The Line Between Appropriation and Appreciation: Natural Beauty Brands as a Form of Resistance

The United States has spent centuries building a nation at the expense of women of color. What do I mean when I say this?  Exactly that.  This nation has never valued women of color the way that we should, especially since they are the very backbone from which every rib of our history has grown.

There are so many deep and difficult valleys to explore if we delve into the ways that women of color have been devalued and exploited in this nation, but there is one in particular I want to focus on today.  I want to focus on what everyone else seems to be focused on: beauty, haircare, and appropriation.

I recently had a conversation with a white friend about the line between appropriation and appreciation.  I spent a good, long time thinking about this and realized that, as long as the media continues to misrepresent and whitewash black women and/or other women of color, white women’s attempts at achieving the same look will always be appropriation.  I have re-had this conversation a few times recently, namely in response to Katy Perry‘s most recent gaffe in this arena.

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Please note, the woman who responded was not a white woman, but a woman of Pakistani descent.  She spent the rest of the conversation stating how appropriation isn’t a real thing and that because she hasn’t experienced racism, black women are probably just making a big deal out of nothing.  This conversation just served as further evidence (for me) that sometimes oppressed people oppress people.

Anyway, for centuries, black women have been told that in order to be considered beautiful, they must whitewash themselves.  They must straighten their hair.  They must stay out of the sun.  These were things I heard in my own friend circles, in my own family, and then, as I grew older, saw perpetuated in the schools I worked in and social media communities.  Women of color are not, under most circumstances, encouraged to celebrate their natural beauty in the way white women are.  Women of color are instead sold bleaching creams, relaxers, straighteners, and a myriad of other appearance altering and chemically toxic things that society tells them they need so that they can look more like white women.  Meanwhile, white women appropriate the exact same hairstyles, makeup trends, and even skin tones (or attempts at it… hello tanning beds) and are celebrated for it.  This disconnect in the American standard of beauty is deeply damaging for young girls of color.  And we need to do something about it.

Portia.jpgSo, of course, some people are.  And, of course, like most (if not all) progressive movements, this movement towards appreciating your natural beauty not in spite of but BECAUSE of your race is being lead by women of color. One such woman is the woman I would like to highlight in today’s piece.  Portia Ingram has created LoveAbenaa Naturals as a company that creates products that encourage young women of color to embrace their natural beauty, regardless of how society tells them to feel about it.  When I spoke to Portia about what inspired her to create LoveAbenaa Naturals, she sent me this:

A Love Note To My Younger Self

You were so beautiful in your braids and beads,

Clanking as you road your bike til the sun went down

Running through sprinklers and dancing with fireflies.

There came a time when your hair became “unruly”

When grandma said

“It was going back home”

In a tone that stung

And left you silent and wondering..

Those hot combs on picture day left their scars for the cameras

And that relaxer you endured

Left your crown tarnished.

But your hair flowed like girls on primetime,

Even the girls that were your shade of chocolate

Left their beads in a box and traded it for boxed hair

And you asked..

Can I be

Real?

And you masked your crown in relaxers,

Dependent on flatirons

And constant trims.

Your crown grew smaller

As the burns grew deeper

But the hair stayed straighter

Until everyone wanted braids but the

Black girl with the

Flowy hair..

But along the way,

Strangers helped you remember

And you left that relaxer on the shelf.

You cut off your tarnished ends

And one-by-one

 heard your hair breathe for the first time

In a lifetime

With new life you promised to

Nurture & nourish it

Protect it

And love all reflections of it.

You

Created LoveAbenaa Naturals.

Your reparations & your food.

Thank you. ❤

I was at a loss for words when I read this.  It was easily one of the most beautiful, most empowering, most uplifting pieces I have ever read.  But it also made me deeply sad.  It made me think of those times where I watched my mom with the hot comb in my kitchen, straightening my cousin’s hair.  It made me remember the burns on her ears and the toothpaste salve we swore would help.  It also made me remember the tiny rods my mother wrapped into my hair to create the very same coils she had burned out of my cousin’s.  It made me feel an ache and a pain that it isn’t fair for me to feel… because I never endured the worst of this.  But to know that the women I love, the women who raised me, spent their lives trying to change something so natural and beautiful in themselves while trying to create it for me?  That broke my heart.

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So, in all, I am grateful for companies like LoveAbenaa Naturals who are standing as a voice to encourage young women of color to be their true and incredibly beautiful selves.  I am grateful to women like Alicia Keys for using their platforms to change the mainstream image of beauty in this country.

So, be a part of the movement and check out LoveAbenaa Naturals for yourself. Share it with your friends. Let’s empower those who empower and lift those who lift.  That is the most powerful way to resist and persist.

YouTube Link: http://goo.gl/MKej3P

Twitter & Instagram: @loveabenaa

Facebook & Place to shop: LoveAbenaa Naturals

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