Are Our Favorite Black Beauty Brands, Like Shea Moisture, Being Whitewashed?
Considering SheaMoisture’s history of being created and cultivated by a Black women-led customer base, its new ad is incredibly harmful and tired.
Back in fall of 2010, I remembered feeling like myself after a lifetime of conformity weighed on my shoulders. One Friday night in a crowded Black-owned beauty salon, I watched strand after strand of my relaxed hair fall to the ground, revealing nothing but close-cropped, tight coils that laid close to my scalp. The entire salon was silent, and I couldn’t help but beam. At 17, I had completed one of the most monumental moments in my life: I had big-chopped and begun my natural hair journey.
Hair may be closely connected to women’s identity, and our idea of femininity, but there’s nothing as vital to the identity of Black women than our hair. Back in 2010, natural hair was just beginning to enter the market, but it wasn’t the large powerhouse of a community as we know it today. YouTube had just a few hundred videos, mostly recorded with bulky cameras and intentionally-placed smartphones, as everyday Black women began to post videos about their wash day routines and curl patterns.
I found so much inspiration from those brave women in the early days of the natural hair care movement enough to want to attempt the big chop for myself. And I haven’t looked back since. But now, seeing how much the natural hair community has grown, I can’t help but feel that initial excitement and pride dim at bit as the industry has begun to push out the women that have created the movement to begin with.
Let me be clear: without Black women, there would be no natural hair movement. There would be no “natural hair gurus” on YouTube and Instagram, and beauty brands would not have the market flooded with products promising to hydrate and separate and perfectly clump curls together. So it’s obvious and telling to see a movement, crafted on the backs of Black women’s labor and quest to reclaim self-love, push out its core customer base in favor of attracting new, “more desirable” customers.
This, of course, comes fresh off the heels of the latest SheaMoisture ad, where the brand chooses to showcase hair diversity in a way that leaves the company’s new intentions clear: unless you are a light-skinned, 3c-curl-wearing beauty, this Black beauty brand isn’t here for you.
SheaMoisture is CANCELLED pic.twitter.com/T4Dru1JgAq
— NANA JIBRIL 🌙🏳️🌈 (@girlswithtoys) April 24, 2017
Considering SheaMoisture’s history of being created and cultivated by a Black women-led customer base, this is incredibly harmful and tired. This kind of ideology reinforces colorism and white supremacy — in pushing to ensure that white and light-skinned women of color take up the most space in the latest ad, SheaMoisture leaves no room for Black and dark-skinned women who exist outside of this mold.
The power of the natural-hair-care movement and its place in history can’t be denied either. Black women have suffered everything from ridicule and ostracizing to straight-up racism and discrimination through the policing of Black women’s natural texture. In fact, the policing and control over Black women’s bodies dates back to slavery, reducing Black women to property. In the 1800s, it was illegal in major parts of the country for a Black woman to even wear her hair out publicly via the Tignon laws — it had to be covered by a headscarf. The irony is that these women created fashion trends with their hair wraps and coverings, to the point that non-Black women were co-opted the law to replicate these trends themselves.
The trend of policing Black women’s hair continues, as federal courts have ruled that it’s acceptable and constitutional (one has to wonder, to whom?) for corporations to discriminate against Black women’s hairstyles in the workplace. The Army has only just allowed natural hair styles like cornrows and dreadlocks early this year. Black girls are still being policed and held to face themselves against discriminatory practices in schools, when they are vulnerable to everything from non-consensual touching of their hair from classmates and teachers to being suspended because others find their natural hair “distracting” or “unkempt.”
The natural-hair movement was special because it was a way for Black women to reclaim themselves against a racist, white supremacist society that forces them to conform for survival. Instead, we’re seeing Black natural-hair companies sell that dream for commercialization, contributing to the system of consumerism without a cause.
— SheaMoisture (@SheaMoisture) April 24, 2017
Though SheaMoisture has since apologized for its ad, the damage is clear. Many Black women and Black allies are vowing to boycott the brand. As many Black beauty brands choose consumerist success over loyalty to the fanbases that created a market for them, perhaps this is the only way that repercussions can be served.