Why Instagram Accounts Dedicated to Black and Brown Beauty Are SO Important
Eighteen months ago, Laureen Chalumeau decided to take matters into her own hands. For months, she had been searching through Instagram’s most popular girls, and could never find anyone who looked like her. “It was always a generic look,” said Chalumeau, who was 16 at the time. “Makeup slayed. Fair skin. Long straight hair or a looser curl pattern of natural hair.” So she joined Instagram as @UsDarkskins and @Darkskin.Makeup to promote self-love and confidence, discourage skin bleaching, and combat colorism in the black community. She began by posting pictures of family members and friends. Soon after, people submitted their photos to be featured. Now, Chalumeau has a following of over 35,000 people and receives over 65 photo submissions per day.
Instagram plays a major role in community engagement, visual empowerment and effective visual storytelling in representing the diversity of black and brown women online. Instagram’s head of music and culture PR, Shavone Charles, pulled together a sampling of the top #BlackGirlMagic Instagram posts, which include Amandla Stenberg’s Teen Vogue cover photo, Taraji P. Henson’s congratulatory Emmy Award post to Regina King, and Willow Smith adoring her locs. Celebrities are integral in the increasing coverage of the #BlackGirlMagic movement, hashtagged over 1,800,000 times on Instagram. The movement reaches millions of people worldwide through Instagram communities promoting the myriad shades, shapes, and sizes of women of color. Dozens of pages curate content to appreciate women of color and serve as a platform for Black women to convene online for makeup, fashion, and lifestyle advice. @UsDarkskins, @UnfairandLovely_, and @BLKGirls are prime examples of pages appreciating women of color and fostering online dialogue around social issues.
The #BlackGirlMagic movement called for black girls to boldly celebrate their beauty, despite being deemed unfit for coverage. Still, black and brown girls with darker skin are marginalized in the media. Studies show that dark-skinned women do not fit into society’s notion of beauty and are often told they are ugly, too dark, or “pretty for a dark skinned girl” as if the two are mutually exclusive. The creator of the #BlackGirlMagic hashtag, CaShawn Thompson, supports the rise of Instagram appreciation pages as a tool for promoting black beauty and for other women of color who are not often seen in mainstream media. “Black girls are worthy of praise and adulation,” she said. “A black girl’s selfie is not vain, [she’s] representing herself when no one else will. We all deserve a level of visibility.”
Even Southeast Asian women with dark skin are fighting against polarizing notions of beauty. In early March, Pax Jones, a black, non-binary femme, developed Unfair and Lovely as a photo series to highlight the transnational intersectionality of colorism and shadeism. The 22-year-old and her co-founders, Mirusha and Yanusha Yogarajah, created @UnfairandLovely_ to “provide unrestricted, un-policed representation of dark skinned people of color and, for younger folks, the representation [they] needed to see as teenager[s].” @Unfairandlovely_ expands the notion that colorism is only a black American issue and gives Indian, Sri Lankan, and other Southeast-Asian women a platform to reclaim their identity from the cultural appropriation of the bindi.
Another noteworthy page for black beauty on Instagram is @BLKGirls, created by 15-year-old Tianna Sankey. Sankey is only a junior in high school and manages BLK Girls, a page with 250,000 followers. BLK Girls exemplifies a true virtual community where followers not only admire beautiful photos, they also come together to freely discuss their ideas about social issues regarding Black life in America. In conversation with Sankey regarding her powerful mission she stated, “I created @BLKGIRLS so black women and girls around the world could have a page they could go to for reassurance and a constant reminder of the natural beauty of their skin and how powerful it truly is. There’s bumps in the road that come along with being a woman; there are even harder ones being a teenage girl trying to figure herself out — but being a BLACK woman in America means you have to work twice as hard, push yourself twice as much, and overcome twice as fast, and I want my page to be a tool for every black girl or woman who is on her journey to self-love and success.”
@BLKGirls impacts many women and girls including Sankey, herself. By constantly witnessing black women beginning their self-love journey through her page and defending their blackness from those who condemn it, Sankey realized her calling was greater than posting beautiful images. “When I post a controversial picture or text and people try to belittle the black community or women, my followers never hesitate to quiet ignorant comments,” Sankey said. Sankey and her loyal followers work together to be agents of dialogue around colorism, racism, homophobia, and cyberbullying’s effect on real people offline.
In a recent post, @BLKGirls followers attest to the impact of the page on their confidence. “You affected me because I have body issues and was insecure about my skin tone and beauty. Now, nothing bothers me as much I’m just trying to fix my body, but I love it and me — thanks for doing something that you weren’t even aware of,“ said @kaysherniece. Another follower @woah_its_nika commented, “This page made me a lot more confident and I’m not afraid to speak my mind anymore…thank you sooo much.”
From Simone Biles’s gold medal victory at the Rio Olympics to Solange Knowles hit album, A Seat at the Table, there is no doubt that 2016 is the “Year of the Black Girl.” Yet, the work of representation is far from over. Every day women and girls are pushing against mainstream media’s representation of beauty. The rise of virtual communities are interrupting the beauty industry and turning it on its head. Instagram’s photo and story sharing features allow brands, movements, and projects to uplift women of color on their own terms. #BlackGirlMagic is here to stay, but more representation needs to abound, more faces need to be shown, and more stories need to be told. In a country where Donald Trump will soon be president, this is crucial, now more than ever.