script
How can you support diverse, and specifically Indigenous, beauty?
Well, to be honest, that requires an entire cultural shift in how we understand and support current beauty standards, which sounds difficult, yet it is very much possible, and here’s how.
Collaborate, celebrate, and support Indigenous Peoples, particularly Indigenous beauty brands, leaders, advocates, and influencers.
Indigenous Peoples know who they are and what they want. With the popularity of social media, there is simultaneously a rise of amazing Indigenous-owned beauty brands and phenomenal Indigenous make-up artists. Both of whom are challenging the colonial standards of beauty in diverse and complex ways.
Indigenous beauty brands paving the way forward
The two Indigenous-owned beauty brands who come to mind are Cheekbone Beauty and Ah-Shí Beauty. These two beauty brands are not afraid to change the world and make it better for themselves and their communities.
Cheekbone Beauty is an Anishinaabe owned beauty brand based in, what is now known as, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. Cheekbone Beauty was founded by Jenn Harper (Ojibwe) with the goal of creating space in the beauty industry for Indigenous youth to be seen and represented authentically.
Cheekbone Beauty is more than makeup, it is a mission; a mission to change the world through celebrating the diversity of Indigenous Peoples and supporting Indigenous communities through a wide array of product donations, monetary donations, or project-focused donations. The beauty brand also has a zero-waste goal by 2023, highlighting their commitment to sustainability and climate justice.
Ah-Shí Beauty is a Diné and Black owned beauty brand located on the Navajo Nation. This beauty brand was founded by Ahsaki Baa Lafrance-Chachere (Diné & African American) with the goal of empowering and inspiring people to embrace their unique beauty.
Ah-Shí Beauty routinely challenges the beauty industry for commercializing and profiting off the cultures of Indigenous Peoples. The owner’s goal is to Indigenize the Beauty Industry, not by fitting in, but standing out while being authentic and true to who and what her community stands for.
In addition to being a beauty and skincare brand, Ah-Shí Beauty also does advocacy on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, a movement dedicated to advocating and demanding justice for the violence that Indigenous women, Trans, and Two-Spirit communities experience.
The commitment to Indigenous communities, our issues, while challenging the colonial standards of beauty is the most notable difference between an Indigenous-owned beauty brand and well-known beauty brands.
Empowering Indigenous creators
While Indigenous Peoples come in many shades and have diverse and unique experiences, many of us are concerned with challenging and surviving settler colonialism every day. Social media has become a tool to share and manifest our desire to change the world and make it better for ourselves and our communities.
Here are a few of my favorite Indigenous beauty leaders, advocates, and influencers who are leading and heralding a liberating and empowering future for all.
This list is a snapshot of the diversity and complexity that exists across Indigenous communities throughout the Canadian and US Empires. There are many out there who challenge and disrupt colonial beauty standards in their own unique way.
Do your part
You, as the reader, as a brand, as a business, an industry, or all the above, have the capacity, the capability, and the possibility to be part of this history of resistance and resilience. Really what you have to do is collaborate, celebrate, and support Indigenous Peoples.
Reach out to us, share opportunities with us to let us speak and share with the world our demands for justice and equity. You’ll probably be surprised by how many will listen, and how quickly the world will change. Simply take that first step.
Charlie reflects, analyzes, and critiques what it means to be a Diné in the 21st century on her personal blog, dineaesthetics.com, while inspiring joy and justice to thousands on Instagram and TikTok. Their English Pronouns are they/them and she/hers.