skin coloured

being non-white in a white society

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  • Intro

    Welcome to Skin Coloured, a collaborative, visual exploration of what it is to be non-white in a white culture. Please submit photos to skincoloured [at] googlemail [dot] com.
  • May 2018
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Skin Coloured is intended to be a collaborative, visual exploration of what it is to be non-white in a white culture.

It was conceived and set up by Iona and Kat, two British Asians who were increasingly fed up with the assumption that everyone living in England was white.  Iona was annoyed about not ever finding makeup that concealed when it was meant to conceal and showed up when it was meant to show up.  Kat was fed up with not finding anything to wear under her white work shirts.  Both were fed up with plasters.

When they tried discussing these things with other women, they were told repeatedly that white women had exactly the same issues.  Feeling kind, Kat and Iona decided that the problem was that they simply didn’t know what it looked like if you were dark skinned and wearing products designed for pale skin, and so Skin Coloured was born.


We would like submissions from people other than ourselves and people we know.  Because this blog is meant to illustrate the inadequacy of provisions for non-white people, please don’t set up easy targets.  For example, if you want to show something about foundation, use the darkest shade they provide.

We don’t mind if you send in photos that are similar to ones already posted – as long as they’re of different people, every plaster photo will say something different.  Please don’t be put off if you feel you can’t think of anything original.

We are less interested in politics of representation.  Advertisers will use ethnic minority models if they think it will help sell their products – we’ve seen black models advertising makeup and skin coloured bras. However, the cosmetics company doesn’t sell cosmetics to suit their skin tones and the skin coloured bras aren’t their skin colour.

Other than that, please send in clear, well-lit photographs.  However, if you have ideas for different styles of photos, please send an email to us (skincoloured [at] googlemail [dot] com) and we’ll discuss it with you.

Image rights

By submitting a photo, you agree to let us repost it on this blog. It will not be used for any other purpose or in any other location without your permission.

All photos remain copyright of their owners; if they are marked as available for use under a Creative Commons non-commercial licence, restrictions apply according to the terms of the licence.

A note about terminology

We are not American, and as such we don’t use the terms People of Color or Women of Color.  These terms do not reflect historical or current race relations in our country.


15 Responses to “About”

  1. […] Skin Coloured is intended to be a collaborative, visual exploration of what it is to be non-white in a white culture. Make-up, plasters and tights – even when they’re marked “flesh-coloured” – are not the colour of skin that isn’t white. And whilst white women may have trouble matching these items to their skin, for women who don’t class themselves as white, this inconvenience is symptomatic of a wider problem. […]

  2. Sydney said

    I would love to post this to the sociology classes I teach! I’ll follow the instructions for reposting. Right now, there are only two pictures up, right? If there are more, how do I get to them?

  3. Kat said


    I’m delighted to hear of your interest in this project. At the moment, the only pictures up are the ones you see – it’s a very new project. There probably isn’t enough to use in your classes yet, but I hope that one day it will be useful.

  4. Stephanie said

    Brilliant project! Very interesting. Will think about how I culd possibly contribute.


  5. Siri said

    I looked at the pictures and I know how this all feels, apart from that I am white skinned.
    It’s just as hard for me as very light skinned person to find my skin tone in the make up sections, because everyone is tanned these days.
    I can’t get a sun tan without burning my skin and I don’t want to and I don’t think it’s pretty.

    You write about plasters being too light for you, they’re usually too dark for me and it’s impossible for me to find light enough tights. The “nature” and “flesh coloured” tights are always way too dark, sometimes I believe they are actually for black people… but I know they have a standard colour that matches MOST people, of course many people will still not have that tone.

    Yet I am surprised that very light-skinned people, which you should have many in England (referring to redheads), don’t seem to complain about these matters… I for example never even thought about complaining.
    I am lighter skinned than most people, tough, but plasters and make up in the store are usually in tones that fits the average of people.

    I know too, that beauty stores usually sell these things that are bought most often. Well most girls have white, tanned skin these days and therefore I will have to buy make up for me online, if I can’t find it in any store I go to. I mean it is indeed produced, just not sold in the stores.

    Just look at it this way: people with special interests, won’t get products for them in stores for the average interest.
    I wouldn’t bring this down to skin-colour. It’s a much broader problem. You can’t find things in store, not because of your skin-colour, but because you have something that’s out of the ordinary. Basically I’m pissed off at people bringing skin-colour up for everything and ignoring the true problem, which is that stores have a way too small range of items for different interests.

    I’m not out to offend you in any way, but I just believe that this is not a problem of skin-colour at all. I think it’s ok to make a project about how people have problems in finding beauty articles in their skin tone, but I think that painting things black and white yet again is a bit off…

  6. Helen said

    I was thinking about this when I was in town the other day – the Mac stall at the bottom of debenhams (in Oxford) has a bigger range than most shops – have you checked the stuff in there? Not that it lessens the point you’re making much, as Mac is not exactly in everybody’s price-range, but I’d be interested to know if they have anything in there. Some quick google searchs have not shown much up.

    Also – have you tried the “universal” foundations, that are supposed to be transparent? Are they any good on different skin shades? There’s one here

    And just for interest – stage make-up and face-paint tend to have a lot more range than high street stuff – not that you’d want to wear greasepaint out on the town, but I thought it was interesting!

  7. Laura said

    This website isn’t about the fact that beauty product creators haven’t managed to create a shade to match every individual skin-tone. Siri, I appreciate what you’re saying, but I think that you have entirely missed the point.

  8. Hannah said

    Siri: The crux of the issue is that, as people with white skin, we cannot know how this feels. We might be irritated because plasters are too dark for us, but the fact is that they have been created with an idea of our skin tone in mind, and we are the target audience for them. They match our skin tone to a far larger degree than they do of anyone of a non-white skin tone. Tanning is a choice people make, and it’s based not on a desire to appropriate the skin tone of another group, but on a complex combination of socio-economics and media influence.

    When you say that you never thought about complaining, that’s exactly the point and our privilege. As white people in a white world, we don’t need to think about complaining because plasters, cover-up, tights etc. are made with us in mind. They might not match entirely, but they do match better for us than for someone from India, the Caribbean or Morocco. (Also, redheads are more commonly concentrated in Ireland and specific parts of Scotland. It’s a Celt thing, rather than an English thing.)

    Skin colour isn’t a special interest though. The UK has had significant populations of non-white citizens since the late 1950s and, to cast skin colour as a special interest just doesn’t reflect the way the UK works as a cultural entity anymore. Especially not in cities and larger towns. Shops do indeed have a too small range, but the group that misses out the most, because of this, is people who aren’t white. Who can’t find a shade to match in any way at all. The palest shade in most ranges will match most people with white skin, even if it means using it mixed with something else, but the same cannot be said for the darkest shade because it is still designed to be used on white skin. Shops have a too small range because the people in charge of buying and deciding on ranges stocked are, primarily, white and, as such, seem to assume a target audience that reflects their needs. Painting things in black and white is the most effective means of change and pressure that we can exert right now, as things stand. Skin colour and the ways it is ignored is the important issue, because until the ignoring it it ceases there will be no change in the ranges available in shops.

  9. Jess said

    Siri, I’m also paler than normal, so I appreciate your frustration, but I know that, for me, when I encounter a foundation that’s too dark for my skin tone, my reaction is “eh, that’s annoying,” rather than a reminder that I am systemically othered by the dominant culture in which I live.

    Furthermore, I’m sure this wasn’t intentional, but your comment comes off as a little patronising, particularly this line: “Basically I’m pissed off at people bringing skin-colour up for everything and ignoring the true problem, which is that stores have a way too small range of items for different interests.” It’s not for us as white people to define what the “real problem” is, and it’s a symptom of our white privilege to be “pissed off at people bringing skin-colour up”.

  10. Helen said

    Another thing I thought of last night – again only tangentially relevant but thought it might interest you guys, Did anyone else have these|searchResults~~p|2534374302090952~~.jsp when they were little. I thought they were awesome.

    Wikipedia has some interesting stuff on crayon colours: “Several colors have been renamed through the years… the color known as “flesh” was renamed “peach” in 1962, partially in response to the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. “Indian red” was renamed “chestnut” in 1999 due to concern that some children thought the crayon color represented the skin color of Native Americans.”

    I guess crayons are more progressive than make-up. Huh.

  11. Eve said

    I am pale-skinned as well, and I too have trouble finding make-up to suit me, but I realise that it’s far less trouble than non-white people have, nor do I have any right to start crying discrimination. (I do that when I can’t get my wheelchair around the store.)

    From my experience of being a non-standard size (4’11 and curvy), pale-skinned and all the rest of it, the fashion industry seems to be obsessed with averages (though “average” can sometimes mean “model-sized” or “average for the 1950s”) and is often terribly limited. Bra ranges will often only go up to D or DD, which is ludicrous when the average cup size is a C. There seems to be an industry ideal of tall, thin, small-breasted, and white, and while that’s contentious enough for models, it’s absolutely ridiculous when making products for the general population.

    Is there anyone out there who actually finds that standard “flesh-coloured” underwear matches their skin, even if they are white? Most of it looks like it will only match your skin if you’ve been dead for a week. I’m noticing that “mocha” (which I’m guessing would be a decent match for some Indian skin tones) is becoming a popular colour for lingerie, and I hope this trend continues. Mainly because it will help redress the racial discrimination, but also because it’s a fairly practical colour for undies in general. I suspect that one problem is that medium brown is not seen as a sexy colour for lingerie (dark brown is getting more common, though). Beige isn’t sexy either, of course, women just buy it because it’s practical, and hopefully one day lingerie manufacturers will realise that people of all skin tones have a right to practicality!

    If you want to contemplate lingerie colours, Bravissimo uses black models for a high proportion of its photos, something I’ve always appreciated. Here’s an example of dead for a week tones on a white model, here’s a nude colour on a black model (too light but doesn’t look bad on her), and here’s a nude bra on a black model that is actually dark enough. Well, more or less dark enough, it’s still a little on the light side, but could probably be worn safely under a thin white top, which is my ultimate test for “flesh-coloured” bras. I shouldn’t have to scour a well-stocked website and find only one bra that even came near, though.

    While you’re looking for photos, I’d suggest checking out medical devices such as hearing aids. I’m having trouble finding anything to tell me what colours the NHS hearing aids come in, but this page, which discusses using brightly coloured hearing aids for children, does mention “beige, brown and grey”, so possibly there is some provision. Eye patches would be another one to look into.

    Another idea is uniforms, whether for schools or jobs. Some of them look fine on white people but are really bad colours on darker-skinned folks. Mind you, some of them, such as the Easyjet orange, look appalling on everyone.

    This is a great project and I’m very glad to see it started. I wish you all the best in your endeavours.

  12. simargl said

    This is the opposite of what you are looking for but you might find it interesting.

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  14. C-J said

    Brilliant idea for a blog – and absolutely brilliant for making the case I wish to make in a Sociology course I am teaching. I get exceptionally fed up with white students who just think race is no longer an issue and no longer the devisive social cleaver that it is. I have been collecting a range of so called flesh-coloured products to show my class to try and drive home the fact that they live in white world and see everything with very white eyes. Also what amuses me is that the advertisers now call the pink flesh-colour natural – natural for whom? Keep up the good work 🙂

  15. Eve said

    I’ve just checked Bravissimo again and found that one of their black models is no longer on the site. The remaining black model is almost always shown in white lingerie, with the exception of one bra in dark brown. They have some bras in colours which look like they’d be good on darker skin, such as this one, and I’m really disappointed that they are no longer making any effort to show them on darker-skinned models. Does anyone feel like writing to them about this?

    I’ve also just uncovered another area worth investigating: prosthetic limbs. They do offer some choice, it appears, but not much.

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