Earlier this month, black-owned natural hair and beauty line Shea Moisture launched their #BreakTheWalls campaign, which is geared towards dismantling the segregation of beauty aisles. Products made specifically for black hair are often pushed into the "Ethnic" section of department stores, isolated from mainstream products that are used for contrasting hair textures. In the commercial for Shea's new movement, a black woman asks: "Is ethnic not beautiful?"
Before infiltrating store shelves, Shea Moisture waited 16 years because brand executives did not want to subscribe to the unjust politics of retail discrimination. Now that the company has built a respected brand, one of its newest video advertisements has angered many longtime customers: by taking a more inclusive route and marketing to all hair types — not just black ones. In the video, which chiefly circulated across social platforms today, three women with non-kinky hair textures (two of whom are white) speak on the topic of learning to love their hair. But the shift in narrative is not sitting well with black consumers, who took to their timelines to express feelings of erasure.
"Hair hate" may be something that women with varied hair textures have experienced on some level, but there were no black women with afros or kinks in the controversial ad. Shea Moisture released another visual that featured black women who spoke on the topic, but it was too late; the damage was already done. As a black woman with thick curls, growing up and loving my natural texture took lots of work — especially since everything about society's beauty standards instructed me to believe the opposite. And while all women have the choice to use whatever hair products they'd like, brands like Shea Moisture have been a sanctuary for black women since there were so few accessible products created specifically for our hair.
In early April, Shea Moisture addressed the backlash around its expansion in a letter on Facebook. "We’ve never believed that one size fits all — especially for hair and skin needs, and today is no different," they wrote. "We’re proud to now self-manufacture more than 150 different hair care products to serve our community’s varying needs with specific formulations made for the individual — not the generalization or the stereotype. We do not believe that we should accept or adopt the thinking that has made it possible and easier for others to put any of us in a box."
Now, in response to today's video, Shea Moisture has issued an apology, stating that they would be pulling the ad (Twitter and Facebook were flooded with customers who felt they had been erased). But as an avid consumer of the company's products, it still feels like a betrayal — something that was made just for us is now being compromised and diluted for the mainstream. Black hair is incredibly diverse, so why do white women now have to represent a piece of our plurality? In a world where whiteness is often the standard, one which provides white women with endless options, lines like Shea Moisture are treasured havens for black women — a resource that celebrates who we are and the special beauty in our hair and skin.