The (Dis)Invention of Black Women A Rhetorical Analysis of Intersectional Oppression within Cosmetics Practices

Main Article Content


The American beauty industry has long reproduced the dominant Eurocentric worldview which consistently excludes Black women from the ideal. Most popular brands fail to properly represent Black women within their brands if they even feature products for them at all. Even in the most extensive ranges, there is often a clear lack of consideration for the needs and desires of women of darker complexions. This failure at the inclusion of Black women within the beauty industry is indicative of the larger dominant discourse in U.S. culture which privileges whiteness as the norm. One specific way in which the dominant public works reproduce a racist discourse around beauty standards are within their foundation shade names. Many popular brands use naming systems for their shades that hypersexualize and exoticize Black women by associating their skin complexions with edible food items like espresso, hazelnut, cocoa, and mocha. This association tantalizes Black women, contributing real material harm to Black women. My research asks: How current rhetorical meaning structures within the cosmetics industry serve to reproduce racialized and gendered discourses that negatively impact black women?


Through my rhetorical analysis which has been grounded in a Black Feminist approach, I have found that non-white women, particularly women of color, are impacted differently by rhetorical naming practices in the cosmetics space. Through my coding process, I analyzed six rhetorical artifacts, finding that foundation shade naming practices illustrate how the skin complexion continuum aligns with racialized and gendered discourses that place Blackness in opposition with whiteness and relegate Black womanhood to a unique dual position of invisibility of feminine beauty and hypervisibility of race. These practices reproduce a harmful rhetoric that deems black women as tough enough to handle pain—even violence, domestic, sexual, and otherwise.

Article Details

Falvey Scholars Project