The box said, "Leave it in for 10 -15 minutes".
I slathered relaxer on my hair in the bathroom of my small DC apartment, willing it to be as straight as possible, and thought, "Why not leave it in for 20?" I lived my life by cooking rules — a little extra here, a little less there — except altering the texture of your hair with a chemical relaxer is not cooking, it's science. And in science, if you don't follow procedure, it turns out, things can and will go wrong.
That's how I ended up in a salon a few weeks later, trying to revive a head of limp, over processed hair. My stylist insisted the next best move was to go natural. Rather than give her the signal, however, I chose to reschedule my appointment. Even in the face of irreversible damage, I could not picture a 'me' without straight hair. As hard as I dug, I couldn't go deep enough to find value in myself outside of the image of beauty that had been hammered into me by the society I had grown up in.
I went home that night, feeling lost. While sitting on my living room rug, back against the sofa, I did the only thing I could think of - I grabbed my computer and started to search. I spent hours on Instagram, Youtube, and Google looking for photos of women with natural hair in the workplace, celebrities with natural hair, and natural hair care brands. With each picture came a sliver of self-realization that, by the end of the night, culminated into my decision.
I don’t believe there is any one right choice when it comes to beauty. This is a story about making room for who you are by stepping outside of a box of beauty norms none of us should have to live by.
A week later, in that same salon, I chose to go natural, and in that choice I found the incredible power that lied in being able to fully expand into myself. To allow my identity to no longer be beholden to beauty standards that didn’t serve me. Most importantly, what strength a Black woman like myself could draw simply by being able to see a wider picture of what beauty is.
Leaving the salon that day, I thought the hardest part of my journey was over, but that was before I encountered the real struggle: shopping for products. I would walk into the local Sephora eager and motivated to find something that would cater to my newly emerging curls. As I moved past walls of homogenous advertisements dotted with one or two models of color, I would feel that hot sting of non-belonging creep up my chest.
This was only reinforced as I shopped. I'd scan products aisle by aisle, trying not to succumb to the frustration that comes with limited options, all the while being hyper-aware of the employees who would follow me around the store — close enough to make sure I didn't steal, far enough to ensure they wouldn't need to answer my questions.
While I had found peace in my decision to go natural, my experience with beauty retail had been a failure, and — sadly — I’m not alone in this; a 2020 study commissioned by Sephora showed that 74% of shoppers feel that beauty marketing fails to showcase a diverse range of skin tones, body types and hair textures, and over half of Black shoppers had experienced bias or unfair treatment on the basis of race or skin color. This is a fact contradictory to the outsized contribution Black and brown women make to the beauty market as a whole. Black people are about 15% of the US population, yet we make up nearly 22% of the spend in the US beauty market and Black and brown women, on average, buy beauty products more frequently and in greater quantities than any other demographic.
Our community is built on the idea that better beauty is about wider access to inclusive brands, creating room for those around us to achieve more without being held back by bias, and expanding the narrative so we can all have the opportunity to live our own complex stories.
So why does retail matter so much? It’s really about access. When I came up short in Target or Sephora, I was forced to turn to the web. There, I found a treasure trove of indie brands made by and for women of color that I had never seen before. If it wasn’t on a retail shelf, in my friends’ bathroom cabinets, or popping up on my feed, I didn’t know it existed. Yet after going down a rabbit hole of online searches, I was discovering brands that actually met my needs. For the first time, my hair was no longer a problem to be solved. It was a canvas to care for, experiment with, and embrace fondly — and I had a lot of fun finding new inclusive brands to try and review.
Let me be clear, this isn't a story about finding freedom by moving from relaxed to natural hair. I don’t believe there is any one right choice when it comes to beauty. This is a story about making room for who you are by stepping outside of a box of beauty norms none of us should have to live by.
That’s why we’re building Beautyocracy. Our community is built on the idea that better beauty is about wider access to inclusive brands, creating room for those around us to achieve more without being held back by bias, and expanding the narrative so we can all have the opportunity to live our own complex stories.
My difficult hair journey to self-love and acceptance isn't unique. There are plenty of women of color who share similar difficult experiences with skincare and cosmetics. Here, we believe in building a better platform — one that elevates us rather than tears us down. Together, as a community, we have the immense power to change beauty for the better.