We were heartbroken after reading about DeAndre Arnold, a Trinidadian student from Texas, who was suspended and forbidden from walking at his graduation ceremony because the school deemed his dreadlocks a “dress code violation.” This situation is a reminder that hair is used as a scapegoat for discrimination constantly, and it’s never okay – we are sick of reading variations on this same exact story. To find the silver lining, we reached out to Gwen Jimmere, CEO and founder of Naturalicious and Lulu Cordero, founder of Bomba Curls. Both of these women have experienced hair discrimination personally and were motivated to create natural hair brands to change the narrative from the inside out.
Breaking Beauty Standards
Having natural hair in a society that values Eurocentric beauty can be draining and emotionally painful, especially when these perceptions are consistently reinforced in your family or in your workplace.
“Being Afro-Dominican, I grew up in a culture that views sleek, straight hair as beautiful and socially acceptable,” says Lulu. “Everyone, except my mother, would say that my natural curly-coily hair was ‘bad,’ ‘difficult’ and ‘ugly.’ It’s almost like the world tried to make me believe that my God-given hair was something to be embarrassed of. Aunts, cousins and even friends would tell me to ‘fix’ my hair or else no one would take me seriously as a professional. The irony of it all, is that the same people that were calling my natural hair ‘ugly’ had hair just like mine underneath the silky blowouts and relaxers,” she explains of the internalized oppression that perpetuates these unfair ideals.
Wearing hair naturally shouldn’t be considered a subversive act. However, racist norms that link blackness and black power with danger have been perpetuated uncontested for years. These biases have been so ingrained in people, that a person’s health takes a backseat to their conforming to Anglo standards of beauty, a situation exemplified by Gwen’s experience.
“When I worked in corporate, I decided I was going to wear my hair naturally to avoid chemicals in hair products since I was pregnant and was concerned about how relaxer chemicals would affect my baby. I was told that my hair was unacceptable and offensive to our counterparts and asked to straighten it,” Gwen shares of her similar trauma.
So, why is hair treated as a way to justify discrimination? And how is this so widely accepted? “There are no federal laws preventing discrimination because of hair type or texture. It’s a way for people to continue to get away with racism without being held accountable,” notes Gwen.
“Your hair tells your story,” adds Lulu. “If your story happens to be one that does not conform to or neatly fit into the box society says you should fit in, then it can be used as a means to diminish you — simple as that. I was born with this hair, it tells my story and to discriminate against me for it is unjustifiable.”
Aside from smashing these outdated and offensive standards that leave out so many, the most effective way to retaliate is speak out. “So much progress has been made by getting legislative acts like the CROWN Act passed in some states. That progress can only continue to spread if we continue to speak up against hair discrimination and fight for protection of our natural textures. Our hair is our heritage and remaining quiet is the same as being complicit in the act of discrimination,” says Lulu.
“Continue to resist,” affirms Gwen. “Publicly call out acts of discrimination such as this – we need our allies to be vocal about it also,” she continues, sharing that DeAndre was given a $20k scholarship by Ellen DeGeneres and Shutterfly because he stood his ground, raised awareness of the situation and refused to shave his dreadlocks, an integral part of his personal and cultural identity.
In the ultimate stand against the idea that natural hair is less than, Lulu and Gwen formed brands in celebration of it.
“I was tired of the hair industry making women of color feel like our hair is a struggle; like it’s a chore and therefore, something to loathe,” explains Gwen on founding Naturalicious. “Ultimately, how we feel about our hair is a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. The truth is that our hair is literally magical. It’s the only type of hair that has the ability to be both long and short in the same day with no weave and no haircut! So I decided to create products that take the struggle of our dealing with our hair. That’s why every product we design is time-saving — each one replaces at least 3 products you’d normally have to spend your money and your time on. To date, we’ve saved our customers over 1.2 million minutes on their hair routines!”
Coming from a Dominican background, Lulu was inspired to create Bomba Curls to embrace her roots while embracing her curls. “In the D.R., we have a unique style of hair care that promotes healthy hair growth, in spite of the constant use of heat and relaxers. I wanted to create all-natural, clean formulas that were inspired by our best kept hair secrets but were tailor-made to suit the needs of curls, thus making it easy to care for and embrace your natural hair. I want to help people break free of the stigma that’s associated with natural, Black hair. Through Bomba, I also hope to spread a message of self-love and curl positivity. We are celebrating curls, kinks and melanin because it’s something that the world needs more of.”
Confidence Leads to Change
Though it’s easy to dismiss hair as solely cosmetic, it has a massive impact on social perception and serves as an indicator of inclusion overall, which is why it’s so important that people unlearn their natural hair biases. As long as natural hair is considered as beautiful as straight hair, the less routine these outwardly racist episodes will become. And when people of color are empowered to wear their hair naturally and are confident in their appearance, the more likely social change becomes.
“We strive to inspire confidence in our customers. We believe that confidence is the foundation for personal wellness and a thriving, vibrant life. We aim to provide resources and products to promote self-esteem, self-care, connectedness and self-love,” says Gwen.
“How boring would the world be if everyone looked the same or had the same hair? It’s important to respect the beauty and tradition that is deeply tied to our hair and hairstyles. I think people should be allowed to wear their hair any way they choose…whether that be straight, in dreadlocks, twists, braids or out in all of its curly glory. The choice should be your own and not dictated by society’s antiquated views on what’s considered ‘acceptable’ when it comes to our hair.”