a beautiful life

The Beauty Activist Who Believes in Second Chances

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Courtesy of Sharon Chuter

Sharon Chuter is dedicated to pursuing equitable change at all levels of the beauty industry. Chuter is the CEO of the inclusive makeup line Uoma Beauty, but she’s also the founder of Pull Up or Shut Up, a grassroots campaign that calls on beauty companies to reveal — and be accountable for — the diversity composition of their executive teams. At the same time, she created Make It Black, an organization that partners with brands to raise awareness and showcase the beauty of being Black. And if that weren’t enough, she also runs the Pull Up for Change Small Business Impact Fund, a fund dedicated to supporting early-stage Black founders. The Cut talked to her about the push and pull of cancel culture, whether companies deserve second chances, and how to lead with love.

There’s been a debate for years now about whether beauty is self-care. Do you think so? Why or why not?
Yes, it is self-care. Putting on your makeup, for example, is one of the few things you do where you can’t simultaneously do anything else. Both your hands are occupied. You can’t carry a baby or a dog. For me, I never compromise on how long it takes to do my makeup. I love it. I’m spending an hour on myself that I never get to. I’m always on the run. But in that moment, the world is silent and it is me and my space.

It’s one of the most selfish moments you have. It’s also the time to stare at yourself in the mirror, and the conversations that happen there are important. Self-validation is important. You look at entertainers — they’re not the most talented, but they are the most confident at what they do. Self-love is the most important love.

The ability to love ourselves and sit and be silent with ourselves is one of the hardest things to do. We need to look at ourselves and think, I am beautiful, worthy, exceptional. Look at those lips, oh my God. When I’m doing my makeup, I am in concert, I am Beyoncé or Tina Turner. I can be whoever I want to be and enjoy that moment.

Having worked in the beauty industry for a long time, how do you deal with unrealistic beauty standards?
Well, first off, who is setting the standards? When I was growing up, I was told I was ugly, I was froggy, my eyes were too big, my cheekbones too high. And then the next day, I was suddenly told, you’re so hot. One second I was the ugliest duckling in the pond and then I was the swan. People can’t make up their minds. Why should I care about people like that? Is that who I want to trust with my self-confidence?

When you see people own their confidence, everyone stops and goes, “You’re beautiful.” It’s about the way they look at themselves and project it. Who has the right to tell me what beauty looks like? Anyone that thinks it is uniform is a dumbass. If something says green eyes are in this season, I chuckle and go, “What ridiculousness.” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is no one’s job. It is our job to be in control and be the boss.

Where do you hope the beauty industry goes from here?
I hope it continues to focus on your internal teams and on serving the community. I hope there is more creativity. There is very, very little out there and it keeps being diluted, and becoming extremely commercialized, so that it is becoming more of an industry than an art.

We are all a part of the world, and should see celebration of all types of people. It shouldn’t be one group this week and another this week. I want to celebrate all people every single day. And things need to stop being primitive. How inclusive can your brand be when they are not internally? You need to make sure your internal teams reflect the world and the community. There needs to be a wide range of voices, everywhere, and that includes in the back room where products are being developed.

What do you think of cancel culture?
Well, there are two sides to every coin. On the one side, you can consider cancel culture to be a form of protest. It can do amazing work. It enables you, as a group, to mobilize protest and speak up. Cancellation is taking money away from other people, since companies only respect one thing and it’s a dollar. It’s okay for people to protest and to say, “I’m going to cancel my subscription, I’m not going to contribute to your bottom line.”

Other side of the coin, you have mob mentality. It’s used to bully people. People don’t even know why someone is being canceled a lot of the time. For every action, there is a converse, and that is how life works to keep things in balance. Every time a child is born, someone dies. And we see that with social media, technology, and cancel culture.

Do you believe companies should have second chances?
Of course. I had this conversation three weeks ago about a young influencer. He’s a kid. Many of us have done stupider things at that age. The only difference is that many of us did those things when there wasn’t social media.

When I was a teenager, I wanted double-D tits, to bleach my hair blonde, and go to the Playboy mansion and be one of Hef’s girlfriends. What a stupid thing to say! I was able to do that in my privacy. I had people who showed me love. No one tells you when you’re canceled. All you hear is, “You’re a horrible person.” But absolutely, people make mistakes. And with a protest, the point is to get people at the table to discuss. Canceling is finite. But nothing is finished. Everyone deserves a second chance and an education, and what we must learn to do on the internet is how to educate with love.

How do you educate with love?
The best example is Skims. Kim was going to call it Kimono. The internet dragged her. But it took someone explaining to her, “I don’t think you understand the impact with this. You have a huge platform, and if you do this, in a hundred years from now, some kid will see a kimono and all they will know is you.”

The cultural significance surrounding that world and that heritage is going to be drowned out and sucked in because of what you have done. Literally what you’ve done is going to change culture as we know it. In that moment, she said, “I never thought of it like that.” And that’s what educating with love is, as opposed to, “You vile cultural appropriator, how dare you” — which is what the internet did. You need to take the person on a journey to understand the consequences of their actions.

What is the biggest “no” you’ve heard in your career and what did you learn from it?
I heard “no” so many times, more than “yes.” Throughout my entire career, I was often told I didn’t have the right pedigree. Every single time I tried to do something, I heard “no” more than “yes.” I’ve turned it into a sport. Now I think, eventually, that person will come back and want something from me. Every single time, they come back later and say, “Let’s catch up!” And I am like, “I would love to, yeah!” But now things have changed. I offered you the friends and family rate before. Now you’re going to have to strike a little deal. But this is going to be so cool when they come full circle.

Let’s talk about the products you use for a minute. What’s the best affordable beauty product?
I’m the worst person to ask this question. I am so far from reality. I work in the industry, so I have not gone beauty shopping in 12–13 years and get products for free. And now, I create the ones I am not getting for free, so I am not a regular human being. I put my hand up. I’m a very privileged beauty shopper.

Is eye cream “worth it”? 
Oh yes, absolutely. The eye area is super delicate. For me, if a week or two goes by and I don’t hydrate and then I start doing it again, I notice a difference. Use your ring finger, it is the most delicate finger, and you need delicate, and even more delicate, and then more delicate than that.

Unfortunately, _______ is worth it. 
Sleep is worth it. I wish it wasn’t, because I have so much to do. I work 134 hours a week, so I am constantly pushing, but I need to find time for sleep, as much as I would rather keep going. If you don’t sleep, you’re dead. It’s something I had to learn to do this year. You have to recharge the body, or it’s not going to do what it needs to do.

Did you just say you work 134 hours a week?
At minimum. I am running multiple businesses. I have a nonprofit, I’m an activist, and it takes time to do everything. I am passionate about everything, and am shoving product into boxes as we are talking. I am constantly trying to bring out new product innovation, but I don’t own my own vertical, and it takes a lot of work to push things out. Then there is supply-chain financing, directing shoots, press, and being the face of my brand. There is a joke that there are three of me, and I cloned myself. So the question my team asks, “Do I have the real Sharon or a clone?” To do all of that takes time. But I always say, if you want to be with the one percent, you have to do the things 99 percent of the world aren’t doing.

The Beauty Activist Who Believes in Second Chances