Imagine your hair being considered a burden.
By your own mother who’s a different race than you. Or who isn’t but still needs your hair to be “manageable” amidst all of life’s other demands. So she cuts it all off until you’re left, at elementary school age, with as much hair as the boys in your class.
Imagine not knowing how to care for your own hair because centuries of exalting white beauty standards has rendered you uninformed about what naturally grows out of your head. Imagine moving to a neighborhood where, because it’s not diverse, grooming for your coif is out of the question. And that still, despite progress and discrimination bans and things like the C.R.O.W.N. Act, you won’t wear your hair down for a job interview or a red carpet appearance for fear it won’t look “professional” or glamorous.
A large portion of the population or, at the very least, those who still dominate conversations about beauty, can’t relate to these realities at all. But that’s what Bri Hall intends to tackle in a new podcast about beauty — and not just as it pertains to self care and cosmetics, but beauty in society and culture, too — because all of those imagined scenes have been very real realities for many Black women.
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Hall, a multihyphenate beauty influencer, artist, content creator and podcast host who counts more than 1.1 million followers across her social platforms, wants the podcast to elevate people’s various lived experiences with the hope of also hitting home with those who haven’t lived them.
The podcast, called “Count to Ten,” a nod to the times people have been pressured to count themselves down before reacting to racism and microagressions, launches with its first episode out Tuesday (with new episodes out each Tuesday thereafter), and will address issues spanning hair discrimination, colorism, social justice, sexuality and ableism in fashion.
“I want people to feel A, like our guests have a space to be heard and B, I want maybe a young girl or boy or nonbinary person or LGBTQ community member or anybody who feels like they’re on the margins of society, to have a safe space to feel like they’re amongst friends while they’re listening to this podcast,” Hall told WWD. “My final goal is that people who have no relation to these topics, that maybe you’ve had a question you wanted to ask about a Black woman’s hair experience but maybe you are a white woman with blond hair and blue eyes and you feel very uncomfortable asking these questions, it’s also a place you can sit down and learn, perhaps about the discomfort of that conversation — or confrontation, where you have to learn the hard way. So that is my goal, just understanding in general. Creating bridges of understanding.”
“Count to Ten’s” first episode, featuring hair care brand Swirly Curly founder Keziah Dhamma, titled “Do I Seem Relaxed,” delves into the depths of Black women’s hair journeys, the discrimination they have — and continue — to face, and what’s often a struggle for acceptance both within themselves, as well with the outside world.
The story of having her hair cut short at a young age because her mother, who isn’t Black, didn’t know how to manage it, is Dhamma’s. And her recounting of the story on the podcast has a way of making listeners feel like pulling her in for a hug.
“My hair was a problem,” she tells Hall. “I just remember crying most of the time.”
Dhamma, with Swirl Curly’s hair products designed to work with afro-textured curly hair and not against it, as well as with her Curl College platform that offers lessons about natural hair and how to care for it, has made it her mission to ensure Black women don’t have to feel like their hair is a problem.
For years after the Black is Beautiful movement brought afros to the fore of fashion, many Black women re-entered a cycle of relaxing, pressing and ironing their hair into a beauty standard society set, until the natural hair movement of recent years set curls and fros free and saw a surge of social media content surrounding “the big chop,” or cutting hair down to the natural growth to rid it of chemical relaxers and begin anew.
Hall, who took that journey herself, said that even growing up in predominantly Black Prince George’s County, Md., didn’t keep her from wanting straight hair before she went back to natural.
“Even in that environment, I still gravitated toward getting my hair relaxed. Some people might be like, ‘In your high school you had five white students, why were all these Black girls wearing relaxers if that wasn’t the dominant beauty standard in the school? But it was in the magazines and it was on TV and it was on the music videos,” she said. “And even having to relearn my [natural] hair, it was simply because Black women are also very guarded with our hair. It’s very much sacred to us and if anything bad happens to our hair it feels like a part of our identity is crushed. I did not trust hair dressers and that’s why I went natural. This is real life. It’s not because I wanted to embrace my roots, it’s not because I was trying to get in touch with myself — that’s what ended up happening as a result — but I had to do it because I was going to college away, in a predominantly white university in a predominantly white county. Who was going to do my hair but me?”
Though efforts like the C.R.O.W.N. (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act, prohibit race-based discrimination against natural hair in workplaces and public schools in the 14 states where it has been adopted as law, its reach doesn’t extend to requiring grooming establishments to be able to serve any kind of customer — and to do it well.
To make real progress here, it’s going to take hitting organizations and establishments where it hurts, according to Hall.
“You play with people’s money and things change, simple as that,” she said. “Why did the bus boycott work? Loss of money.”
When film sets are underfunded for not having hairstylists who “understand all clients’ hair in an excellent way,” or when beauty salons can’t get a loan to keep their establishment running because their services are not inclusive, Hall said, is when the needle will start to move on making things like hair care more equitable. A ratings model, like those in place for allocating funds to hospitals that take Medicare and Medicaid, could also prove beneficial, she said.
“I think something like that would be helpful where, if you aren’t working toward the betterment of society and human rights, you do not get paid handsomely as other business will be paid and you will not be funded the same way as other businesses will be paid because you’re not elevating human rights and putting that in the forefront,” Hall explained.
Just the same way you might see an athlete [or public figure] in a controversy — we’re seeing this now even with the Astroworld situation — where they might lose sponsors because they are violating something due to human rights or damaging something in the public eye, I feel like that same accountability should be held for businesses and corporations where, if you are not helping people and you are harming people essentially by not having anywhere for a person to literally get themselves groomed for daily life, you’re harming people, whether you see it that way or not. You’re harming their mental health, you’re harming their self-esteem, you’re harming their ability to get jobs. I think everyone should have the option to look how they want to look.”
It seems a simple enough concept, but it’s an area in the beauty industry and the standards it portrays, where there’s still much progress to be made. And “Count to Ten” will be talking about it, among other things.
Next up in the podcast’s queue is a discussion on the intersectionality of race, class and power; new issues across topics will be released on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, RadioPublic, iHeartRadio, Overcast, PocketCasts and more. While season one of the new listening experience counts 10 episodes, Hall said “this is just the beginning,” and that she welcomes comments, messages and DMs with topic suggestions from listeners.
“Nothing’s off limits,” she said. “Some of the issues we cover are timeless and, it’s sad to say — they shouldn’t be timeless, they should be history — but I think they have a lifespan and there’s so many nuanced things we can cover.
“What I’m attempting to do with this podcast, in not only the racial realm but also in so many other avenues, is removing the dissonance in people’s thinking around invisible disabilities, race, gender, sexuality, every aspect where there might be a lot of confusion.”