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Do Brand Extensions Perpetuate the “Othering” of Women of Color?

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By Shatay Speights

In a recent article on the Canadian online platform called Flare, there was a discussion about the necessity behind creating forums for women of color- a dedicated place for black and brown women to freely express ideas and truly feel a part of something.

The article mentioned two platforms/forums that were created with women of color in mind—Glossier Brown and Unbothered. When I read the news about Glossier brand rep Devin McGhee creating the Glossier Brown platform to serve as a space where women (and men) of color could come together and get advice, inspiration, compliments and recommendations, I was so excited. Black people identifying a need and doing the necessary work to fulfill that need is always amazing to witness. Though Glossier already does a good job of making efforts to be inclusive, McGhee still saw the need for women of color to have their own space. I felt a similar feeling of pride and belonging when the millennial lifestyle platform Refinery 29 created their platform, Unbothered, dedicated to their black followers. R29 is already a space that displays a strong voice on issues that affect all women, but to see them create something explicitly for black women as a place for discussion on the topics that affect us, it was a special moment for me personally.

 

 

 

It’s so important for women to feel seen and represented in the media that we consume on a daily basis. Glossier Brown and Unbothered are doing the work to highlight the diversity of blackness, especially since the mainstream idea of representing women of color is a Photoshopped, whitewashed version. It’s amazing to see how these platforms and others like them are so unapologetic about their content and subject matter, in the name of diversity and creating safe spaces for women of color.

 

✨Friendly reminder: we the sh*t‍♀️. Photo: @lauriseirl

A post shared by Unbothered (@r29unbothered) on

 

 

What I found to be most interesting about the Flare article was the critique that while these spaces help to normalize what isn’t already portrayed in mainstream media, creating these separate beauty/ lifestyle platforms perpetuates the “othering” of women of color. In other words, these brand extension platforms present the narrative of women of color as the sideshow, always coming second to the mainstream Eurocentric ideal of what’s considered beautiful or important. Toronto-based writer Wanna Thompson stated that the separation might reinforce the idea that Eurocentric ideals are the standard, making everything else the ‘addition.’ She goes on to discuss how mainstream representation is so important and how mainstream platforms need to work on publishing more content for women of color, keeping them in mind as well. In order to get to a place where separate platforms aren’t necessary, founder of Canadian beauty line TAJJ Cosmetics (for WOC), June Smith, said, “There needs to be more women like her in the industry, period.” 

I thought the “othering” concept was a really interesting take, as I can see how a specialized platform can alleviate the pressure on the parent brands (in this case Refinery 29 and Glossier Brown) to churn out diverse content. Having more women of color in positions within the industry and at the helm of brands would do wonders for representation also. However, in regards to the “othering” take, the brand extensions of the previously mentioned brands are kind of in the same vein as Vogue launching editions of the magazine in other countries; American Vogue is the parent publication while British, Italian, French and Latin Vogue editions are the extensions. There are nuances and concepts from all over the world that American Vogue can glean from, but they can’t fully represent and display the narrative like the native countries can. I believe that platforms like Glossier Brown and Unbothered serve the purpose of creating an authentic space for women of color to claim their own narrative and put their stories and concerns on display, all under the parent brand’s agenda so that everything is in alignment. While it is important for brands like Refinery 29 and Glossier to continue to make representing women of color a priority, Glossier Brown and Unbothered are the “For Us, By Us” platforms that we still need!

What do you all think of the platform extensions that cater to women of color? How do you feel about the “othering” concept that people have? What is your favorite platform that represents and celebrates you? Leave us a comment and let’s continue the conversation.

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