One of the many things I do in my day-to-day as a beauty editor is source images for articles, which has me following hundreds of beauty brands, influencers, and other people in the business on Instagram. In both my personal and work-time, I’m scrolling through new releases, product reviews, announcements, roundups, and more. Over time, you start to notice trends. Some brands always get it right (read: Fenty Beauty), pandemic life has basically ended the need for lip products beyond the usual lip balm, and drugstore skincare is really on the up-and-up. But one thing is glaring, even in 2021: product images still aren’t diverse, and I’m forced to scroll endlessly to find options that showcase Black and Brown bodies.
This is especially difficult for nail polishes and any photos that involve hands. One look through a mainstream brands’ feed can take 40-or-so rows to see a different skin tone be represented. What if you’re searching for how a shade looks on your skin, or how a product performs with your skin type? But it’s beyond that; it’s about representation. So, Hannah Harris, student at the Savannah College of Art and Design, started Brown Girl Hands, an Instagram account and website dedicated to showcasing and reviewing beauty products through Black hands. We talked to Hannah about why she started her business and account, her favorite beauty products she’s tried along the way, and her product photography tips.
What made you start your Instagram account?
Brown Girl Hands was the culmination of many things crossing paths at the right time. My high school camera (in hindsight, I should’ve paid more attention in photography class), my unique fascination with hand photos (my Pinterest boards can vouch for me), and my love of reading (particularly, a Jessica Defino article titled Where are All the Brown Hands?). It was after reading that article that the idea for Brown Girl Hands came to be. I thought to myself, “Where are all the Brown Hands? I’m right here.” I wanted to show brands that Brown hands can be aesthetic and that they deserve to be represented.
How did you start? Did you have any previous experience with reviewing products or photography?
I took a photography class years ago in high school, but everything else I taught myself. It’s been quite a bit of trial and error, following the sun for good lighting and shooting in my driveway. Instagram was one of my biggest resources. I followed different photographers, watched their tutorials, and messaged them with questions. My approach for reviewing products is just talking like it’s a good friend [who is] asking me for a recommendation!
The industry is pretty slow to show swatches and product images on Black and Brown people. How do you hope your Instagram will change this? What changes would you like to see in the beauty industry?
I hope Brown Girl Hands’ account brings awareness to beauty brands that they need to include different skin tones in their product photography. At Brown Girl Hands Studio, I work with beauty brands to offer more diverse product photography and have shot entire product line-ups. I would love to see different types of diversity in the beauty industry. I think we got stuck on the “40 shades!” for such a long time, but what about diversity in product photography, in age, in ability?
What is your favorite aspect of your Instagram?
The community. The Brown Girl Hands community is the reason why we exist. When women message us about how much it means to them for someone to acknowledge that you can be Black and Brown and enjoy minimalism, enjoy beauty, enjoy beautiful things—that means everything.
You are also really passionate about age diversity in the beauty industry. Can you explain a little bit more about why and what you hope to see change in the future?
I was recently a finalist for the Fashion Scholarship Fund for my project on age inclusion in haircare. This really stemmed from my mom and the lack of positive messaging I saw for her age. It was always about reversing their wrinkles but never about empowering them. So many women over 40 are our biggest inspirations: our moms, grandmothers, Michelle Obama, Brene Brown, Oprah, I could go on. Why do we continually leave them out in our advertising in a confident way? Currently at SCAD, I’m a junior in the Business of Beauty and Fragrance program where we learn the ins and outs of the industry from marketing to leadership and ethics and emerge well prepared for new opportunities. I’m excited for a few upcoming projects and positions, including interning at the Estee Lauder Companies this summer and being a part of the inaugural first-class of 20 Virgil Abloh Scholars to receive mentorship from Abloh.
Now onto the fun stuff 🙂 What are your favorite beauty products you’ve featured on your Instagram?
My top 3: Summer Fridays Lip Butter Balm, Ranavat Kansa Wand, and Lesse Ritual Serum.
"This is, hands down, the best lip gloss and balm I’ve ever tried ... It gives me the super shiny look I want with zero stickiness. I wear it to bed at night to moisturize, and I wear it during the day over my favorite lip colors. The scent/flavor is a super mild vanilla," Hannah said in her review of the product.
"This facial massage tool from Indian owned brand Ranavat has been my favorite part of my skincare routine these past few weeks. After applying my face oil, I gently massage it in in circular, upward motions. Used for centuries in Ayurveda, it slowly detoxes the skin," Hannah said in her review of the product.
"I love that I can read everything on the label ... I wish it came in a body version so I could douse myself in it. So balancing, calming, moisturizing, yet simple—I truly look forward to applying this oil and giving myself a little face massage every night," Hannah said in her review of the product.
Any tips on taking good product photos?
Sunlight is your best friend; good light can make or break a photo. For hand photos specifically, I use Glossier Futuredew to add luminance to the hands and a hint of cuticle oil.
Are there any products you’re excited to feature or try in the future?
I would love to try the Dyson Hair Dryer–what a dream! I’m also excited to feature all Black-owned [brands] for the month of February.