It’s undeniable that the western fashion industry – whether that’s in the glossies or on the runway – lags behind when it comes to representation. So, it follows that women of color often don’t see themselves as beautiful not merely due to a subjective lack of self-esteem, but because the media told them so.
Haircare brand Shea Moisture tackled this idea with the first ad of their #BreakTheWalls campaign. The TV spot aired Tuesday during BET’s annual Black Girls Rock! awards ceremony, which acknowledges the accomplishments of women of color in music, film, television and activism. Beyond starting with a captive audience of brown girls and women seeking empowerment and basking in the glow of #BlackGirlMagic, Shea Moisture’s ad is commendable for confronting the racialized dynamic of fashion and beauty.
In the ad, a black woman wanders apprehensively through aisles of sterile, nondescript and unfriendly-looking beauty products to no avail. The voiceover notes a phenomenon that is familiar to most women of color: there’s a section called “ethnic” next to or within an aisle called “beauty,” and no matter how you slice it, the hair products that you need are explicitly organized so that it’s apparent how very different your needs are.
“To be honest, we’ve dealt with it our whole lives – to the point of internalizing it,” a voice says. “Do I feel like I’m beautiful? Is ‘ethnic’ not beautiful?”
It’s true that highly-visible manifestations of whitewashed beauty are a step backward when it comes to eroding the west’s Eurocentric beauty standard. While the likes of Lineisy Montero, Poppy Okotcha, Imaan Hammam, Aya Jones, Jeneil Williams, Malaika Firth, Grace Bol and Ajak Deng are fruitfully carrying on Naomi Campbell’s black supermodel legacy, it’s still disheartening to see how major fashion labels can just forget to cast any models of color. Likewise, the wildly popular trend of distastefully slapping black heritage on white bodies is getting old real fast.
Yet it’s the little things that are particularly pernicious. Brown girls grow up questioning their beauty by virtue of their skin tone, their nose curve, their hair texture. That self-doubt is only reinforced by the segregation of beauty products by intended demographic. Therefore, Shea Moisture’s objective of bringing positive cultural representation to something as personal as drugstore beauty is a noble one. The #BreakTheWalls campaign is poised to affect significant change in the lives of women of color, as it seeks to push back on the “othering” of brown beauty and help brown girls feel comfortable in their own skin.
For this video, Shea Moisture enlisted famous YouTube naturalistas who are leading the movement of embracing black beauty. Hair bloggers Natural85 and MahoganyCurls as well as lifestyle and beauty vlogger SunKissAlba contributed to the ad.
Aptly, the climax of the video is the supernatural power of WOC empowerment shoving down shampoo bottles and bursting containers of conditioner to break down the walls that separate mainstream, highly commercialized hair products from those that benefit women of color.
“We are Shea Moisture,” the ad declares. “And now, we can be found in the beauty aisle, where we all belong.”
Looking forward, individual declarations such as this one will hopefully prompt other cosmetics brands as well as the stores that carry them to approach presenting their picture of beauty more inclusively.