Essay: Stop rebranding Black and brown beauty trends

In a TikTok posted in late August, model and celebrity it-girl Hailey Bieber coined the “brownie glazed lips” look with brown lip liner layered with lip gloss from her newly launched makeup and skincare brand. But many were quick to call Bieber out for renaming a trend most notably attributed to women of color in the past.

“Women of color aren’t mad that people do these trends, it’s when you slap a f–cking Betty Crocker name on it and make millions from it when women of color get called ghetto for it, that’s the part that hurts,” verified influencer Bria Jones said in a TikTok late last month, responding to the controversial videos that started at all.

The Bieber controversy isn’t the first time a celebrity or influencer has rebranded a trend that women of color have created and propagated. Just Google search Kim Kardashian renaming cornrows “Bo Derek braids” after the acclaimed actress or the Black origins of the TikTok “clean girl aesthetic” of slicked back hair and hoop earrings. Jones’ words strike right at the core of an all-too-familiar and unsolved issue – celebrities, designers and social media influencers have unfairly rebranded fashion and beauty trends that have long since been attributed to people of color while leaving out the necessary historical context.

In the case of Hailey Bieber’s brownie-gate, Latina women set the trend of wearing clear lip gloss over brown lip liner, and Black and brown people have worn the look since the late 1980s. Commenters scolded Bieber’s lapse of cultural awareness, writing “You meant 90s Latin inspired lip combo,” and, “You mean the lip combo Latinas have been using since forever????”

For generations, people of color have crafted makeup styles like these as innovative workarounds to contend with the systemic lack of makeup products available in stores across the country. So-called “nude” lipsticks rarely accommodated darker skin tones and existed as various shades of pink for white and lighter skin tones. Black and brown people resorted to using products that came in dark enough shades of brown, like eyeliners and eyebrow pencils, for looks like the renamed “brownie glazed lips.”

It wasn’t until the launch of Rihanna’s Fenty Beuty makeup brand in 2017 that people of color received the products they deserved, with 40 all-inclusive shades of foundation that accounted for brown skin tones and varying undertones. The release marked a turning point for major makeup brands, which neglected people of color for years while selling ashy foundation shades in the place of brown shades that remained excluded from their first batch of launches altogether.

While these trends have generated viral content for celebrities like Bieber, they fueled years of discrimination against Black and brown people who first created the looks before they became the next TikTok craze or celebrity venture. Refinery 29’s series on powerful Latina aesthetics notes that Black and Brown women were often criticized for the dark lipstick makeup looks, their big hoops, tight fit and baggy fashion styles.

“Our styles are often read in the U.S. as tacky, over the top and deviant, even as they are simultaneously spectacularized, desired and appropriated,” author Jillian Hernandez wrote in the Refinery 29 series.

“When it was on my sisters or my mom, and in Black and Latino communities, it was seen as ghetto,” celebrity makeup artist Sir John said in an interview with Diet Prada about the “brownie glazed” look.

When I was younger, kids my age and especially the adults in my life discouraged me from wearing the cornrows and dark brown lipstick styles I gravitated towards and saw my older sisters wear. The only reason I learned the term “ghetto” was because kids would joke that big gold hoops made me so. They told me not to wear the baggy, skater-looking pants and basketball jerseys I’d seen my dad rock in pictures from the 1990s. Since then, I have gotten over the phase of letting people tell me what to wear, dictate what made me “ghetto” and style my curly hair whichever way I please. But after watching all of these trends undergo celebrity rebrandings on TikTok and recirculate as popular Pinterest searches without a picture of a Black or Brown person in sight, I’ve come to realize the jewelry, hairstyles and makeup were never ghetto to begin with. It was who was wearing them that elicited this hurtful, unacceptable response.

Whether people intentionally rebrand these trends or not, it contributes to a culture of erasure and neglects the important realities of discrimintation and stereotyping that exist, which causes the community to constantly have to reclaim what shouldn’t have been renamed and left out in the first place. The fortunate thing about the world of fashion and beauty is that it’s built on a community of artists and designers that we can draw from and create with. But participation is contingent upon proper attribution, especially if you draw inspiration from other creators, as is with any other artistic industry. We can successfully celebrate historical styles without omitting their designers and the communities of color who had more than just a fashionable reason for creating them, and we can partake in these trends without cutting out the people behind them.

Abrigail Williams, a senior majoring in journalism, is the community relations director.

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