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Yomi Adegoke is a multi-award-winning journalist and author. She is the women’s columnist at the Guardian, and has written for Vogue, Elle and The Independent amongst others. In 2018 she was listed as one of the most influential people in London by the Evening Standard. She was awarded Journalist of the Year by the Woman In Africa awards, as well as being name a ‘Future Shaper’ by Marie Claire.
In life BF (Before Fenty), many young black women in Britain fell – or were rather, forced – into two distinct groups: those who made do with the slim pickings and meagre offerings of the high-street and local hair shop, and those who simply didn’t bother.
I fell into the latter, and hard. For the majority of my adolescence and young adulthood, my go-to for a night-out was a slick of Vaseline and on the bigger occasions, a crumbling pot of Dream Matte Mousse (hurriedly purchased a day before my year 11 prom), a congealed stick of mascara from Superdrug and a fruit roll-on lipgloss.
It’s not as though my upbringing was devoid of feminine influence. It was the opposite – I grew up in a closely knit, majority female household. My sisters pretty much abstained out of the same laziness and my mum, due to the sheer lack of options, stuck with a retro baby blue eyeshadow and wine shade Fashion Fair lipstick. Whether it was in part due to religious conservatism or counters that simply didn’t cater, most of my friends at school didn’t bother either. Even the black girls at school who flouted hair policies with colourful weaves were more reserved when it came to make-up than our heavy-lidded, perma-orange peers.
Black women’s make-up is heavily policed. Darker skinned women who suffer from hyperpigmentation and use foundation to even their skin tone are often accused of attempting to look fairer. The list of appropriate lipstick shades narrows as your complexion darkens (in 2013, rapper ASAP Rocky suggested that only light-skinned women could get away with wearing red lipstick). The ‘take her swimming on the first date’ adage was once very popular online, as were viral before and after videos, dubbed as ‘make-up sorcery’.
My belated make-up coming of age coincided with the rise of a more inclusive make-up industry but predated the Rihanna renaissance. The rise of black beauty bloggers and YouTubers ushered many of us into a rite of passage our white peers had several years before. Age 20/21, black beauty gurus guided me through winged eyeliner tutorials and perfected my contouring through my mid-twenties. Black women on the internet taught me hacks and tips and tricks and techniques I’d missed out on growing up – mixing foundation shades to exactly match your tone, and how the right shade of lipliner can pull off the wrong shade of lipstick.
YouTubers became friends that lived in my laptop, kindly swatching shades for strangers on the internet, but friendships were formed in online beauty forums. Scarcity can create a kind of unity across the globe – I’d spend hours discussing their comparative Colourpop-laden haven with African Americans, and highstreets worse than ours in the UK with black women in the Netherlands. MAC, Nars and Bobbi Brown had always been around, but savvy shoppers helped me discover ‘dupes’ at a fraction of the price. The secrets whispered by online friends were swapped with the friends I had in real life.
I found a sisterhood online and offline as a late make-up bloomer. I still don’t wear it very much and am by no means the best at it, but every time I do feels like something of an event, and excuse to show off everything I’ve cumulatively been taught by patient, internet saints over the past few years.