This 16-year-old is outsmarting the beauty industry one tweet at a time

@MakeupforWOC Twitter account founder Tiara Wilis. (Art by Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)
@MakeupforWOC Twitter account founder Tiara Willis. (Art by Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)

Yahoo Lifestyle’s Diversity in Beauty Awards (the DIBs) highlight and celebrate personalities, brands, and products that embody inclusiveness and innovation. See the 2018 winners list here. We enlisted six experts who have championed diversity in their careers and cover all bases of the beauty industry to vote on the best in makeup, skin care, hair care, and more. Here, we put a spotlight on millennial beauty maven Tiara Willis.

Tiara Willis acquired an eye for makeup at a young age, when she saw women on social media posting photos of bold pigments and talking about various products. However, it didn’t take long for the teen to realize that the beauty gurus that she was following, and the cosmetic brands that they were talking about, didn’t cater to people like her. Within a beauty community that was seemingly meant to be inclusive, the young black woman felt that she was on the outs.

When I began shopping for makeup, I would automatically buy the darkest shade in the aisle because I didn’t have other options to choose from,” Willis explains to Yahoo Lifestyle. “It was frustrating because the YouTube makeup tutorials I watched would recommend specific products, but I felt excluded because those brands didn’t even offer a shade for me. I enjoyed wearing makeup; however, I felt excluded from something that I wanted to properly enjoy.”

MakeupForWOC x @maybelline

A post shared by MakeupForWOC (@makeupforwomenofcolor) on Jan 14, 2018 at 1:12pm PST

Her first experiences of feeling disappointed by makeup products came when she would try to follow the guidance and routines of her favorite beauty gurus. Willis says that she would head to a drugstore to look for a specific product recommended for beauty beginners — yet that seemed to be reserved for women of fairer skin tones.

While learning about the techniques of highlighting and contouring in particular, she would find that the drugstore didn’t have any product made for sculpting dark cheekbones. “I thought my makeup was never going to be as beautiful as other girls’,” she admits, “because I didn’t have products made for me.”

But the harsh reality of the beauty world wasn’t something she had newly discovered. As she reflects on vintage images showing women of color in the beauty, fashion, and entertainment industries, Willis says it’s evident that traditional media never considered black women to be a priority.

“I personally noticed from looking at vintage and older images of women of color that most had a gray cast from their foundation,” she says. “It took extra effort for makeup artists to create looks on black women due to the limited amount of resources.”

And the main difference that stood between those times and the present was Willis’s ability to call attention to the needs of women of color through a conversation she would start herself on social media.

In 2015, the then-14-year-old launched the Twitter account @MakeupForWOC — for “Makeup for Women of Color” — not necessarily knowing where it would lead. Nearly three years and 149,000 followers later, however, the now-16-year-old has become a pioneering voice in the movement toward inclusive beauty.

“When I created @MakeupForWOC, my plan for the account was to provide women of color with makeup advice and empower them by sharing their beauty work,” says Willis. “At the time, my platform was unique from other makeup campaigns and social media accounts. I was not finding accounts sharing images of those who looked like me.”

With the increasing power of social media, big-time beauty brands were on the verge of evolving their collections to cater to the masses presented on these platforms. If women of color continued to be pushed out of the conversations taking place, then they would continue to be pushed out of the industry altogether. Seeing that this was the case, Willis was able to recognize how vital the representation of different types of women would become.

“My intention was and remains to encourage a dynamic dialogue to increase inclusion of all races in the beauty industry,” she says. The sentiment has proved to be true, as brands are more openly dependent on the faces seen and the voices heard on social media. But that’s not to say that getting their attention is as easy as creating an account.

“The lack of representation in the beauty industry can be discouraging to influencers of color wanting to grow their platform,” Willis says. “They’re less likely to be reposted on a brand’s social media page and be involved in collaborations. Black influencers have to work twice as hard to achieve half of the success that others get.”

But through the growth of her platform and others like hers, Willis says there’s proof of a vibrant audience yearning for more inclusive beauty, and the brands that will make products to serve them. Jackie Aina is a standout example of an influencer with whom Willis initially felt a connection, while L’Oréal was the first company that she remembers having multiple foundation shades to choose from, with its True Match range. Now there are a few more brands, such as Maybelline and Fenty Beauty (a 2018 Diversity in Beauty Awards winner), that she considers leading examples of inclusivity.

Fenty Beauty at launch offered a diverse shade range and didn’t have to progress to be inclusive,” she says of the brand that started out with 40 foundation shades. “Brands need to stop giving those of the deeper spectrum only one to two shades to choose from. Fairer skin tones receive a wide variety of shades to choose from, and darker-skin women, like me, should have the same options.”

And while there’s still a massive need for women of color to be represented across all aspects of a beauty brand — from social media images to those actually creating the formulas — Willis praises how far she’s seen the industry come.

The industry is finally hearing the voices of women of color and acknowledging our buying power,” she says. “The more we speak out, the greater advancements are made. I am hopeful for the future of beauty to be more inclusive.”

Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:

Shoppers demanded more from the beauty industry. These brands listened.
Lupita Nyong’o’s hairstylist wants you to know ‘you can achieve greatness with your hair’
Reshaping the beauty industry doesn’t happen every day, but these pros are doing it

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