Rebecca Willink is the Melbourne woman leading a grassroots movement to end make-up discrimination in Australia.
Tired of having to pay more for similar products than those with fairer skin, Willink launched an online petition and social media campaign demanding that women of colour no longer be excluded from accessing affordable make-up in their skin tone.
Willink’s movement has been gathering steady momentum since its inception, gathering more than 6000 signatures from community members who want retailers to make the space for an inclusive range of make-up shades that truly represents the diversity of Australians.
“The response since starting the campaign has been overwhelming,” Willink said.
“Hearing similar stories and experiences that so many people of colour have had to endure has fueled the campaign and demonstrated that there is an obvious and urgent need for change.”
Tangible changes are coming to Australian make-up shelves
Willink’s campaign was initially met with generic statements from retailers, acknowledging the need for more diversity, but not committing to any tangible action.
Determined not to be derailed, Willink kept fighting for her cause, gathering support from people across the country.
“This petition has been about making the voices of all Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) heard and giving them a platform for doing so,” she said.
“It’s been great to have had so much support from so many people, many of whom I have never met in real life but are now friends.”
Willink eventually received a meaningful response from Coles and Woolworths, informing her that they would be offering a broader range of a particular Maybelline foundation, though only on a trial basis to assess demand and gather sales data.
Woolworths’ launched their expanded make-up range in late August, adding 31 skin tones to their stock of Maybelline Fit Me Matte and Poreless foundation.
While this is a promising step in the right direction, the expanded range is only available for online orders, and only within Melbourne and Sydney.
This still fails to address the inequitable experience of purchasing make-up, as women of colour are unable to assess the skin tone match in store themselves and must instead rely on product photos online.
Coles took their response one step further, expanding their range of Maybelline foundation shades online and in ten stores across Australia.
Despite both stores only committing to temporary solutions, Willink was encouraged by these small but significant steps in the right direction.
“For too long, Australians with skin colours deemed ‘too dark’ or ‘too light’ to be worth catering for have been excluded and neglected,” she said.
“These trials may seem like a minor step, but the impact will be significant for individuals who have been ostracised for decades. This month, for the first time in Australia, a person with brown or black skin will be able to purchase make-up that suits their skin tone in a supermarket.”
Representation matters: moving from tokenism to inclusion
Though the response to Willink’s campaign has exceeded her initial expectations, significant work remains to be done to reach anything resembling true inclusion.
Before eventually receiving positive responses from Coles and Woolworths, Willink was met with multiple rejections and dismissals of her activism.
Many were quick to disregard the devastating impacts of never seeing your skin tone represented on a make-up shelf or having to spend more money for products than your peers just because your skin doesn’t fit into what is considered a ‘standard range’ by predominantly white people in positions of power.
“Once I began investigating the management boards and leadership teams and failed to see much diversity represented, it became clear that these issues possibly stem from the homogeneity in decision-making groups,” Willink said.
“I think there is a need for better representation of people from diverse backgrounds within management positions in brands and retailers, who have the opportunity and influence to make changes to better reflect today’s Australian population.”
Willink initially received several disappointing responses from make-up brands and retailers, who treated her concerns about inequitable access to make-up as a matter of preference, rather than one of human rights and inclusion.
“It has also been disappointing to see the constant tokenistic use of models of colour in brand advertising, when these companies are aware that their products are largely inaccessible to the people that need them. It was something that even I was naive about until I started this campaign,” Willink said.
How you can support the movement to end make-up discrimination
Willink’s tireless activism has generated momentum which can now be harnessed to keep pushing powerful companies for a greater commitment to diversity and equality.
For too long, people of colour have been silenced, ignored, or dismissed, leaving many resigned to the status quo and having little hope for change.
Willink hopes that seeing a wider spectrum of skin tones represented supermarkets will inspire people to keep pushing for a place at the table, and send a strong, clear message to the beauty industry that diverse representation is no longer optional.
“The beauty media industry in Australia has a moral responsibility to acknowledge that the current situation is inequitable and in dire need of change,” she said.
“Australia is home to people of all backgrounds who should be visibly represented in society and treated with respect and fairness by organisations.”
Willink’s current priority is promoting the Coles and Woolworths trials, by calling on the community to demonstrate strong support and demand for continued progress.
Those wanting to show their support can do so by contacting their local Coles or Woolworths to ask about the trials, give positive feedback and encourage them to continue expanding on the initiative.
People who live near stores taking part in the trial can also support the movement by purchasing a bottle of Maybelline Fit Me foundation and asking retailers to make the trial permanent.
Collectively, Willink hopes her movement sends a loud, clear message to companies that inclusion is long overdue, and that it is great for business.
“I’m truly grateful to have had a positive reaction from the public and from Coles and Woolworths. If the expanded ranges become permanent, it will make a difference in the lives of so many Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour affected by intersectional discrimination,” Willink said.
“Expanding shade ranges in supermarkets across the country will provide equal and convenient access to affordable cosmetics for people of colour who are simultaneously marginalised due to lower socio-economic status, age, disability, geographic location and sexual orientation.
“I still wish that I could have had the opportunity to access products for my skin colour when I grew up in Australia, however I am happy that my daughter and other youth may now not have the same experiences in the future.”
To support the fight to end make-up discrimination, you can sign Willink’s petition, follow Make the Space on Instagram, and share Willink’s message of diversity and inclusion with family and friends.