Separating Beauty

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By Kemani Miles

Have you ever noticed that when you are searching for hair and beauty products that will help with your hair’s curly texture, you have to go to a whole other aisle? I’m sure you’ve seen the aisle that people have dubbed the “ethnic aisle.”

This aisle is separated from the other hair care products that most women would use. The aisle that more women are familiar with is the aisle that houses products such as Dove, Garnier Fructis, OGX and Tresemme, just to name a few.

In the stores that sell these hair care products, they separate what is deemed beauty and what is deemed ethnic, which has always seemed strange.

Is ethnic beauty not beauty? Why can’t Cantu and Olive Oil products be in the same aisle as Herbal Essence and Aussie? Why have an ethnic aisle in the first place?

Shea Moisture tried to do something about this by starting the movement #BreakTheWalls two years ago. This movement was started to promote awareness and increase access and availability of hair care products for women of color.

However, one year later, Shea Moisture came out with an advertisement that catered to women with straighter hair. There was only one woman in the commercial who had curly hair. Shea Moisture was created for women with curly hair types, so only seeing one woman with curly hair in the advertisement was strange.

The advertisement was soon pulled because of huge backlash from the Twitter community.

Kaneisha Smith, a fourth year psychology student, stated that it’s okay to separate beauty products into sections depending on their uses, like for straight hair or curly hair, but to call one aisle beauty and another ethnic is not okay.

“It’s okay to indicate what type of hair the product is used for but it’s not okay to disproportionately make ethnic hair products unavailable,” says Smith. “The ethnic section is such a small section, but the other beauty products have a whole aisle.”

Earlier this year, a woman filmed a California Walmart aisle that had hair care products locked behind glass doors. The woman, Essie Gundy, saw that the products that were behind the glass were considered “ethnic” beauty products. Gundy was utterly shock.

It is not unusual to see expensive razors or high-end perfume locked behind glass windows, but seeing hair care products behind them is not normal at all. Gundy had to ask a store clerk to get out a comb that cost 48 cents from behind the glass.

Gundy is now suing the Walmart in question for discrimination against African-Americans for locking up hair and skin products.

This is outrageous. These are hair care products, not expensive jewelry. Women with curly hair already struggle trying to find the right product to help their hair; having to ask to get products from behind glass just adds to their struggle.

Madison Alexander, a fourth year sociology major, says that separating beauty products further marginalizes people based on what they use in their hair.

“It’s disrespectful and discriminatory,” says Alexander. “It plays into racial stereotypes that need to be dismantled. I think all beauty products should be in the same section.”

Some hair product brands are actually trying to break down the barriers between the aisles. These products are trying to satisfy all hair textures by using different marketing strategies to help bring them attention. Hair products like Carol’s Daughter, Miss Jessie’s, Mixed Chicks and As I Am are garnering such attention that they are considered the more expensive products for hair.

So, should there even be an aisle such as the “ethnic” aisle anymore? There really is no point to this separation. There are already hair care products that cater to all hair textures in the beauty aisles, so why can’t the rest of the products that are in the ethnic aisle go into the same section as well?

Beauty product placement is not just a black and white situation, it is about more people embracing their hair texture and not having to go through the struggle of searching for the products they need in different sections. Especially when other people can find what they need in just one aisle.

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