Words: Red Mosiane | Image: Sheila Ndinda
The past few years has seen a generational shift in the beauty industry caused by women of colour boldly and proudly loving their hair as it grows from their scalps and demanding a wider variety of products to take care of it.
The natural hair movement has seemingly gained more traction as of late. What was once just disregarded as social media chatter has become a lucrative sub-industry within itself with major hair care brands recently deciding to jump on the band wagon. Ideally, this movement should remain in its original most authentic and impactful form but that has not been the case. As the natural hair community grows and in turn becomes more profitable, we have seen it get diluted and altered thus leading more women to raise concerns regarding the current state of the movement.
Firstly, when this whole conversation started again it was made up of online content created by other black women in the form of video tutorials, hair-care tips and honest conversation in which all black women with varying natural hair types were represented. Now, many have noticed the successful natural hair bloggers and models used in popular fashion publications (if any) are mainly women with Eurocentric features deemed acceptable by the white gaze. This means women of colour who’s skin is light enough to make them look or are mixed race, facial features proportions which aren’t “too black” and, of course, curlier natural hair with softer textures are the ones making the money as the face of a movement created and pushed forward by black women to represent all black women and hair types.
There’s also been an emphasis on length of hair instead of health of hair when marketing natural hair products. This is concerning because it associates the natural hair movement with an image and beauty standard unattainable by a majority of black women. Instead of encouraging black women to take care of their hair in order for it to be strong and healthy, which is a message the entire movement has been built on. Many women have recently taken to social media to express their confusion and frustration with the fact that hair which grows downwards, like Caucasian hair, is still deemed as better than hair that defies gravity, like an afro.
Big brands like Dove have (finally) recently released product lines which specifically cater to black hair types. The quality of those products are a different conversation, but many such brands have been ripped apart by social media by their terribly executed marketing plans. There have been multiple instances of promotional material like social media content, ad campaigns, etc in which representation is limited to the white gaze approved version of black women (and hair types). There’s also been instances where the brands’ ambassadors had afro extensions on instead of their real hair because apparently their teams are so colour-blind they could not tell the difference. So while these brands are high jacking a conversation built by a market segment they previously refused to acknowledge and stealing clients from independent product lines, it’s also obvious that they don’t even care to actually hire informed black women to help them create marketing strategies.
The subliminal message coming through to most black women is that the structures placed to silence black women from fully representing and boldly loving ourselves in every variation we come in remain intact. The less Eurocentric your appearance- your skin, facial features, hair- the less you will see yourself represented. Unfortunately, not even the natural hair movement -which gained momentum as it was supposed to break those structures – has been able to be exempt from erasing a majority of black women the movement altogether.