True Match: A Step Toward “Unique” Beauty, But How Far?

06 May

The day after Bill Imada’s presentation last week, I was browsing through fashion magazines at a local hair salon when I stumbled upon this ad for L’Oréal’s True Match foundation:


Imada’s talk still on my mind, I was intrigued by True Match’s overtly race-conscious marketing strategy. Like Imada’s ads, this one is clearly tailored toward a non-white audience; by using Beyonce as its model, listing her mixed ethnic heritage, and promising a makeup that captured tones “beyond light to dark,” the True Match ad puts race (or is it ethnicity? More on that later…) front and center. Stating that every person’s skin tone has an ethnic “story” that needs to be matched by makeup implies that a person’s natural skin tone should be respected, even celebrated, rather than covered up or altered. That’s a far cry from advertising strategies, past and present, that promote skin lightening:


1964 lightening cream advertisement from an interesting discussion of historical ads in Ebony magazine:


When I got home from my haircut, I did some online sleuthing to find out more about True Match and its marketing campaign. The True Match website was a treasure-trove of AMST goodies. First, I found a juicy block of text that plays up the “heritage is beautiful” rhetoric I already saw in the Beyonce ad:


Again, True Match’s marketing seems to deviate from the typical script. “Everyone’s skin is unique!” the website proclaims, “And our product will maintain that uniqueness!” The more I looked into True Match’s marketing, however, the more I realized that L’Oréal’s embrace-diversity strategy may be little more than (wait for it…) skin-deep.

With its 33 specific skin tone “matches,” True Match is using a marketing strategy that echoes the one the Armand Company used its 1929 “Find Yourself” ad [1].


Like Armand, L’Oréal is selling a personalized beauty product to promote an individual’s “unique” beauty while simultaneously reinforcing mainstream beauty norms. Kathy Peiss describes the constraints placed on individual beauty by ads like Armand’s:

“Cosmetics advertising qualified its utopian promises by containing personal realization within categories of physical beauty… In the ‘Find Yourself’ advertising campaign, Armand helpfully provided a guide to ‘thirty-two quite distinct types of women’ based on facial appearance… But female individuality clearly had its limits: Except for hair style and color, the women’s faces were virtually indistinguishable.” [2]

True Match (which has almost exactly the same number of distinct beauty “types” as Armand does) also promotes a constrained image of physical beauty. To start, there just aren’t as many dark shades available as there are light shades. While the True Match palette includes many shades of “beige” and “ivory,” there are only a handful of shades that would match a dark-skinned African American, Latino, or South Asian person:


Furthermore, True Match promotes its “individualized” shades with models whose skin is dark enough to be considered “ethnic” (and exotic!) but light enough to still be acceptable on the mainstream market. The website’s “True Match Stories” page features four models I’ll call “typically beautiful” alongside descriptions of their ethnic “stories”:

TMstories1 TMstories2

Each of these women is meant to represent a different racial group: JLo is the Latina, Aimee Mullins is the white woman, and Beyoncé and Liya Kebede are black. Other than Liya Kebede, however, all these women have what I’d consider to be pretty light skin (and even Kebede looks relatively light in her photo).

What’s even more interesting about the way these models are presented is that their stories are framed not in terms of race, but ethnicity/nationality. JLo doesn’t have Latina skin—she has Puerto Rican skin (whatever that means). And Aimee Mullins, the “nude beige,” blonde woman? She’s not white—she’s “Irish, Austrian and Italian.” I don’t know exactly what’s going on here, but my best guess is that L’Oréal’s ad designers, just like Bill Imada, have found that people respond well when companies focus on personal culture—in my experience, most people (especially white people) don’t feel much of a connection to their racial label, while an ethnic/heritage label in the context of an advertisement plays on people’s desire to be “unique” (only within an acceptable range of variation, of course).

What does the example of True Match add to our discussion of how advertising reinforces and/or challenges racialized conceptions of beauty? Can we draw a connection between these ads and our discussion of beauty a way of expressing national identity? How does L’Oréal’s marketing strategy compare with those of niche cosmetics companies that target non-white consumers more explicitly (for example, EX1 and Iman)?

[1] Peiss, Kathy. Hope in a Jar. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998. 147. Print.

[2] Ibid, 146.

1 Comment

Posted by on May 6, 2013 in Uncategorized


One response to “True Match: A Step Toward “Unique” Beauty, But How Far?

  1. lasondrakern

    May 9, 2013 at 1:30 am

    After my groups framing meeting we (by we I mean “I”) took the quiz. What I found to be interesting was that they described the skin tones as “light”, “medium”, and “deep”. Usually we associate “dark”as the next step after light and medium. Then I asked myself why didn’t they just put dark? A bigger question is why are they afraid to say dark?

    To answer my own question: As Peiss mentions on page 9 of her book, beauty practices often resulted in seeking the white ideal beauty. That still applies to the extent that these “representative”skin tones become whitewashed. This can also be seen in the post about bb creams.

    Below is a link to the quiz (multiple types)

    there is even an app!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: