Advertising as sources on Women by Emily Kiehn

In one of this week’s reading, “Making Faces: The Cosmetics Industry and the Cultural Construction of Gender,” author Kathy Peiss discusses the dynamics of the makeup industry in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Peiss chose to use sources like makeup and commercial advertisements to support her argument. This was an important part of her paper because like in figure 20.2, the advertisement shows African American women powdering their faces which supports her claim that the makeup industry has a decent amount of bias (Peiss, 349).  She reinforces this assertion throughout the writing by discussing the market and commercialization of the cosmetics company. This idea of a biased market really intrigued me because it is essentially the same thing a century later. The cosmetics industry is for the most part still really unequal between the representation of white women and anyone else of a different complexion.  Peiss says that black women had even more monetary constraints than any other poor white woman, yet the market for makeup for colored women still emerged (351). This launched a niche for black women to work in the black cosmetics industry. Though this was important and a huge stride for black women to enter into the marketplace, there was still a disparity between white and black consumers with representation.  Peiss claims that most advertisements targeting black women were to make kinky hair straighter or smoother and to lighten dark complexions (353).

While most advertisements and marketing for white women appealed to the desire to look like celebrities, marketing towards black women appealed to the societal push to look like white women.  This type of marketing of cosmetics can be seen even today as well with celebrity endorsements and cosmetic brands. Influencers like Kylie Jenner and Rihanna have made cosmetic lines and push for the desire to be like and look like them.  Even though some brands have a various shade range for different complexions, they still require a certain economic status in order to purchase them. Much like in the early 20th century, this excludes black women and women of color because they had very limited excess money to spend on cosmetics.  Many of the points that Peiss makes in her piece about race, class, and gender within the cosmetics industry still holds true today. For example, the disparity between white women and black women’s access to purchasing makeup is still accurate. Statistically white women have more money and, in turn, more excess money to spend on cosmetics while black women do not have equal representation in the colors and shade range offered as well as less money on average to spend on makeup.  Additionally, makeup in the 19th and 20th century showed status, which still holds true today with designer and upscale makeup brands which require a decent amount of money and has a fanbase surrounding it. While the makeup industry has made huge strides like integrating more women into the business realm, being more inclusive with shade ranges for more skin tones, and having a variety of prices from drugstore to upscale, there is still a long way for it to go in order for there to be equal access and opportunities.

Leave a Reply