When the colour-blind racism of #plasterprivilege gets under your skin

By Lize Hartley

The topic of race is being discussed more than ever right now. Whether you’re looking to South Africa or the United States, or almost any other country in the world for that matter, the issue of racial prejudice and the devastating repercussions thereof is an ongoing one. But outside of the big, obvious points, the police brutality and gross inequality along racial lines, we are faced with small manifestations of racial inequality every single day. And they are anything but insignificant.

There are many things I, a white woman, can take for granted. If I am looking for a nude shoe, I will find beige patent leather pumps on the shelves of every major retailer in South Africa. I have never struggled to find foundation to match my skin almost perfectly, when I buy a lace dress the petticoat underneath is beige to give it the desired “nothing underneath” effect. And when I buy plasters, they are roughly made to match my skin tone and be as discreet as possible. But that isn’t the case for all women.

I’ve been accused of making more of an issue of race than is necessary by “highlighting” these differences. But the truth is that these differences exist, and nothing we do (or don’t do, for that matter) will change that. Shutting up about race, whether we’re talking about foundation or police brutality, won’t solve anything. And for the most part, resistance to change comes from people who can take the small things for granted.

If you are not white, you can’t be sure that you’ll walk up to a beauty counter and they’ll have foundation or concealer that will suit your skin. Nude lipstick means a soft pinky-beige, and nude shoes certainly don’t come in more than one shade. Sure, it’s changing slowly: Nubian Skin has launched a range of nude underwear to suit a variety of skin tones, and French shoe designer Christian Louboutin’s Nudes Collection boasts four shades. But the change is small and slow, and still it does not reflect anything but the fact that, even in 2014, the default race when it comes to designing “stuff” is white.

I launched Plasta after I saw a woman struggle to find a slip in a department store that wasn’t creamy beige. I got to thinking about all the other products like this and plasters were one of them. No one had manufactured a plaster that was discreet on darker skins. And while it falls broadly into the medical category, plasters are just as much a cosmetic product as foundation or underwear. Think of blisters on the back of your heels, or a scrape on your chest or neck to which you would like to draw as little attention as possible when you’re at work in a perfect tailored suit. It’s the very reason we reach for the “grown-up” plasters, rather than sticking Mickey Mouse on our faces (for the most part, anyway). But don’t clear plasters cater for every imaginable skin tone? It’s a fair question but the answer is no: The little white patch in the middle not only stands out even more, it can also get gross if there’s any blood or pus involved. Not appetising in the least).

The fact of the matter is this: Nude is a concept; not a colour. And it’s high time that fact manifested itself in the small stuff that we, the minority, get to take for granted every day. After all, it is 2014.

Lize Hartley is the founder of Plasta. Based in Cape Town, she took on the project full-time in July of 2014 after a career that included broadcasting, media, and digital strategy.

Image – Screengrab from plasta.net