L’Oréal, Beyoncé And Cultural Cluéléssnéss

by Guest Contributor Highjive, originally published at MultiCultClassics

Hadn’t planned to examine the L’Oréal/Beyoncé drama, as others have already addressed it with better perspective, better emotion and better boycotting. Besides, it’s always best to avoid touching a Black woman’s hair—even as a blog topic—unless you really know what you’re doing. Hey, this subject is so combustible, it managed to draw comments at the typically ignored Agency Spy. Anyway, here are a few thoughts from a primarily advertising-related viewpoint.

Contrary to popular protests, it’s unlikely that L’Oréal deliberately lightened Beyoncé’s skin or messed with her nose and other items. The company officially insisted, “It is categorically untrue that L’Oréal Paris altered Ms. Knowles’ features or skin tone in the campaign for Féria hair color.” The company is probably right. However, they’re still probably wrong. Bear with us for a bit.

Technically, it’s a safe bet L’Oréal did not covertly tamper with the superstar. Anyone who has ever produced fashion advertising or fashion photography will attest that lighting plays a key role. When filming hair, incredibly strong lamps are used to make each strand visible and shiny. For example, commercials for Pantene and Clairol often show the backs of women’s heads for two reasons: 1) to display every glistening follicle and; 2) to avoid having the person’s face completely “blown out” (or whitewashed) by the spotlights. Given that L’Oréal is selling a haircolor and highlights product, they undoubtedly employed a ton of lights. Think supernova.

This is not a case of L’Oréal manipulating Beyoncé via Photoshop (at least not beyond the normal ultra-retouching done for fashion shots). Quite the opposite. L’Oréal should have used Photoshop—to restore the natural skin tone removed by the lighting. Sorry, but it simply doesn’t make sense that L’Oréal would alter Beyoncé for this campaign when she has already graced numerous ads for the beauty company.

Unfortunately, L’Oréal unwittingly stepped on a cultural landmine, and ultimately displayed their cultural cluelessness. They should have worked harder with their lighting to compensate for a Black woman (Black hair care specialists are much more savvy about these things). Plus, they should have looked closer at the image to realize the potential issues. Although they were not actively being sneaky or evil, L’Oréal was professionally insensitive in this scenario. Despite being headquartered in Paris—a locale boasting forward thinking—the company is culturally clueless.

Ironically, L’Oréal owns SoftSheen-Carson, an expert in the Black hair care category. Rumors claim the enterprises remain segregated, so it’s not like the White folks would ever consider consulting with the Black sister company. And heaven forbid SoftSheen-Carson might receive L’Oréal budgets to sign up Beyoncé too. SoftSheen-Carson has to settle for Kelly Rowland.

Another dilemma to keep in mind: L’Oréal is working with White beauty standards. Hence, they failed to foresee the damage this campaign has generated. Beyoncé looked just fine to L’Oréal—and she still does. We’ll forgo the standard(s) rant associated with this observation.

In the end, L’Oréal didn’t intentionally do anything wrong. Unless you believe that an international beauty corporation being culturally clueless is wrong. For the advertising industry—and the fashion industry—it’s par for the course.