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Skin of Color in the United States

By: Daphne Kasriel-Alexander
Posted: August 23, 2010, from the September 2010 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

The crowning of Arab-American Rima Fakih as Miss USA in mid-May 2010 has been a public affirmation of the shifting and broadening of beauty ideals in the United States. Fakih has become a poster girl for religious and ethnic diversity, and her success reflects the degree to which the United States’ melting pot ideal is now being superseded by a richer pattern of mosaic pluralism and the broadening of beauty ideals that comes with it.

Eva Mendes, another current U.S. beauty and style icon, declared in a recent interview with W magazine, “I have Cuban parents, but for me, I am the new American girl. It’s not only Drew Barrymore and the blond Midwestern girl. This [pointing to her face] is also what we look like now.”

Clearly, the ethnic tapestry of the U.S. population has had an impact on the country’s beauty ideal, and the landscape of beauty products and services currently available help U.S. women and men come closer to it.

The broadening beauty ideal

Harvard Business School history professor Geoffrey Jones offers some interesting insights into the realm of consumers and beauty in his book Beauty Imagined: A History of the Global Beauty Industry (Oxford University Press USA, 2010). This work traces how successive generations of entrepreneurs built brands that shaped perceptions of beauty. They democratized access to beauty products—once the privilege of elites—but at the same time defined the ethnic borders of beauty, resulting in a homogenization of beauty ideals. “Beauty became associated with Western countries and white people while the beauty industry turned these underlying trends into brands, creating aspirations that drove their appeal,” says Jones.

What’s different about today, explains Jones, is that globalization is transforming the beauty industry, with brands being forced to respond to a far greater diversity of cultures and lifestyles as new markets open up worldwide.