Rebecca Willink, who is of Indian descent, says she is fed up with not being able to buy make-up suitable for her at any Australian supermarket – either in store or online.
“I moved to Australia from the UK when I was 15 and it’s always been the case here at supermarkets,” she said.
“For the past 20 years, buying make-up for darker complexions of any brand in the make-up aisle has been essentially impossible.
“My cousins in the UK can’t believe it because over there all of the shades are available on the supermarket shelves. You can go into Tesco and Asda and all of the brown shades are there. It’s the same in the US, so I don’t know why we are so far behind in Australia,” she said.
Ms Willink said she hadn’t bothered to look for make-up in her local Woolworths store for years – until last Friday – when she went to check out a new beauty range she was excited about.
“MCoBeauty is a new company that has just come out and they are using culturally diverse models and they are advertising and flogging all of these shades online so I thought, ‘ok, let’s give this a go’,” she said.
The products, who Australian comedian Celeste Barber is the face of, are only sold at Woolworths and Big W, and were being advertised at half price last week.
But when Ms Willink got to the make-up aisle she saw it was the same old problem. There were eight bottles of foundation available in an “ivory” shade and another 12 in tones of beige.
“I tried another Woolworths and they didn’t have any either. The manager checked the system and found that the darkest tint sold in any store was ‘medium beige’,” she said.
“In fact, the darkest tint available for purchase even online at both Woolworths and Big W is ‘medium beige’.
“It really infuriates me and it’s quite frustrating. It’s degrading, almost.”
When Ms Willink contacted Woolworths and MCoBeauty she was told she could buy it online through MCoBeauty.
But at $28 for the foundation plus $10 shipping, the price of buying online through MCoBeauty would come to $38 as opposed to $13 for customers buying lighter shades at Woolworths instore, Ms Willink said.
“Denying access to products to people of particular skin colours and effectively making us pay more for the same product is a form of discrimination and is completely unacceptable,” she said.
While some might consider the availability of make-up in supermarkets a trivial matter, Ms Willink said the issue was about so much more than make-up.
“My three-year-old daughter has a little bit lighter skin than me but still dark,” she said.
“I don’t want her growing up not being able to try out make-up with her friends in stores. I want her to feel included. I want her to see colour represented on the shelves.
“It just feels like we are being made to appear invisible. The supermarkets don’t want us to appear visible or part of this public sphere of beauty. It’s like we don’t exist.”
Ms Willink said there was probably a far greater market for darker make-up shades than supermarkets realised but, even so, supply shouldn’t be dictated by demand in this instance.
“Even if only a small percentage of the population need these colours, that still equates to hundreds of thousands of people in Australia who are being ignored and excluded,” Ms Willink said in her petition.
“Supermarket and retail store decisions to buy products that relate to the colour of customers’ skin cannot and should not be considered in the same manner as buying popular flavours of chips to stock the shelves – cosmetic shades are not a ‘preference’ for customers of darker complexions.”
A spokesperson for Woolworths said the company aimed for its supermarket range to reflect the diverse mix of its customers.
“Across the entire supermarket we select products based on the volume of demand, but we understand a different approach is needed to offer a more inclusive range in cosmetics,” the spokesperson said in a statement to nine.com.au.
“We’ve previously trialled a broader selection of cosmetics tones online, and will continue to listen to our customers to help improve our cosmetics offering both in-store and online.”
A Coles spokesperson told nine.com.au the supermarket chain “celebrated diversity”.
“We work with our suppliers to provide a range of cosmetics that is inclusive and meets the needs of our customers. We appreciate customer feedback and are always looking for ways to improve our offering. We will review the opportunity to increase our range online in line with customer demand.”
Aldi declined to comment when contacted by nine.com.au.
An MCoBeauty spokeswoman said while the company would love their entire range to be stocked at Woolworths and Big W it understood this wasn’t possible due to shelf space limitations.
Contact reporter Emily McPherson at firstname.lastname@example.org.