So recently there has been a huge blow-up in the media about a controversial advert which Shea Moisture released. The ad features three young ladies: one blonde, one redhead and one of mixed race background. The supposed intent of the advert was to address ‘Hair Hate’ – a phenomenon which describes when people dislike their natural hair because of its texture, the way it looks, or whatever other reason – and to highlight that Shea Moisture is now creating products for all hair types and encouraging women to love their hair.
Now if you have been a loyal customer of Shea Moisture’s, you will be familiar with the fact that it was initially started with the objective of filling in that gap in the market for naturalistas and relaxed girls with the thicker, kinkier, coarser hair types, that had been left void for so long in the hair industry. My black sistas all over the world were rejoicing that there were finally products on the market that catered to their needs and left their hair feeling moisturized and nourished.
Gone were the days of being forced to use shampoos and conditioners that didn’t even begin to scratch the itch (no pun intended) of making Black hair more manageable. We saw ourselves represented and of course, became faithful flock of the #SheaFam, which eventually elevated from a street corner hustle into a $700 million dollar business today.
All of that has caved in, with just a one minute video Hair Hate advert.
PARDON ME FOR THINKING that if Shea Moisture (or anyone really) was going to make an ad on having any sorts of insecurities and feelings of hatred towards one’s hair that they would reach out to their number one customer base: the women of colour who have been taught from childhood to believe that what grows from their own heads isn’t beautiful; the girls who have been suspended from school for wearing their natural hair, further emphasizing this narrative; the women who have been so damn loyal to the business since it started off on its training wheels in the 90’s?? Instead, black women all over were visibly excluded by the brand that was supposed to be, for them, a symbol of inclusion. I personally couldn’t relate to any of the women in the video, let alone their stories. Disappointing.
As a Business student myself, I do understand the perspective of Shea Moisture in their need to expand into new customer segments and grow their market share. One might even argue that this move does represent inclusion, since the brand did not previously sell products for Caucasian hair. My issue with this, however, is that in their attempt to give White people a seat at the table, they have simultaneously booted Black women out of theirs. And this is not in the sense of just the advert alone, but several Black women have also noticed that the products which used to work miracles for their hair have suddenly become useless and less effective, leading to the blinking suspicion that Shea Moisture’s formulas have been dulled down to be more fit for use by White women.
Why. Why do we as Black people always feel the need to make so many concessions and put in so much effort to make ourselves more palatable to fit in to these unseen but rigid confines of society? Why are we so willing to ignore and neglect our own in order to pursue ‘greener pastures’ in white territories? The truth is, the same people whom we chase so strongly after in efforts to raise our societal status, would never make the same compromises for us. Not without us fighting and testifying and protesting first. The reason why this instance is so problematic is because it does not exist in a vacuum: there are many other cases that demonstrate gentrification of what is ours and I’m angry. I’m angry that we can never seem to have something of our own which will not in the end, exclude us.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were founded during segregation because people of colour were not allowed to enter into the large majority of white tertiary institutions. Now, these universities, originally created to serve as a safe space for excluded African-Americans, are seeing an increase in White students, and some of them are even offering scholarships to increase the number of White minorities which they currently have. What a laugh. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Whites should not be welcomed into our spaces or should not be able to use our products; but what I am saying is that the ‘All lives matter’ vehicle which Black people are beginning to be popular drivers of just isn’t going to cut it.
Representation for Europeans has never been a pressing matter because for centuries, all that has been at the forefront of all other nations are European standards, well-disseminated by colonizers! There are already millions of hair care products and educational institutions which were designed to cater to White people. So, is it too much to ask that historically marginalized groups be able and proud to reverse this cycle of a lack of representation for future generations by fully exemplifying their own people without these movements being colonized too?
We can do better as a people to be satisfied in our own skin. We can do better in learning to value ourselves and not seeking the approval of others in everything that we do. We need to start to invest our money into things which further us as a people and not the agenda of businesses which do not value our heritage – and that starts with little things like refusing to wear the merchandise of company’s that – frankly – don’t want us (Tommy Hilfiger, to name one).
I am definitely a woman of second chances, so I have not completely dismissed Shea Moisture as a brand yet. However, as a consumer, I will be watching them closely. An apology without any action to heal the hurt felt by several WOC, or worse, a repetition of these actions will 100% push me to explore other brands which better embody me and my hair.
What is your opinion? Are you cancelling Shea Moisture?