POPSUGAR’s Folly: A tale of casual racism and marketing

On July 3, POPSUGAR posted a piece about natural hair that completely removed Black people from a movement that was for and about them. Although there are cries of appropriation surrounding this article, what is actually happening here is the causal racism of marketing and an obvious lack of diversity in media.

There are a few things to note here. One, this is a sponsored post to advertise hair care products. This means that the post was more or less just an advertisement. That being said, it’s important to note that the particular line that was being sold, OGX, is one that is used quite often by Black people who have natural hair.

Two, they used only staffers from their office to review and share their experience with the brand. This happened to be all white people. Now, I don’t know if that is because they did not think to ask their Black staffers to participate or if it was because they do not have any Black people on staff. It doesn’t really matter though because both of those are problems.

Three, in reading the original article, they obviously don’t apply any weight or meaning to the words they’ve chosen to use. Likely because they were suggested by the company who paid for the ad. The use of “natural” and “texture” do not appear to hold the same weight for these women. What they mean is “My hair without a flat iron” not “Accepting my hair in its natural state as an act of rebellion and rejection of colonial beauty standards that wants to force me to internalize anti-Black beliefs and sees any and all proof of my Blackness as something that must be subjugated, hidden, and destroyed.”

If they had asked a Black person, they probably would have been tipped off about that slight difference. They also likely would have known many Black people use these products as an alternative to Shea because they are bit less expensive.

Which takes us back up to point one. This was an advertisement.

If you follow it back to the company you will see a page that has many white women but if you scroll down, you’ll see Black women using it on their hair because this is a moisturizing product and our hair tends to be very dry.

POPSUGAR likely had no idea about the demographics of this product, it was clear that the staffers had never used these products before. Which means they’ve certainly never entered a hair shop and purchased them. But the company knew what they were getting when they asked for this ad: White women.

They’re intentionally marketing this product to appeal to white women in order to make more money. White women don’t have a concept of natural hair, not in the way that Black people do, to white people it’s just hair. They may do other things to it, like color or process it, but that doesn’t change how it’s “natural” state is described. It’s just hair.

For Black people, our hair’s natural state is the one that must be identified. This is my natural hair means I don’t have chemicals in it to make it straight. It has a very specific meaning in the Black community and it is that definition that spawned a movement.

When these sorts of articles are written and this sort of marketing is done by a company, it is to open up the language to include white people so that they will feel more comfortable in using these products. However, it also serves to erase the reality of the Black people who use the same products because our experiences are very different.

This isn’t to say that white people shouldn’t use this shampoo and the various lines of products. It is only to say that when engaging in discussions about the products they should not co-opt the language of Black people to discuss it.

Write about how it reduced your frizz and increased your volume. White hair care has a dictionary full of words and phrases they use to sell hair products. Use those to expand your market base. Avoid the ones associated with the natural hair movement which is one that is centered on Black people.

Although I think that the people most strongly at fault was the brand, this doesn’t absolve POPSUGAR for their huge oversight. They obviously need to work on their diversity and if they have Black people on staff, to run these sorts of articles past them first or at least do some reading “natural hair” before you publish and article. A quick Google would have shown you that the women featured in the article are not the demographic that most commonly uses the phrase.