Note from BW of Brazil: Ya know, it often rings true that there is always another side to a story. This writer has learned this repeatedly after learning World History that is taught in school textbooks and then reading information that those books conveniently left out. It’s true in controversial news stories. It’s true in the media in general and it’s true when couples break up and both people in the relationship tell their sides of the story as to why the relationship didn’t work out. Today’s story falls into this category as well.
In past articles we’ve presented stories about the successful Afro-Brazilian entrepreneur Heloisa Assis, better known as Zica, and her rise to fortune and fame with her specialized formula that transforms the texture of hair. Over the course of the articles posted about Zica’s Instituto Beleza Natural beauty salons, American friends have contacted me inquiring about Zica’s formula and if it was just another perm similar to what African-Americans called the “jheri curl” and what is known in Brazil as the “afro permanente”. I don’t claim to be a hair expert, and Zica has never revealed what the process of her formula is, but the appearance of the hair and the products would appear to be some sort of variation of the above hair processes.
With the rising trend of many Afro-Brazilian women throwing off shackles of oppression that imposed straight hair as the standard of beautiful hair with cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair) being deemed as ugly, Zica’s rise to success as probably Brazil’s richest black woman presented a dilemma. On the one hand, it was great to see a black woman earn such success, but on the other hand, she was doing so by exploiting the desire of the thousands of women to change their natural hair texture that society judged as being “ruim” (bad).
From the business perspective, ‘Dona Zica’ was a genius, but at the same time with further analysis, she was also contributing to long social views that dictated what is and who possesses ‘bad hair’. This blog posted features about Zica and celebrated herself and sort of gave her a ‘pass’ due to her success. But several months ago, this writer came across a photo of Zica that was more than a little disturbing. In the photo and accompanying article, Zica was shown rocking an afro wig in one of those type of “before and after” ads as a means of showing how much her products could ‘improve’ the appearance of anyone who had this type of hair.
Upon seeing the photo, this writer was intending on writing a piece to address the issue but as another news story came up, this article was put on the back burner. But recently another writer wrote a piece that re-visited this topic and, after watching the accompanying video, I knew it was time address the issue.
There is so much more to this subject than simply hair texture and in fact goes deeper into the question of black people who earn fame and fortune by appealing to negative stereotypes that society already has about black people. In the past, we’ve discussed this in regards to the former owner of the American television channel, BET (Black Entertainment Television) but it applies to numerous other successful black people. We can also approach this topic in terms of roles people take on television programs or the trend of black men wearing dresses. The question here being, how much of one’s soul would one be willing to sell in order to earn fame and fortune? Perhaps Zica herself doesn’t even see it this way. Which is why it’s important to point out that some people take issue with some of the images she is presenting as she expands her empire. Here we present Ana Carolina’s perspective in a piece originally posted on the Preta e Power blog.
DONA ZICA, RESPECT OUR CABELO CRESPO (kinky/curly hair)!
by Ana Carolina
First of all I make it clear that this is not intended to offend the founding figure of the Instituto Beleza Natural (Natural Beauty Institute) nor the people who make use of her chemical or product line. I just want to externalize my discontent and indignation with some lamentable comments of the same that has been unsettling me for some time.
I don’t defend the use of the transforming chemical used in Instituto Beleza Natural and nor have I ever at the least used their lines of hair treatment, however I must admit I admire Zica’s work as an entrepreneur. I admire her for being a black woman, from a poor background and who managed to achieve professional success. By observing this light I see that it can in fact be a reference for other black people who want to undertake (this), for her life example shows that everyone can reach great positions. I congratulate her for her achievements, but even so I need to say a few words about her outrageous positions in regards to cabelo crespo (curly/kinky hair).
In a video posted in 2012 on the Endeavor youtube channel, the entrepreneur Zica Assisi and her partner Leila tell the history of their lives and the emergence of the company. Up to then, OK. The problem is that she lost a huge opportunity to remain quiet. As a video speaks a thousand words, there follows a clip of the major atrocities uttered by her:
Whoever wants to watch the entire video can click HERE.
Note from BW of Brazil: In this video above, Zica speaks of her experience years ago as a maid and her having a problem: hair that was half a meter high, half a meter on the sides…a ball of hair. She goes to say that she cut her hair short and took a hairdressing course to understand why her hair was so hard, so crespo (kinky/curly), difficult to comb. She also remembered thinking… “for God’s sake”, fix my hair, she wanted a boyfriend, a job…the edited video then skips to her speaking of how her hair got better, it swung (apparently after discovering and applying her hair formula), and it was like (her business partner) Leila’s hair. Hair would start out in a huge cabelo black (afro) and after the hair treatment, the hair would be “bonitão”, meaning ‘super beautiful’ (gestures touching her own hair). At the 1:27 mark, Leila calls Zica back on to the stage saying, “imagine this people.” Zica then prances back onstage wearing a huge afro wig as the audience applauds. Leila: “Imagine a woman like this”. After which Zica removes the wig and says “turns into this”. Going from the afro to her curly perm she describes as “felicidade”, meaning joy/happiness. At 2:07 she continues, “for us with cabelo crespo, this here (again touching her Beleza Natural produced hair) is pure self-esteem.” Now returning to the Ana Carolina piece…
Now that you’ve heard these atrocities I hope you understand my indignation. People, far from me wanting to be unfair to the Zica, I as the good person that I am, try to understand her. I swear. You can not accuse her without trying to understand the social and historical context in which she lived while she had the idea of creating her product. I understand that in the past cabelo crespo was frowned upon, made access to the labor market difficult and knocked down to a low level the already little self-esteem of black women. I understand her because at one time I also believed that my hair was a problem and since I was a child I learned to live with self-esteem mutilated by the then misfortune of being black, not having fine features and hair that swung when I ran against the wind.
Yes, I understand her desire to have a different hair from that that she had by nature, the problem is that she used her position as a public person to affirm a reality that does not suit a large (and growing) proportion of black women. She brings in her speech comments that all women want such a balance and only like this will they will feel accomplished. She further adds that this is her “satisfaction and happiness.”
Hellllo? We don’t need any of this to feel beautiful, because we have already discovered a much more transformative thing: self-acceptance. We live struggling daily to get free ourselves of the terrible standards of beauty that are imposed on us, empowering black women, demystifying the idea that only “perfect curls” are what is beautiful, and Zica, a BLACK WOMAN, comes to achieve this disservice and to say that our hair is a problem? Sorry, no more dona (madam) Zica!
It is at the least to say ABSURD a hall bearing the name of “beleza natural” (natural beauty) wants to enslave women imposing their standard of hair as the solution to our problem that doesn’t even exist, instead of helping to liberate them. This solution you propose has a price, yes! and it’s not even cheap … What in fact is priceless and that isn’t even for sale in your salon is our freedom. We find our self-esteem in being ourselves, not a product that changes the structure of our tresses.
Before the rain of criticism, I say again that this text is not meant to offend anyone who uses the super relaxer. People, you are free to do whatever you want with your hair, the only obligation is being happy. The outrage is due to the way this lady refers to cabelo crespo, mocking, ridiculing and trying to degrade a group of women who have learned to love themselves with the hair they were born with.
On the phrase: “Any hair that exists, I want to do it.”: Zica, unfortunately I need to tell you that in my hair and in that of other thousands of black women you will not touch it! Believe me, there is (MUCH) happiness in the truly natural side of the force <3. In addition our Beleza Natural is not sold in boxes, it comes from within. Our hair is not only aesthetic, it is also resistance and empowerment.
Pardon the outburst, and it’s only for today.
Crespo kisses and see you soon
Note from BW of Brazil: So what’s your take on this? Was Zica wrong for her comments and gestures about black hair texture or were her comments harmless as she simply said things that people already think? Here’s where I stand. In business, companies in pursuit of profits often times break rules, ethics and break boundaries of acceptability and sometimes legality. When they are caught in the act, they often issue some sort of standard apology, promise to never do it again and sometimes pay a fine. We’ve seen examples of companies not caring about offending certain groups of people and when people express outrage, again, they claim to be unaware of the reasons for repudiation and that they didn’t mean to offend anyone.
With this in mind, Zica Assis knows full well the way cabelo crespo is seen in Brazilian society. Millions of black girls and women often grow up hating the texture of their hair because of the ridicule they endure and the Brazilian media’s obsession with promoting a European standard of beauty, which includes long, straight (preferably blond) hair. As such, for her to don an afro wig in imitation of the hair texture of many black women (including her former self) makes her a direct participant in such ridicule mentioned above. With her relaxing formula, she is symbolically saying that she no longer has the “cabelo ruim” (bad hair) that she herself was once made fun of for having.
In reality, such a formula doesn’t defeat or confront the racist views held about cabelo crespo (because it seeks a method of making the hair less crespo) but rather it attempts to opt out and seeks to distance one’s self from something that is seen in a negative light by most of the society. It says to the world, “See?!? I don’t have THAT kind of hair anymore. Will you please respect me now?” With such a disparaging display, Zica also adds to hair texture discrimination (within black communities) in which black women are divided into “good hair”/”bad hair” camps depending on how tight or loose the curl of their hair is.
Now business is business and that’s fine. Zica has a successful company, which she should be congratulated for. But her constant harping on how “bad” her hair once was and how it’s much “better” now is equal to the comments her previous self and millions of others have to endure everyday. Comments by racist men who would imagine that a black woman’s hair “down there” must be as hard as the hair on their heads. Or the campaign by another hair product company who used similar wigs to convince women that to avoid that type of hair they needed to have their products. Or the women whose hair is constantly compared to a brillo pad. I would imagine that women who marched in the first cabelo crespo march wouldn’t be amused. Nor would filmmaker Yasmin Thayná, as many of these women went through personal struggles to finally accept and show the “beleza natural” in their hair as it really it is. They wouldn’t be amused and neither am I!