Danielle James, Head of Partnerships at Hello Beautiful and founder of Model Citizen, says there are some Black women who don't feel embraced at Curl Fest based on common and featured representations of women with certain skin tones, hair textures and hair lengths. See what she had to say about this and more below.
NSNC: How many times have you been to Curl Fest?
I've been to Curl Fest twice.I went this year and last year.
NSNC: So when you went last year, were you working or were you just there socially?
I was working. Both times I've gone, I've worked. And the whole purpose was to take the photos for Hello Beautiful. This year for Hello Beautiful and MadameNoire.
And did you notice anything last year?
Yeah. I noticed a lot of things. I think it's also when you have a site like Hello Beautiful and when you tell women, 'Oh, I want to take your picture for Hello Beautiful.' It's undoubtedly the connotation that's associated with it. And one thing that I noticed was that a lot of the women that I asked that were of darker skin complexions or had type four hair, like my hair or locs or anything that really wasn't like the type three hair that you see plastered all over hair ads, were all shocked. It actually really upset me. It really upsets me and it was consistent even this year. Two years in a row, I've noticed that. I feel like even from last year to this year, we've had strides, right?
NSNC: So when you say women were shocked, how were they reacting?
Oh Man. So I can give you a perfect example. This year. What happened there was a group of four women. Not even to sound shady but I'm in style and beauty. So I have visuals. I see what I want. There was a woman and she was a dark skinned woman and she just looked fucking fly, for lack of better words. Her hair was type four hair. She was killing it and I said, 'I want to take your picture.' And then her friend, who had type three hair was a lighter skin complexion, said, 'Oh me?' And her outfit was not that poppin'. And her hair was nice, but nothing that was overly special. And she automatically assumed that I was talking about her and her friend actually moved to the background. I said, 'No girl, you!' But I just think it's so problematic and honestly, because I'm working it, I can't really speak to the panels unfortunately. But I just don't really feel like there's a lot of representation for us there.
NSNC: So how do you feel about the branding behind Curl Fest and the type of woman they use on flyers or website?
I mean, the girl, the main girl that was pictured in the middle. She was a light skin girl with type three hair. And I'm not here saying to hell with type 3 hair or anything because I feel like we've come a long way from everyone using Pink Lotion and Jam and I'm glad that we have representation across the board, but what I don't like is that I feel type four hair doesn't get embraced. Locs don't get embraced. I see why it was so important for Rihanna to wear her hair in that hairstyle in Ocean's Eight. But I think that there are people who are doing things purposefully within the industry when you have a platform-- like 30,000 women came to Curl Fest this year. You have to push things to the forefront. You have to really try and change these beauty ideals. And sometimes I even wonder if it's things that you might not even notice. I'm not saying that I think that they have this vendetta. Even on the website, I see they're having more representation but it doesn't look like a representative of everyone that was there. I met a girl that was there who didn't even feel comfortable coming to Curl Fest because she had no hair. She was a cancer survivor. And I told her, 'You're so beautiful. She said, 'I was really nervous to come here because I didn't have this luscious head of hair that, interestingly, she had at one point. I mean...and maybe it is my own insecurity, but I have thick hair. I like my hair but it's just not the hair that's always featured.
NSNC: Right. I know you were mentioning this earlier, we're supposed to be in a phase of self love, body positivity. We're supposed to be embracing our natural hair our natural features. So we're in all these phases of movements, but there are still problems within these catchphrases that people like to use and brand themselves by.
Yeah. We talk about our natural hair and then we're putting pieces in it. And it's ok. I'm not saying you can't put pieces in your hair, but let's be open about what we're doing. There's so many natural girls that propagate that all the hair is theirs. And it's not all theirs.
And you have women who are looking up to them or looking at these things. And even in the body positivity movement. I've worked through my own body liberation. It's been the forefront of this summer. I will make sure I am comfortable in my body. My body has done more for me than peoples' opinions. So I'm not really here to listen to those types of people. But what is it to put a picture up of yourself when you're just like, 'I'm fat and Bougie.' And the girl is not fat or looks perfectly curvy or acceptably fat. Honestly, that's a whole, that's probably other interview. But I feel like there's these things where people say, 'I'm fat or I'm this.' And you're not, you're the acceptable version of what it is. And not to say that anyone's body is unacceptable because I really do believe that everybody is beautiful. But you can't put up a photo and be like body positivity and you're Face Tuning your thighs. You can't be like, 'I love my hair. This is my natural hair.' But you have pieces in it. Like it's just not true. It's not real. It's like the matrix. I feel like we're living in the matrix right now.
NSNC: I can see people reading this and thinking, 'Okay, well if you love yourself then what does it matter what types of representations are put out there?
I feel like we have to be a little bit more honest. We're living in this age of fake authenticity right now. Yes, you can have type four hair but only if it's long and thick. What if it's a little straggly? What if it's not growing? Or yes you can be fat, but only if you are hourglass shape fat.
NSNC: Fat on the bottom with a flat stomach.
RIght. There's just so many women who are getting looked over even in the movement because it's really not inclusive. It's exclusive under the guise of being inclusive, which I think is even more dangerous. I'd rather you just be like, 'Fuck it. No one's in this. We'll stick to what we've always done rather than 'Oh, we're all inclusive.' But there's still girls who are in my DMs telling me they don't feel included.
Yeah. I get emails from women. And it's forced me to even be more open. I don't Photoshop my photos anymore. I admit I have done it before. There's photos on my instagram that are photoshopped. I've decided I'm just not doing it anymore. Do I think twice before posting them? Hell yes I do. You know, of course I want it to be all smooth and all perfect and all pretty. But that's just not real and I'd rather someone see a natural body for what it is.
NSNC: When so many of us live with bodies like that.
And it's getting bad. It's sad to me Fashion Nova is one of the top sites that even a Google keyword search. So if Google's on its way to be a trillion dollar company, and Fashion Nova is one of their highest search terms, I don't even want to guess how much money they're making. You go on their website and all the girls have one body type. I know there are some girls who were blessed to have that body type, but not all women have that body type. And why should I be forced to look at it? That's honestly another reason why I started Model Citizen. It's real clothes on real women. So you can see what it really looks like on you.
NSNC: I think it's important because for a long time, going back to the hair portion of it, you know, when the natural hair movement first started, when you think about the different vloggers who were coming out, different YouTubers who were doing hair tutorials and product reviews, they all had a certain type of hair texture and they were getting backed by certain companies, but then women who were at home looking at these things, were feeling like 'Oh, if I could just get the right product then my hair would be like this or my hair will be like that. And really it just feeds more into capitalism, which we've been trying to get away from. It's about just making money for a company who really doesn't care about you being represented or you feeling included.
. I'm starting to wonder how many of these reviews are actually real, you know? A lot of conversations I have on the side are different than the conversations that I see online. And how is that fair to the woman who is living--luckily I live in New York, know in the position that I am in. I have access to a lot of people to talk, to, talk about things. But what about the girl that's living in East Bumblefuck, Ohio? That doesn't have that kind of access, who is really trying to fix her hair and is not getting true advice. It's hard when your check is coming from a brand for you to say that the product isn't that great. I want us to partner with people that know it goes beyond the bottom line. I'm happy about my new position so I can work with brands for authentic partnership, especially with women of color.
I think that's why Jackie Aina does so well because I think she started actually speaking out and encouraging brands to expand their foundation colors and showing that the colors didn't match darker skin tones. You know, you can't hide when you can't match. But with hair, it's a different thing. Like maybe you could think you didn't twist it right.
Also how many style and beauty editors do you know, with type four hair?
NSNC: Not many at all. Not many at all.
Right. You know? Think about how companies, brands position people. Julee Wilson, who is the fashion director at Essence and had nobody to dress her for the Essence Festival. How many millions of impressions does Essence get? And people aren't wanting to dress her? Are you serious? And she's a 14 and that's not even big. A 14 is not big at all.
NSNC: Could you speak a bit about the discouragement people feel when they don't see themselves?
Oh yeah. In terms of not being able to achieve what they see?
I think that's really what it is, right? Because you see this image, you see this image online, but -- I don't know with you, but with me when I grew up I used to cut out magazines all the time and stick them on my wall. It's aspirational. I get that these things are aspirational, but now I feel like our whole lives are turning into branded content. That's it. That's what I've been trying to say. The image matters, you know
NSNC: You were talking to me about this campaign you did for Lane Bryant and you were saying you made a decision to wear your natural hair with not extensions. Can you talk a little bit about why you decided to do that?
They wanted a girl with natural hair. That made me very, very happy. And you know, when I came I said I'm just going to come with my hair because I know they have a lot of eyes on them I'm sure there's going to be girls that have my hair type that will be happy that they just see someone with my hair. My hair wasn't the fullest that day. It was kind of freshly done from two days and you know, your hair gotta settle.
NSNC: Yeah and stretch!
So it wasn't perfect but I thought you know what, it's real and if this is going to be a social campaign; I could see if it was for a major billboard campaign, but for a social campaign, see a real woman. I'm an everyday working woman who is also an entrepreneur who has dreams and aspirations. Who is just me and I want to just represent and show me for the best me that I can be.
NSNC: The best real you.
The best real me. And it's not that I don't struggle, girl. I still struggle. I struggle but it is what it is. I feel like that's what we have to push past. Even the things that we're insecure about, we get all up in our heads, right? People tell me that they love my hair all the time, but I struggle with my hair type. I do, I do. I struggle with what to do with it. I struggle because I think I don't see it a lot on tv and stuff. But that validation has to come from within and that's just the journey I'm working on. So that's exactly why I just wore my hair because I thought, 'You know what? I'm going to see this image 10 years from now.' You ever go back and think, 'Oh, I thought I was fat then, or I thought I was ugly then. And you go back and you're like, 'Damn, I was killing it!'
There's a picture I have and it was so interesting because now when I look back and I think, 'I was so beautiful. I was everything.' And in that picture I was sad. I thought I was fat. I get emotional even thinking about it to be very honest with you. Because, it's just, you are so great and you can't even see it. So honestly that's how I just have to look at myself now. Like I am perfect. I am fearfully and wonderfully made in His image and you just go from there.
NSNC: That's so real. Because perception is reality or your mind is so powerful and it literally frames the way you see the world. So if you're not feeling good about yourself, it doesn't matter what you see. It doesn't matter what people say. Nothing else matters than what your mind has already told you.
I look at photoshopped images all day, every day. That's my job. I'm paid to do that. It would be naive for me to say that it doesn't have an effect. But you have to remember...
NSNC:...this is not real.
Yeah! That it's not real.
NSNC: And that's my concern, we're older and we didn't grow up with social media so we know what is real and what's not. But when I think about younger kids...
Oh God! I have a goddaughter, she's eight. She's aware of her body. She sent me this photo of herself and she was posing, her foot was up. And her mom was like, 'She's really aware of her body. And I asked, 'Why is she aware of it?' She said, 'She's aware of what she eats. She's aware of everything.' For me, I didn't become aware of my body until I was in college. I feel like I lucked out maybe, I don't know. But really I was like, 'Why are all these girls running? Why are people not eating?' I went to a predominantly white school and I thought, 'Oh shit, like this is a thing!' You know? It's kind of like a veil. And then once you see it, you can't unsee it.
NSNC: Yeah. And I think about whether or not the younger generation is able to discern what images or real images are fake.
Right. And then. But the thing is, even the fake images, it's again, it's back to magazines, right? You look at these vacations and you're aspiring to these things. And I just wish we could aspire to something that was actually attainable
NSNC: You mentioned the Curl Fest founders. What was it that you noticed about them?
That they all have type 4 hair... Well, two of them have protective styles. I can't tell, but most of them have type four hair...I don't know, girl. You could look on Hello Beautiful. Most of my images are dark skinned women.
NSNC: Yeah. And you know, it's really sad that we can see that when it comes to race, but we don't necessarily see that within the community and the ways we alienate people within the community.
Yeah. I mean I guess because skin color so visible, but hair is visible too. It's very, very visible. For Curl Fest, I would prefer something with multiple advertisements. It could have been switched out with, with multiple looks. And I'm not... I get it. There's five women. They have built something that is absolutely-- I'm not taking that away from them. I know it's hard. I have a startup. I know it is hard and you cannot please everybody, but I just feel there's certain things that you-- in a room of five no one thought of that?
NSNC: But what's so interesting is that you didn't think of yourself or did you think of yourself and didn't feel yourself worthy enough to be the main image? Or did you not feel like yourself was commercially profitable?
I don't know. I wonder. But then I wonder also too, is it the thing that they say, you know, that racially ambiguous versus dark skin gets more clicks. ls it on our people too?
Two pictures posted on the same day. One has 1,000 more likes than the other.
It makes me angry because I know it was ingrained from slavery.Yeah.In the house, outside the house if you look a certain type of way. And I know when you think about it, slavery really didn't end that long ago in the span of it. And then the problem is that we think we're so woke. And we're not. That's the real trip about it. Because there's also, there are light skinned girls with type four hair.
And how many of those images do you see?
NSNC: You don't.
Or there's super cute, teeny weeny Afros. But what is the Afro that we embrace? Really?
Like that woman that beat cancer. I didn't want to cry and I'm an empath. She almost died and she didn't want to show up somewhere because she didn't feel accepted because she didn't have hair! And we're Black women. We're barely accepted and then we're not accepting each other?