By: Maegan Tran
Raising Eyebrows in the Beauty Industry
In the US, students are taught at a young age that the country we live in is a giant melting pot. It’s a metaphor for the coming together of people from varying cultures and backgrounds: the ingredients, into something greater, like Bo Kho (Vietnamese beef stew). In a perfect world the ingredients would complement each other, the meat would cook tender, the vegetables would soften but retain its’ shape, and the spices would pull everything together perfectly in a harmonious broth. As I grew older, I realized the world was less than perfect. My first attempt at recreating my mother’s stew was also less than perfect. It wasn’t too bad, it was edible. I just never understood the characteristics and needs of each ingredient. The beef needed to be cooked longer and salted, the carrots had to be added just a few hours before turning off the fire, and I shouldn’t have been too stingy with the amount of spices and fish sauce I needed inside. Like this proverbial melting pot of heart-warming beef stew, being mindful about the different people around us is a necessity.
It’s common to adopt certain traits and gain newfound perspective after being surrounded by people that differ from you, but there is a fine line between appreciating someone’s culture and appropriating it.
We’ve made memes out of the prom dress girl, cancelled Dolce&Gabbana, and even poked fun at Ariana Grande’s tattoo mishap. By now, large companies and influencers should have learned from the mistakes of their competitors who’ve experienced the backlash of borrowing a whole ethnic group’s culture for aesthetic purposes. Right?
As the Lunar New Year approached, beauty companies took the opportunity to release limited edition items and packages that were meant to celebrate with us. In the beauty industry, the packaging is almost as important as the product itself.
Have I ever mooned over small iridescent boxes that costed me a full day of work?
Have I ever been dragged to the register by my own weak will with multiple boxes in hand?
I ate ramen for that whole month. (Instant, of course.)
High-end companies like Givenchy, Lancôme, and Glam Glow have pushed out special packaging for their most coveted items. Hourglass even curated a new shade of ambient blush to celebrate the special holiday. For these beauty houses, they’re in the gray. It’s a little more difficult to truly indict them for cultural appropriation.
Did they simply slap on some red and gold pigs and floral designs to sell more of their products? Maybe.
Do they donate any of their proceeds to help communities celebrate this holiday as they would give a certain percentage to celebrity collaborations?
Not that I’ve heard of.
At the very least, they weren’t offensive and brought about some awareness to their followers who otherwise wouldn’t have known about the Lunar New Year. There was one cosmetic brand that really struck a chord with me as I divulged into the global $532 billion USD beauty industry.
I’m going to take the time now to formally apologize to my fellow ABG’s (Asian Baby Girls) and will happily give out my recommendations for eyebrow products if asked.
Alright, here we go.
Benefit Cosmetics is a common household name for makeup novices and gurus alike. Founded in San Francisco in 1976, it has transformed into the colossal beauty brand we know today with an estimated yearly revenue of $65 million USD. Their eyebrow products such as the ka-BROW! cream gel and Goof Proof brow pencils are cult beauty favorites. They even have beauty brow bars set up in Ulta stores. I’ve owned many of their products such as PORE-fessional face primer, Benetint, and two of their Hoola bronzers. They are all wonderful products, which is why I was thrilled when they announced that they were going to release limited edition sets for the Lunar New Year—three mini sizes of their products in a cute brightly colored tin piggy bank. They offered three variations retailed at $31.
It’s worth mentioning that most of their mini’s cost $12-16 alone, so I knew it was a great deal. And they throw in a piggy bank to collect all my red envelope money? This little piggy ran all the way into my online Sephora shopping cart.
That was until I started looking through their other bundled mini offers. Their Cable Cars Cutie set was also offering three mini products in a globe shaped tin packaging but retailed for only $16.
Why is this bundle practically half the price of my piggy? The Cable Cars Cutie set even included a blush, which is their pricier mini.
I messaged Benefit Cosmetics through their social media platforms as well as emailing them through their main website, but I’ve yet to receive an explanation for why there was such a steep price difference. Another issue I came across while maneuvering around Benefit Cosmetic’s outlets is the lack of East Asian models leading up to the Lunar New Year, which is strange for a company that’s founded in San Francisco, a city where dense Asian diasporas have formed after the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act. I doubt there is a shortage for Asian models there.
The Lunar New Year is not just about glistening red envelopes filled with money. There are dragon dances that embody China’s culture and is believed to usher good luck into the new year, fireworks to chase away malevolent spirits, an abundance of symbolic dishes reserved for this time of year to enjoy with family and friends, visiting temples for worship, and the burning of joss papers to pay tribute to your ancestors and ask for guidance and protection.
Not only has Benefit Cosmetics borrowed from a culture they are not consciously aware of or seem to be interested in uplifting, they reduced one of the most important celebrations of the year for East Asians that has been observed and treasured for thousands of years, down to a cheap tin piggy bank—a literal cash grab.
And, that’s the stew.
Image credit: Unsplash