I know there was a time when I let my hair, for lack of better words, just be. Maybe I got a relaxer once or twice, but the little girl on the Just for Me box didn’t invoke a need to completely abandon my natural texture. I grew up in a home where my parents never made me feel like I should be anyone other than myself. My half-Italian, half-Irish mother’s experience with Black hair began with me. And while it would’ve been easy to say managing it was difficult or that it needed to be tamed, she simply asked for help and learned how to do it. I never felt like it was some weird burden that needed to be handed off to a salon or neighbor.
As life would have it, the time between those carefree memories and re-learning to be comfortable in my skin, strands included, is paved with way too much outside noise. In fact, trying to pinpoint the exact moment I started internalizing how others would describe my hair is like trying to find a snowball in a snowstorm.
Maybe it was in elementary school when my mother would repeatedly douse my head in Pink Lotion before brushing it into a braid paired with bangs that resembled a horizontal Shirley Temple curl. (I promise it was a lot cuter than it sounds.) To this, my former classmates would say I had that “good” hair that was “long like white people hair.” Given the fact that my mother is indeed white, I guess I didn’t see the harm in their seemingly nonchalant observations. Or perhaps it was when I got a little older and only heard the word “nappy” when it used as a hurtful clap-back in an argument between friends.
When I finally stopped taking my hair for granted and embraced it for what it was, the shift did feel revolutionary.
Going to a predominantly white high school where skinny girls with pin-straight hair got the most attention from my crushes probably didn’t help either. Trying to hold onto those “you’re fine just the way you are” moments got harder because the world sucks sometimes and navigating through the tough stuff doesn’t always come with an exact set of instructions. (And I haven’t even gone into the additional impact of Black hair being policed in classrooms, workplaces, the military, and beyond; more on that another time.)
So when I finally stopped taking my hair for granted and embraced it for what it was, the shift did feel revolutionary. Over time, I dove head first into a dizzying array of sewn-ins, braids, wigs, and other inventions masterfully created and passed down in my culture. I learned my way around the beauty supply store. I was taught how to keep it healthy as it was being styled according to my mood (and budget). My hair became my crown and I reveled in my ability to transform at the drop of a dime.
In the beauty industry’s attempts to normalize inclusivity, I sometimes feel that making a big deal out of it is doing the complete opposite.
The beauty industry, once fashioned to cater almost exclusively to mainstream standards in its products and advertising, seemed to go through a similar metamorphosis. As a beauty editor with the unique vantage point of both insider and consumer, I’ve watched brands and those with influence make an effort to go beyond checking all the boxes and build something that feels authentic from the ground-up. In other words, they’re not just putting a co-wash on shelves; they’re also recruiting a black scientist to formulate it. They’re not just adding 40 more shades to a foundation line because Rihanna did it; they’re doing it from the start and ensuring that the undertones make sense too.
But it doesn’t stop there…and this is when I start to feel uneasy. Some of them also put what should be the norm in bold print and make it the sole selling point; especially if it excuses the less-flattering aspects of the product. For example, that new “hydrating” foundation may not have any hydrating ingredients, but hey, at least there’s 40 shade options. Maybe that drugstore brand is finally making stylers for natural hair, but coconut oil is the only option because everyone likes coconut oil, right?
This isn’t to say that inclusivity, regardless of whether it’s lacking in some area or not, is wrong. As a Black woman, it’s so gratifying to see brands acknowledge my existence, especially when it’s my job to as an editor to talk about them. However, I often struggle with this internal tug of wanting every single stride to be put on front street and being plain old exhausted with it all.
We’ve gotten used to rewarding what should be a given.
In the beauty industry’s attempts to normalize inclusivity, I sometimes feel that making a big deal out of it is doing the complete opposite. Whenever a celebrity wears cornrows on the red carpet, an essay soon follows. If an influencer removes a wig to reveal a TWA, it’s trending news. Sometimes that person will reveal they chose a look because of its cultural significance or because they’re in the midst of their own revolutionary transformation.
At the same time, we–or society–can force this reasoning on someone when they don’t share anything. I find that problematic because every beauty choice a Black woman or PoC makes doesn’t need a think piece to go along with it. Sometimes I wear braids simply because I think they look good on me, though they’re an obvious reflection of my culture too.
It’s this same assumption that I fear is ingrained in the DNA of our industry’s current obsession with inclusivity. If a brand comes out with 30 shades of concealer, we throw a party with confetti. I’m guilty of perpetuating it at times. But mostly, we’ve gotten used to rewarding what should be a given. This cycle can be especially tiring for Black women because sometimes, we just want to be. Having our hair and skin policed is an obvious offense, but when those parts of us are also politicized, it can feel just as cringe-worthy. When I’m sampling at Sephora or following my favorite brand on Instagram, I don’t want to feel like a charity case on a pedestal. I want to get what I need without having to constantly be reminded that I was once on the outskirts. I don’t need the reminder. It’s exhausting. Plus it can feel redundant when positioned as a selling point and we can see right through it–trust me.
My hope is that moving forward, brands can find middle ground by celebrating inclusion in a way that feels natural instead of some extraordinary feat. I hope that one day it’s standard procedure for all hair brands to have a product formulated for textured hair and makeup brands to hawk coverage options with an expansive shade range. Beyond that, I hope this shift will make the way these products are marketed feel just as organic.
I don’t have all the answers because my feelings aren’t absolute. I want to celebrate and I want to fall into the fold. I want Black women to always feel uplifted and catered to. I also wouldn’t mind being part of the crowd. Ultimately, when I interact with beauty brands, I want to feel like I can do what I did as a little girl…and just be.