The cosmetics company MAC recently posted a photo featuring New York Fashion Week model, Aamito Lagum, in one of MAC’s many popular lipstick shades. Although beautifully composed, with an accentuation on the deep shade of her lipstick as well as the curvature of her lips, the photo was otherwise innocuous and had no reason to surface above the thousands of other photos covering one of the industry’s most highlighted events. Except, the model was black, and blackness in the beauty industry is not without scrutiny.
Within hours of the photo being posted, the comments were flooded with wildly racist and defensive proclamations from white women about what is and isn’t beauty. Although it’s not abnormal for images of women to face vitriol from the masses, black women are especially attacked for the very features that white women then strive to obtain. Lip injections, popularized by Kylie Jenner, are intended to create plush lips. It’s also common for white women to wear foundation darker than their actual skin tone. Buttocks and breast implants and waist trainers are used to construct exaggerated curves. All of these traits are vilified when they’re present on black bodies, but sought for on white bodies. We as a culture punish black women for having the beauty that we desire, because we as a culture view black women as inferior. This is not a conscious perception, but our psyche has been scarred by 300 years of slavery and 90 years of segregation and incidents such as this highlight the consequences of that scarring.
But rather than simmer in self-serving white guilt, the best thing white women can do as allies is call out this sort of behavior as it happens, listen to black women when they discuss their experiences, and challenge our Euro-centric understanding of beauty. Even seemingly harmless babble online, which is often written off as behavior that is too common to confront, has consequences.
And although the hostile voices were loud, others were present to call out the bigotry. Furthermore, Maryse Kyelem (another NYFW model) wrote a response on Instagram pointing out that while bigots will be bigots, they’re not the ones walking in New York Fashion Week. Lagum herself also tweeted: “My lips causing people sleepless nights on
@MACcosmetics IG page. Take a chill pill. There are real,” in response to the dramatics.
Note: Instead of posting pictures of the hateful comments under question, I have chosen to feature Lagum’s modeling work. This is in part because the content of that bigotry doesn’t belong here- and also in part, well, because she’s incredible.