The Problem with Dove's "Love Your Curls" Campaign

by Kinsey Clarke

I wear my hair in its natural state. It is full, glorious, and the embodiment of my character. My hair is full of kinks that grow upward and out toward the sky in a way mainstream beauty standards cannot appreciate. I love my hair, but I also know that my luscious locks are not valued by most.

As the natural hair movement continues to gain momentum, there has recently been an increase of large corporations taking advantage of the fact that black women have been embracing their natural textures. These companies, which have not traditionally targeted black women or our unique hair care needs, have seized the opportunity to monetize the movement.

Dove is one of the newest to do so, with their "Love Your Curls" campaign—an effort to get young women to embrace their curly hair (and of course, make some money). It is a nice sentiment, but there is a glaring problem with Dove’s campaign: It is appropriating so much of the black women’s natural hair movement, without placing black women at the center of the campaign. In one of their online ads, Dove “revolutionarily” advises women with curly hair to sleep at night with a satin bonnet or pillow case, as well as use protective styling techniques such as braids to keep the hair from drying out. (If silk bonnet sales skyrocket, we’ll know why.) This wouldn’t be an issue if the commercials didn’t focus primarily on white and mixed-race black girls, who already possess socially accepted curl textures.

We know that Dove has a target audience and it is not us. The women and girls in the commercials and ads have loose ringlets and waves. The problem with this using these girls in a campaign about “loving your curls,” is that these girls will experience positive reinforcement about their hair textures. The video features mainly white and mixed race girls, with one black girl with a kinky hair texture. The girls who are mixed-race will eventually be told that they have “good hair.” The white girls will be told that their curls are cute and quirky. The girl with kinks will be one who catches the most negative reinforcement about her hair texture. Black women and girls with kinkier hair have been using the tools of satin bonnets and pillow cases to protect our hair since forever, but again we are excluded from the market that steals its ideas from us.

Yes, I do mean steal. We all know that Dove didn’t have a sudden epiphany about how to take care of hair that wasn’t naturally straight. In appropriating the hair care practices black women have created for ourselves, we are being told by corporations that our methods are brilliant, but that we are not – and as an extension, our hair is not either. Additionally, the natural hair movement is not meant to be co-opted for inclusivity by an outside party that has not felt the societal shaming of having kinky hair.

Yes, I am aware that black women’s hair is not monolithic and that it is a wonderful spectrum of kinky and curly combinations. However, those of us with more kink than curl are routinely excluded from movements dealing with natural styling. The praise always goes to the ones with looser textures. We see this on hair care products, advertisements, and even in our own subtle biases.

When a relative of mine decided to grow her perm out in college, I thought her transition was beautiful, but I know she faced backlash for her decision. When she renewed her driver’s license, she wore her hair in its natural state for the picture and excitedly showed it to us when it arrived. An uncle of mine saw it and said, “Wow, were you having a bad hair day?” Microaggressions like these are why we need to change the narrative around the shaming of kinky hair.

Companies like Dove don’t understand that white and mixed-race women with curls won’t be told that that their hair is unprofessional or dirty in the workplace. People won’t assume that by wearing their hair in its natural state that they didn’t “do” their hair or that they’re having a “bad hair day.” It’s black women with kinky hair textures that face this type of harmful discrimination. While Dove’s “Love Your Curls” campaign is a baby step in the right direction for embracing a broader range of hair textures, we can still see that Eurocentric beauty standards are still dictating which textures we should love. Until Dove and other cosmetic companies decide that our kinks are just as worthy of celebration, we’re going to have to continue to do so without them.

We’ll love our kinks together.

Kinsey Clarke is a senior at Michigan State University. She enjoys aerial silks and solo trapeze in her spare time. You can follow her personal Twitter account here.

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