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Adore Beauty is calling on Australian beauty brands to stock more shades

PHOTOGRAPHY BY METTE KORTELAINEN

WORDS BY EVANGELINE POLYMENEAS

Because beauty in Australia isn’t as inclusive as you might think.

When Maria Thattil was a teenager, she would wear foundations that were four shades too light for her skin tone. Faced with a complete lack of options when it came to makeup that matched her skin, she didn’t have the option of finding her perfect match.

But heartbreakingly, because of her internalised racism, she liked how the lighter shades looked on her skin. Maria went on to become Miss Universe Australia in 2020. Now, after years of not seeing herself represented in the Australian beauty industry, Maria has collaborated with Australia’s most popular eCommerce beauty retailer, Adore Beauty on what Maria calls “not a commercial campaign” but a “human rights movement”.


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Adore Beauty and Maria, alongside Where Are You From?‘s Sabina McKenna as art director, have introduced a shade inclusive initiative called the Global Shades project, calling on the Australian beauty industry to be more inclusive and diverse. In an open letter to Australia, Adore Beauty recognises that it stocks a limited range of shades due to the small number of brands that provide an adequate array of shades to choose from, but makes it clear that it’s committed to tackling the problem. Adore Beauty is inviting everyone to sign this petition to show the beauty industry that there is indeed demand for a broader range of shades.

Prior to becoming Miss Universe Australia, Maria was a makeup artist who experienced first-hand the struggle of finding the correct shade to fit not only her clients but herself. “I couldn’t find makeup, foundation and concealers to fit myself and that’s shocking because I am a light-skinned woman on the spectrum of shades,” Maria tells me. “I couldn’t find makeup to cater for myself or my clients.”

Even though many beauty brands have begun including models from diverse backgrounds in their campaigns, model Malaan Ajang says she has “horror story after horror story” about her experiences on set. In the Global Shades video, Malaan tells us how makeup artists on shoots would add black eyeshadow to their darkest foundation in an attempt to match her skin tone. “The consumer gets to see this beautiful image that was created but they don’t know the behind the scenes and how the model was made to feel,” Malaan says, wiping away her tears.

“We talk about diversity a lot,” Maria says. “We talk about it a lot internally and domestically, but internationally, those misconceptions are there and it’s because that is what is being put out there. The issue… is that we are [not] serving an inclusive idea of what Australia looks like. And I think it is heavily skewed towards Anglo-Celtic perceptions, so for that reason, the beauty industry is catering to who they think Australians are.”

When you don’t see yourself represented, especially in beauty, it has the capacity to damage your self-esteem and perceptions of your own prospects. Maria believes that seeing people that look like you in beauty campaigns “validates you, it tells you that you belong, it tells you that you fit it, it tells you that you have infinite possibilities and that you can”. 

Inclusion is at the core of everything Maria does. “Everyone, irrespective of their social identity, their sexuality, their gender identity, their ability – it doesn’t matter what it is – should be able to represent themselves, truly, authentically, safely and wholly in society. I think until we have a society that allows that, we won’t have a society that is able to cater to the community that comprises it.”

And Adore Beauty’s Global Shades project is attempting to do just that. It’s a call to action for both the Australian beauty industry and its consumers. It’s urging us to recognise that the Australian beauty industry is failing to cater to the BIPOC community and just how damaging this exclusion is. It’s calling out the Angelo-Celtic beauty standards that are upheld by limited shade ranges and whitewashed beauty campaigns.

Rather than relying on a single brand or retailer, this movement is calling on the entire beauty industry to elevate the voices of the BIPOC community and encourage them to share their lived experiences. “We need to dismantle these antiquated ideas of what Australia looks like,” Maria says. “We should cater to our actual and authentic and true diversity, and this movement is calling for that.”

As I sit there recognising my own privilege as a fair-skinned Caucasian woman, Maria seems to notice. “It is so important that no matter how you have experienced this issue, whether it was from a place of privilege or prejudice, your participation, your voice, it matters,” she explains.

This is why, no matter the shade of your skin, it’s important to lend your voice to it by signing the petition and sharing the movement. Everyone deserves equal access to makeup, and everyone should see themselves represented in the products and campaigns we are exposed to everyday.

To learn more about Adore Beauty’s Global Shades project, head here.

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