14/09/2017 16:36 BST

Kay Montano: The Makeup Artist Fighting Against Shallow Representation Of Women Of Colour

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Discussions about cultural appropriation often start with good intentions, but lately it seems they’ve resulted in much contention and anger.

Yet one Hollywood makeup artist is showing us that it doesn’t have to be this way. 

Kay Montano is co-founder of Thandie & Kay, a digital platform and blog dedicated to rebalancing the representation of women of colour in the worlds of media, politics and the arts.

Montano launched the blog in 2013 with business partner and friend Thandie Newton. Now, is known as a place of intelligent discussion, where honesty and originality is celebrated and all women are championed. 

HuffPost UK caught up with Montano to discuss diversity, the future of ThandieKay and the allure of “trending” beauty. 

Thandie Kay
Kay Montano and Thandie Newton.

Montano and Newton launched ThandieKay because they wanted to find a practical way to tackle the “shallow” media world.

“We realised we could use the idea of beauty as a portal to open up a much wider conversation,” Montano said. 

She believes media representation of women of colour is currently very limited and she wanted ThandieKay to offer an inclusive alternative.

“I don’t think the media represents the number of highly educated women of colour there are in the world,” she said.

“They are among the most highly educated group, but you’d never know that looking at the media. There’s more to women of colour than hair extensions and Beyoncé.

“I look forward to a time where age and ethnicity are seen just as hair colour is. Redheads are seen as people who have red hair. Brunettes, as those with brown hair. They’re not seen as a different species.”

Photo: Lorenzo Agius/Courtesy Photo

When asked if she found it difficult to represent women from as many backgrounds and skin tones as possible on the blog (due to lack of opportunity from within the creative industries) Montano responded:

“We try to represent all different skin tones. I can’t help that I’m not that dark or not that white. Neither can Thandie. That’s who we are; we’re not ashamed. I think it’s important to provide a connection with all women, rather than this polarisation.”

Montano thinks the world is becoming far too polarised and doesn’t believe getting angry will decrease the conflict that exists, especially among women.

“We’re not saying there isn’t a division, but we prefer to lift women up by featuring a variety of them,” she explained. “I’m more interested in encouraging unity.

“This is the opposite of what’s going on in the world right now. Everyone is basically encouraging us to have lots of opinions and not have a discussion. The world is pro-opinion, anti-discussion.” 

The impact of the inclusive approach championed by ThandieKay can be seen in the response it receives on social media, as demonstrated in the comments on a video shared when HuffPost UK Style Writer Patricia Ekall modelled for Montano’s venture into the cosmetics world with Newton.

The behind-the-scenes garnered a lot of praise, particularly for the way the pair worked together.

One fan’s comment was especially touching. She said: 

From a mother of two mixed race daughters, thank you for this page and your website. I am Black, their father is White and I've worried that they might grow up not being as proud of their Black side as they are of their White side, or that they won't see the beauty in brown skin and hair textures. I've worried about this because, regardless of how hard I try, society and the media is going to teach them that everything else is beautiful and being that most people assume that they are White (and that I'm the nanny lol), they might be inclined to only embrace that side. I feel much better thinking that my girls could grow up to be like you - women who are clearly very proud of who they are.A fan of ThandieKay, Instagram

To think social media is being used as a force for positivity and honest conversation is a feat few other brands have managed to accomplish quite like ThandieKay. 

ThandieKay Front Page

But Montano doesn’t think they’ve yet fully accomplished what they set out to do with the blog.

“This is just a rough idea,” she said. “What we’ve done now is more like an outline, a notebook. Obviously, with our busy schedules it’s been difficult to maintain the site as we’d like to see it.”

With Newton’s seemingly endless list of acting roles and Montano’s globe-trotting MUA jobs, it’s not difficult to see why the blog has had to take a back-seat on occasion.

Montano tells us that “compromises have been made that stopped the site from becoming exactly what we wanted it to be. We’d have to constantly deliver - which is not possible with the work we do.” 

Kay Montano via YouTube

Montano listed Ava DuVernay and up-and-coming director Victoria Mahoney among those she’d like to feature on the blog.

“I’d also like to interview amazing women in the tech world, who happen to be women of colour. More ‘hidden figures’ basically,” Montano added.

“I’d like to provide a place where we inspire young girls to see women who look like themselves, who are in all fields. Not just musicians cavorting half naked.”

Montano places emphasis on seeing diversity within a broader spectrum of professional roles to show young girls a more realistic representation of what women are. 

The ratio of what you see is nothing like reality,” she explained. “It isn’t for any women at all. But at least there is a bit more of a variety of represented women who are white, than there is for women of colour and from the various diaspora.”

The beauty connoisseur reminisces about growing up in very feminist, liberal and arguably more tolerant times: “I grew up thinking it wasn’t that important to be pretty, nor that I should try to look sexy for guys. The pressures people are putting up with now are so much more regressive compared to when I was growing up.

“I think it’s important to remind women that one of the things they are is sexual, but there are so many other things about them that are amazing.

“There are so many other things that can give a woman way more value than being sexually attractive to men.”

David M. Benett via Getty Images

Montano has big goals for ThandieKay:

“We’re aiming to become a multimedia platform and the go-to place that has intelligent content for intelligent women - all women,” she said. “We want to host a really interesting and inspiring destination. ”

Don’t ask Montano about trends and ‘hero’ products, as she believes there are none because “everything is already out there.” She does love a good lip balm, though.

“The most effective things are often the really boring ones like lip balm,” she said. “People are always looking for the really groovy ‘secret thing,’ but the sad thing is there aren’t any.”

What about celebrities who say they swear by a really expensive serum and their one life-saving item? Montano’s straight-forward response: 

“People are always looking for a fix to put on top of something they don’t like but there’s no getting away from what’s underneath.”

However, one product that is on Montano’s radar is the new Chanel Illusion D’ombre eye shadow.

“I’m really into copper eyeshadow at them moment,” she volunteers. “I think it suits lots of skin tones. But that’s just me. I don’t believe in beauty trends anymore because there really aren’t any. It’s all there!” 

Thandie and Kay by Billie Scheepers

Montano isn’t a huge fan of heavy strobing and baking, but she doesn’t believe it’s any of her business what others do to feel good.

“Yes, I’m an expert but I’m also not the kind of person to say what someone else should and shouldn’t do. It’s actually really judgemental.

“I think we need to look at the beauty industry in a whole new way: we’ve got to stop selling things by making people feel insecure. We’ve got to stop selling things to people by giving them lack, so that they have desire.”

Montano’s philosophy on makeup is also refreshing.

“I personally see makeup as adornment," she said. "Culturally, men and women adorn themselves - it’s not just a female thing.

"The reason it’s been directed primarily at women is because women have historically symbolised patriarchal control, whether that be through foot binding in China or corsets in Edwardian times. Women have always had to conform themselves into acceptably objectified forms of themselves.”  

But she adds that she’s happy when she’s wearing makeup and a nice dress. To her, it symbolises making time for herself.

“Some people put makeup on because they’re insecure, some people put makeup on because they’re happy or sad. It’s not the makeup itself it’s why you’re doing it.”

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