By Jessica Simpson
From the time an African American girl is born, she’s told that she must aspire to have “good hair.” She is told that her hair is nappy and should be relaxed because it’s too difficult to style naturally. Years of relaxing hair developed the notion that black hair is “bad” and not as beautiful as it’s other counterparts. The hatred of natural black hair lasted for years, until recently.
The year 2011 marked when most black women transitioned from relaxed to natural hair. Although the movement was late to the public eye, important figures such as First Lady Michelle Obama supported the movement by wearing her natural hair. Between Obama and the support of various celebrities including Beyoncé and Viola Davis, the movement snowballed to the extent that companies started to produce natural hair products for black women. Due to this new movement, companies started creating more hair products that emphasized natural hair. For example, the brand “Dark and Lovely” started a line of natural hair products in 2011.
Although these companies market to African-American women, their advertising barely shows women with kinky hair. It’s unfortunate that black women spend so much money on hair products every year and yet most models for hair product companies are white women. Having white women model hair products for kinky-haired women reinforces the idea that black hair is undesirable.
Shea Moisture is a personal care product that sells various hair products. Founded by two African American men, the company became widely known in the black community as a company geared towards reinventing black hair. However, when Shea Moisture debuted a commercial to expand their market, it featured two white women and one biracial woman. The 2-to-1 ratio of representation came as a surprise. Although the biracial woman could be considered black, the model’s curl pattern is looser than a kinky curl pattern. So, unfortunately, there was no real representation of “black hair.” To express their anger, black women went to Twitter and YouTube to discuss how the company failed to represent their hair texture in the commercial.
Consumers were probably asking: Why use white women to advertise hair products for black women? Esther Rosier, a commenter on the YouTube version of the video, explained that, “[Women of color] are upset with this…We need more products for OUR HAIR. There are THOUSANDS of products already on the market for “white hair.”
Since white women have tons of products for their hair, there’s no use for them to market natural hair products made for black women. Shea Moisture trying to expand their audience to white women is wonderful, but their hair pattern doesn’t need the oils and essence that black hair needs. So, there’s no point for white women to use Shea Moisture or advertise for natural hair products.
Brina Hargro of Georgia State University, a scholar who has studied natural hair and the female African American community, writes that unlike looser-textured hair, kinky hair grows upward and away from the scalp. Its coils makes kinky hair more susceptible to breakage. Given this information, products that reduce damage and help kinky hair grow should have a black woman advertising their brand because that product was made for that specific hair type. Since most white women’s hair grows in a downward motion, products made for hair that grows in an upward motion would not benefit them.
Although it may seem like there’s a lack of black women advertising natural hair, many places are moving to be more inclusive. New York’s fashion week had several African American models wearing their natural hair. Having black models embracing their natural hair will hopefully encourage companies to hire these models to model natural hair products and increase representation.
Black hair has been look down upon for years. The movement to embrace kinky hair has empowered women throughout the world. Although we have these products to allow our hair to grow, we don’t see ourselves on the screens of the products we buy. Natural hair products need more black representation so that we can embrace our hair and dismantle the stigmas that young black girls hear growing up.