Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Shea Debacle - Why it Hurts

I think I'm finally all caught up on the debacle surrounding the latest Shea Moisture advertising campaign.  Basically, they filmed a series of commercial spots around the "inclusive" theme of "Hair Hate" and they have released them all willy nilly - exposing an overall lack of sensitivity to the needs of their own primary market.  Many current and prospective customers are very upset and hurt while dealing with feelings of betrayal and abandonment. Scathing comments and testimonies are going up on Youtube, Twitter and Facebook, prompting a series of apologies and explanations from the company, which are then inciting further sentiments of disappointment and "You. should. have. known. better" scolding.

Personally, I am numb. I was admittedly a product junkie who ran to scoop up Shea Moisture Products (SMP) when they were released or when there was a BYGO sale at Walgreens. However, like many of my fellow highly textured tress possessors, I would have flocked to any product line that was available on the ground, ingredient centered, and offered any promise of efficacy on my coils. Before Shea Moisture it was KCCC at Whole Foods, preceded Carols Daughter at Macy's. Black owned, targeted product lines with formulas heavy enough to coat and protect my hair from breakage and dryness were worth spending my hard earned money on, worth blogging about, worth posting about on social and worth the space in my bathroom.

Why? This consumerist behavior feeds into the the entire concept and pathology behind "Hair Hate". I won't preach to the choir but when a woman gets self confident enough to try to embrace her natural hair texture when NO ONE has ever done so, any glimmer of caring or empathy becomes an oasis in a dessert. Or in this case, a mirage. Relinquishing unhealthy self image beliefs and behaviors is HARD, and some vestiges of it remain in the quest to tame, smooth and detangle the number and letter ranked micro curls and zig zags many naturals find them self faced with yet unprepared for. We're thus constantly on a quest to re-educate ourselves and personalize our hair care depending on what we discover at our roots. We build communities to shore up support, we rally to banish preferences for looser curls, we uplift and we create sisterhoods like only we can. Like everything we do, those sisterhoods are coveted by others who have no such defining feature or experience to share, so we defend our spaces.

And we end up here. We've painstakingly embarked to redefine our beauty standards and routines. We're in the middle of a battle with ourselves and the dominant culture. We're building businesses and centering ourselves. It's delicate work and betrayal can not be tolerated. Not by our men, not by our elders, and not by those who have pledged to serve us. The outrage caused by a "natural hair company" creating a mere snippet of media that equates our plight of acceptance and journey to re-educate ourselves with the plight of any woman deciding on a mere hairstyle is palpable. We are battling powers that go beyond style down to challenge our mere existence as humans worthy of love and respect. We have to ground our feet against an omnipresent current insisting that we CHANGE or hide who we are. That is not the same as being insecure or having trouble accepting "imperfections". This is known. Let me add my "They should have known better". Yet still I am numb.

We've been at this for decades now, some of us. Before there were products available on the ground, they were on the internet. I think any one of us who has been natural for over 2-3 years (15 for me), even amidst the plethora of new product options, has debated coming up with our own product. And again; why? Because nothing truely works for long. SMP were great, until I remembered that shea butter accumulates residue on my hair, thus the loss of efficacy, so now I need the clarifying shampoo (OOOoooo JBCO Shampoo), and now I need a deep conditioner (OOoooo Superfruit purple bottle something), and now I need to fight the frizz, (gel...flake free non-drying gel anyone?) The cycle goes on and on as does the search for the holy grail product after the one you thought you loved stops working or has a disastrous formula change (is my face breaking out?). So I have been off Shea moisture for a while, though Nubian heritage does have a scent I love. Whatever. What even is the goal? Is it to come up with a signature style? Something easy and pretty and reliably duplicable? Or are we growing it long? Longer? Longest. Too long, big chop time. No, the goal is to be comfortable and confident in our own bodies. The goal is to become familiar with our hair's natural proclivities and predict and create desirable results. The goal is to accept and love what God gave us by the act of working WITH it and not against it. So the whole Hair Hate vs Hair Love is really at the root of this whole war. Those are representative trigger words at the deepest level. This is complicated.

What I already know, what we all already know, is that they still can not center US at the core of "Hair Love" and have the message translate to the very people who hate us. The very people who make us hate ourselves. The concept of acceptance that we thought SMP was riding with us on, had to be simplified and diluted down to a conversation about hair styles to be synthesized into a 2 minute spot suitable for mass media. Which is just sad. It just pokes the sadness that rears its head after every survived micro aggression or pang of wistfulness followed by guilt when admiring some flowy bundles. Or the sadness that may result from failing execution of a coveted style that's not right for ones actual hair texture (wash and no? defined twist doubt?). Acceptance is an ongoing process in the face of external AND internal adversity and it often hurts without any extra poking. They poked a Tyrannosaurus.

I was excited for their brand, albeit one I was a bit distanced from, because I saw the baby line come out, then saw body care and "lighter formulas" start popping up in various aisles throughout the local drug stores. I thought to myself, now that Black business is going somewhere! Hair dye? Makeup?! Go head!! I was routing for you - we were all routing for you! If anyone had the knowledge of our plight coupled with the brand power to center us in a conversation about beauty we thought it could possibly be SMP!! I was ready to see African women with brown skin and naturally straight hair smile from my TV to discuss the "Light" formula line for straight or fine hair. Or the Latina touting the new wavy hair formula. AKA "This brand knows moisture because they were birthed by and for those who needed it most, and now they can expertly extrapolate their foundation goals to the greater market."

We've seen the reverse all our lives - "This brand knows how to make your hair oil free and shiny, they can expertly extrapolate their foundation to the alternative market and...remove...less oil...? And replace it with poison-oil...wait...we mean cocoarganshea extract..."

I, personally, was hoping we were finally seen by a brand as "beautiful enough" to be given a chance at the center. But this disappointment is not new. I'm hurt and disappointed because I now have to abandon my hope for what they could have done, who they could have been in the name of true love... I'm VERY well well acquainted with who they are. They are still a black owned business, they are still available on the ground, and their ingredients still aren't total trash. And I'm just sad.

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