Black women are routinely discriminated against for our hair. So much so that there is now a law on the books that says it’s unlawful. The fact that there has to be a law preventing discrimination is disappointing.
We often discriminate against our own hair ourselves. This is a mindset shift we each must do internally. It’s important to know that every woman is perfectly gorgeous. There is nothing we need to fix or change about ourselves. We are entitled to joy and love simply because it is our birthright; and that no matter what societal standards say, the beauty we are all was born with is more than enough.
As part of our series about “Five Things You Need To Understand About Hair Discrimination”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gwen Jimmere, a gifted visionary on an unrelenting mission to challenge the narrative that “the struggle is real” when it comes to natural hair. As CEO of Naturalicious, she leads a beauty empire that creates high-performing, time-saving haircare products that have collectively saved over 70,000 women more than 1.2 million minutes on washday.
She’s cemented her place in history as the first African-American woman to hold a patent for natural haircare products, which can be found around the world in over 1200 retail stores, including Ulta, Whole Foods, and Sally Beauty.
Named, “the world’s leading authority on textured hair care”, she is the reigning Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Winner, and has been named one of the 100 Most Influential African Americans in the U.S. along with the likes of Beyonce, Serena Williams, and LeBron James; as well as a Top 10 Business Woman in the U.S., and a Crain’s 40 Under 40.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit of your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
I grew up in Cleveland, OH. I lived in the inner city but went to a public, suburban school district. I had a great childhood. My mom was a stay-at-home parent, while my dad was a supervisor for the U.S. Postal Service. A little, interesting fact: I have a sister who is sixteen years older than me — we have the same parents and there are no children in between.
Can you tell us a story about what inspired you to become a natural hair advocate?
Realizing that the chemical relaxer I was using was incredibly toxic and even had the ability to disintegrate an aluminum can in less than an hour! It was quite frightening. So my initial decision to learn how to manage my own natural hair was because of health concerns.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Meeting the CEO of a large health care company while at a speaking engagement. She ran over to me and said “I love Naturalicious! I use it all the time!” She then bent down and told me to smell her hair, and I immediately recognized the scent. She reached in her purse and pulled out a bottle of our Heavenly Hydration Grapeseed Hair Mist.
As an influencer, you have been blessed with great success in a career path that many have attempted, but eventually gave up on. In fact perhaps most people who tried to follow a career path like yours did not succeed. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path but know that their dreams might be dashed?
The majority of people who quit, quit right before the major breakthrough is about to happen. I know it’s hard, I know sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s worth it. But keep in mind all the people who need you and whose lives will be negatively impacted by you giving up.
Can you share 3 ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. There is power in “I Am”. Every day, look yourself in the mirror and give yourself props for how stunningly gorgeous you are — even if you don’t believe it right now. Literally say, “I am gorgeous. I am fine. I am a radiant beauty.” Do that consistently, every day and over time, I promise you will begin to believe it.
2. Stop focusing on the number on the scale or the size of the jeans. In fact, throw the whole scale away if necessary. We spend so much time focused on superficial numbers that have such huge variances from person to person; and it often feels that any number is too large. One of the best things I did for my own self care was to stop weighing myself and start focusing on how I feel. It’s liberating.
3. Do something for you every week that makes you feel alive. For me, that’s dancing. I dance about 3 times a week and I feel so free, beautiful and sexy when I do it. Find what that thing is for you.
Can you share with our readers some of your techniques to style natural hair?
I love doing bantu knot outs. This style allows you to create beautiful “beach waves”, which are stunning on textured hair types. Also, protective styles are an excellent idea any time of the year. Because of the low-manipulation nature of protective styles, it’s not uncommon to see a boost in length retention while wearing them. Hello longer, stronger hair!
Can you share some of your techniques about how to best maintain natural hair?
Sure, first of all: wash your hair every 7–10 days. Many people aren’t washing their hair often enough. Your hair cannot grow and thrive when your pores are clogged.
Secondly, moisture is your best friend. You should be moisturizing your hair daily to prevent dryness, breakage and to help reduce split ends.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can help articulate to our readers your “Five Things You Need To Understand About Hair Discrimination”. If you can please share a story or example, for each.
- Hair discrimination starts early on in childhood and can shape you as an adult. Representation matters so much especially to children and how they grow up viewing themselves. For example, my mom only allowed me to play with dolls that had skin tones and hair texture like mine. It really helped shape my self esteem as I grew up.
- Black women are routinely discriminated against for our hair. So much so that there is now a law on the books that says it’s unlawful. The fact that there has to be a law preventing discrimination is disappointing.
- There is hair discrimination within the black hair community. There’s a bit of a hierarchy on which hair is “better” than others, and even though we are getting away from using divisive terms like “good hair”, when we see advertisements and TV spots, it’s clear which hair types that the powers that be find to be more beautiful.
- We often discriminate against our own hair ourselves. This is a mindset shift we each must do internally. It’s important to know that every woman is perfectly gorgeous. There is nothing we need to fix or change about ourselves. We are entitled to joy and love simply because it is our birthright; and that no matter what societal standards say, the beauty we are all was born with is more than enough.
- In the workplace, black women’s hair is routinely scrutinized. Just recently, Tashara Parker, who is a news anchor in Texas, dared to wear her hair in its natural state on television in a very chic style. Immediately, comments poured in from viewers challenging that she was unprofessional, stated her hair was unruly, and even went as far to suggest that she should be fired for wearing her hair as it naturally grows out of her head. Unfortunately, this sort of response is not uncommon in corporate America; and is one of the main reasons why black women fear being able to be themselves in the workplace. We often have to code-switch when at work, and that involves having code-switching our hair also.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Waiting is not a wealth strategy. There’s never a “right time” to follow your dream or pursue your passion. By waiting, you’re just delaying your ability to generate all the wealth you want: financial wealth, emotional wealth in the form of joy, self-satisfaction and the wealth that comes from being proud of yourself and knowing that you bossed up and did it.
You will rarely have all the answers, so stop waiting until you do. You just have to jump off the cliff and build your parachute on the way down. Stop waiting, stop delaying your life.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you’d like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. 🙂
Sara Blakely, hands down. For years, I have been so impressed with how she’s been able to be synonymous with SPANX, yet the company is not reliant upon her to grow. That’s an interesting space to be able to move in. Nowadays consumers want to do business with people, not brands. I find that a constant challenge for startups is that the founders struggle with being the face of the company without being the bottleneck. Sara has found a unique way to be very much a face of SPANX without being the bottleneck of the business. I would love to talk with her, she is pure goals.
How can our readers follow you online?
Here’s a free gift:
You can find our your biggest natural hair growth mistake (and how you can fix it) by going to http://quiz.naturalicious.net
You can also follow me personally at gwenjimmere.com and on Instagram at @gwenjimmere
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!