As a black woman with curls cascading in every direction, my relationship with my hair has always been a bit complicated. Together we’ve experimented with braids, weaves, hair extensions and wigs… to name just a few. And I know I’m not alone. Because the hair story for a black woman is often one of trial, error and temporary success. And for black women as a community, the narrative is even more complex. Not every curl is the same, not every texture follows the same rules, and not all natural hair journeys are equal.
And yet, our curls are still restricted to the ‘ethnic’ hair section in the high street beauty stores, often complete with two shelves - two WHOLE shelves - of product to choose from. A world away from the aisles upon aisles dedicated to non-afro hair. Which is why I want to reach out to you, the high street, in a bid to demand diversity in our beauty aisles.
The black hair community is full of stories, techniques and tips, passed down from mother to daughter and back round again. Our mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers had to straighten their hair for the world to accept them as ‘beautiful’, masking their individuality, and herding them into Eurocentric beauty ideals. The use of hot combs, hot presses and curling tongs to transform a ‘nappy head’, into an unrecognisable smooth, sleek style, was an imitation of whiteness that damaged not only our hair, but our culture too.
But with the natural hair movement growing rapidly on social media, it’s clear that our community is done with being boxed into one outdated beauty ideal. Influencers like @SamanthaMariaOfficial, @RekaylaCurls, Beulah Davina of @thecreamycrackrehab, @WhitneyMadueke , Lesley Buckle of @FreshLengths and Angela Onuoha of @Curlbellaa, are just a small handful of the powerful women driving one clear, united message forward, that being: our curls are beautiful.
But with all the positivity on social media, it’s hard to see you, the high street, lagging so far behind. Yes, most cities have dedicated beauty supply stores which are often packed with aisles full of products for afro hair, but what about if we run out of edge control and want to pop to our local supermarket to pick some up? It’s just not an option.
In fact, our curls are so often left out of the conversation, that many don’t even know they each have their own definition. 3A, which is thick and full with lots of body. 3B that can have a combined texture with more space between each curl. 3C aka the corkscrews. 4A that are tightly coiled with more of a kink pattern. 4B which are tightly coiled, but in a ‘Z’-shaped pattern, and finally 4C with their almost invisible kink pattern and thicker definition. You don’t mention these in your aisles. Many people don’t even know that these markers exist. Where is the care and attention in mastering the market?
It’s no surprise that 70% of black and Asian women in the UK do not feel that you, the high street, and your mainstream brands support them. Shopping for hair products shouldn’t be an ordeal for anyone, and I, for one, am more than ready for a change.
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Samantha is right, we’ve made some progress. In May 2018, Pantene launched their Gold Series specifically designed for natural or relaxed hair, and Superdrug is now stocking the likes of Shea Moisture and As I Am. But it’s still not enough. According to a report in the Huffington Post, the UK black hair industry is worth an estimated £88 million, and black women spend on average three times more than white women on hair care. So why are we still waiting for more? It’s time that you, the high street, listened to the voices and curls that have waited so long to be heard. We don’t need another generic ‘curly hair shampoo’, packed with sulphates and other harsh ingredients. A woman’s hair journey is unique to her, and each journey deserves your respect and attention.
We deserve better, and all we’re asking is for the same innovations that every other hair type is given, along with the ability to shop for our products in a convenient way. In a time where brands are so eager to showcase diversity, it is no longer acceptable to include us in the marketing campaign but continue to exclude us from the conversation. It’s time to bring real inclusivity the beauty aisles.