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beauty is pop culture // sex rules the world 

  • Ennie Fakoya.

Are beauty brands avoiding accountability with weaponised incompetence?

Updated: Jul 1

It’s currently a trend to be stupid. Weaponised incompetence is on every commentary creator’s lips, and in all honesty, it has reason to be. From the “Weaponised Incompetence Epidemic”, to Let’s Talk About Weaponised Incompetence”, the masses are revolting.

What is Weaponized Incompetence?:

“Weaponized incompetence, also called strategic incompetence, is when someone knowingly or unknowingly demonstrates an inability to perform or master certain tasks, thereby leading others to take on more work.”

This could be applied to practically anything in our current culture — politics, dating, friendships— but where it’s been rampant recently is in the beauty industry. Youthforia released their date night skin tint last year but the backlash hasn’t let up since then. 

It’s disappointing, because the website has the markers of a good beauty brand; a skin quiz, defining undertones, skin types, coverage requirements, take our two second quiz and you’ll get 10% off! It’s so tempting to trust a brand that takes the time to understand you. 

For anyone with a lighter skin tone, this tint might actually work. But when a dark skinned black woman tried their darkest shade, it was a mess.

Lifestyle and Beauty Creator Golloria has recently called out the lack of effort put into the product, comparing the foundation to black face paint, a perfect match. In her Instagram reel, she says it like it is; “When we say that we want you guys to make shades for us, we don't mean go to the lab and ask for minstrel show black. What we mean is to take the browns that you have made, create undertones, and do what you need to do in the lab so it’s a darker shade of brown.”

The most shocking part of the whole issue was the lack of undertones. In their quiz there is a dedicated section to specifying your undertone; cool, neutral, warm. But when the product was swatched, there were no undertones to be found. 

Skin Therapist Nyssa Donna Grays, said “So many cosmetic chemists will say that it's literally not hard to make a foundation shade. There are three primary colours so what the brand did was a choice. Even the people they were testing on were randomly chosen. Why would you make the darkest shade when there are so many hues of brown? I think we should stop giving these brands attention on social media because it feeds their engagement, we should focus our attention and money into brands that actually care.”

What is so hard about creating good products for Black users? Do brands like Youthforia really believe that pitch black can be the only pigment in darker foundations? Or did they think we’d be okay with the lack of effort because at the very least, there’s a shade for the very end of the spectrum?

Which brings us back to the point of weaponised incompetence. Choosing the path of least resistance, and boarding up the holes by presenting an illusion of diversity. Smoke screens like that have excited for far longer but they don’t fly anymore. Black consumers aren’t going to look at your product and think ‘at least they tried.’

Black beauty brands are booming, but they only make up 2.4% of the beauty industry. Black Americans are the highest spenders in beauty, representing 11.1% of buyers in the total US market. Shouldn’t we be giving them bigger platforms instead of cheering brands that do the least?

If we’re being realistic, It doesn’t make sense for these brands to exclude black beauty buyers because these brands are in the majority. Korean beauty brands are predominantly centred on creating products for lighter or pale skin, but a beauty YouTuber, Miss Darcei, covers Korean brands that are including darker shade ranges in their products. It’s not impossible, It just means they have to try. 

Image via. @missdarcei

The freedom of expression that comes from the beauty industry can’t be boiled down to simply, ‘we don’t have enough shade ranges so we just won’t bother’. It’s giving brands that are lazy with their diversity measures the opportunity to avoid doing the work to include everyone whilst reaping the benefits from creators and influencers of colour. More time, they’ve created the space for these brands to find themselves in good favour with majority spenders. So we can’t let them pretend they don’t know what they’re doing. Especially when it comes to younger consumers.

47% of beauty product users say they shop from brands with diversity or inclusivity, with a large number of those users being millennials and Gen Z. There’s a necessity for brands to be inclusive, but how many brands must we reprimand through our screens in order for actual change?

Comments under the various Instagram pages covering the controversy dismissed the complaints; “They don’t have your shade? Get over it! Find one that does.”

Should we get over it? Should brands like this avoid accountability by avoiding darker shades entirely?

Yes and no. Black women have more variety than they ever have, we’re having to sift through countless snuffs of noise, of influencers and product marketers encouraging us to aspire for the image they present through their brands. Clean Girls, Soft Girls, Cottage Core girls, there are specifics in their makeup routines, specifics that brand will profit off of. Why do similar options for black women always get buried within the noise of brands getting it wrong?

It’s not as if they don’t have help. Black beauty consultants and experts are in demand, because black consumers are driving the direction of the market despite black owned beauty brands making the least profit.  Brands that want to reach diverse audiences will do the work to make their products match their talk. Ticking a box is the least you can do if you don’t know why you’ve done so. 

But it begs the question; If you’re not willing to make good products despite how many experts and testers match the shade you’re creating, why create it at all?

It’s not as if anyone is going to tell Youthforia to close up shop, so why have they gone with a shade that they don’t understand? What it does mean, is that we really are holding brands accountable for their blunders. Not to shut them down, but to make it clear that we do have other options.

Image via. @okaysophi

In light of the controversy, Black beauty creators have been spotlighting brands that are either black-owned or trusted by black consumers. From Fenty to R.E.M Beauty, it’s a pivot from the usual ignorance that comes with dismissing black beauty lovers.

Are you passionate about exploring the intricate worlds of beauty, sex, fashion, wellness, and culture? Do you belong to a marginalized community and have unique perspectives and stories to share? If so, Nightstand Service is eagerly seeking contributing writers like you! Get in touch:


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