Hair care company SheaMoisture apologized Monday after cries of “whitewashing” over an ad it released last week.
The family-owned company, founded in Harlem in 1991, has long prided itself for making hair products catering to women of color, with naturally coiled, kinky or curly hair.
But SheaMoisture has come under fire for trying to broaden its consumer base by reaching out to white women in its new ad campaign. The promotional video features different women and — surprisingly for the brand — only one woman of color, talking about experiences of “hair hate” and how using Shea Moisture freed them from the shackles of suffering.
SheaMoisture is CANCELLED pic.twitter.com/T4Dru1JgAq
— NANA JIBRIL 🌙🏳️🌈 (@girlswithtoys) April 24, 2017
It starts with a woman of color recounting how she was teased for having coiled hair as a child, before turning to a blonde woman with straight hair complaining about how she often stares in the mirror and doesn’t “know what to do” with her hair. The third woman to appear on screen is a red haired who talks about feeling pressured to dye her hair blonde.
The ad is part of a campaign SheaMoisture launched earlier this month , #BreakTheWalls, to address “product segregation” based on ethnicity in the beauty aisles of stores like Target, Walmart and Walgreens.
“Separating ‘beauty’ from ‘ethnic’ has only served to further perpetuate narrow standards of what is considered beautiful in our industry and our society” Richelieu Dennis, founder and CEO of Sundial Brands, which manufactures SheaMoisture recently told Essence.
But trying to widen one’s appeal by including women of all backgrounds and hair types when you’ve positioned yourself for so long as a “black company”, it turns out, can spectacularly backfire.
Many in the African American community saw the ad as a betrayal of Shea Moisture’s loyal customer base, with one writer calling it “blatant erasure of African American women who made the brand what it is”.
This “mainstreaming” on part of natural hair brands is but a “loose euphemism to erase blackness altogether” wrote another one for Racked.
Several online commenters also felt that lumping different consumers’ experiences together as if they were all and the same belittled the reality of women of color, many of whom continue to face discrimination at work over how their natural hair looks, and brushed aside their needs — needs that the mainstream beauty industry has often failed to service.
Black women out here getting fired for having 4c hair and shea moisture has the audacity….. pic.twitter.com/CsLCq5vtEA
— SeaSea (@CeceTMach) April 24, 2017
“You guys know that we have always stood for inclusion in beauty and have always fought for our community and given them credit for not just building our business but for shifting the beauty landscape,” the post continued.
The Twitter backlash seemingly irrepressible, the company followed up with a longer apologetic statement, explaining that although the promotional video clearly missed the mark, it was never supposed to signal a departure from the company’s roots.
“We’re proud of who we are, how we got here – and most importantly, who got us here.”