** Update: Since this piece was first posted, some of the videos are no longer available. This post now contains 5 videos. My team and I will research and update our list soon.
A few weeks ago I was facilitating a workshop for women leaders in Lisbon, Portugal. The workshop curriculum included a segment on enhancing our credibility to influence by increasing our confidence and includes The TransPorter Group’s 4C confidence model. One of the factors for building confidence that I teach has to do with being comfortable with ourselves, that is, being able to demonstrate ease with our own style, beliefs, ideas, thoughts and opinions so we convey a level of authenticity to others and for ourselves. I usually talk about being comfortable in one’s own skin among other things.
During that segment of the workshop, one of the women asked if I had seen the video about “curly hair.” At the time I had not seen it, and I asked her to describe it for me and the other workshop participants. She proceeded to describe the story line of this video, in which little girls with curly hair were asked if they liked their hair. None of the girls liked their curly hair. Women with curly hair were then brought in to talk to the girls. The video closed with a musical band of curly headed men and women celebrating curly hair. Their message:
“Only 4 out of 10 girls with curly hair like their hair. The best way to change how they feel about their curls is to show them how you feel about yours.” ~DoveHair–Love Your Curls.
I listened intently to the woman’s description of the video. As she shared the narrative of the video, I noted her dark curly hair and then more intentionally looked around the room at the other twenty-four women and then noted that many had curly hair of different colors and lengths. Not wanting to overgeneralize, I did, however, wonder if I was observing the display of a cultural value in which some Portuguese women did not feel compelled to straighten or “tame their hair” for their workplaces…and that was acceptable in their work environments.
A few weeks later I ran a similar workshop in New York City at which mid-level to senior women leaders from a number of corporations and government agencies were in attendance. Again, I led a discussion around confidence in women, and a similar discussion ensued during that module. During the break, I overheard two women with very curly hair talking about their choices not to straighten their hair to appear more acceptable at work. One wanted to send a message to her daughter that her hair was beautiful, and the other felt she was more authentically herself when she wore her naturally curly hair. I drew closer and joined them so I could hear more of their perspective.
These very confident women were making statements about themselves that their competence was not related to the curl pattern or texture of their hair. In fact, one woman proclaimed she actually feels more creative when she can truly bring her authentic self to work—curly hair and all!
I decided to explore for myself this video and found it and others with similarly-themed messages on YouTube. Some were inspiring to me, and others, I must admit, felt a little contrived to me.
Still a little skeptical, as I watched these videos, I looked for a diverse range of faces and body sizes, and I listened for accents of women from a diverse range of ethnic and cultural groups. Again, with a few exceptions, they were there.
I looked for women with straight hair, curly hair and kinky hair. Partly because I am now playing with my own version of going natural, and wanted to see how diverse of an audience these messages might appeal to. Again with a few exceptions, they were there. I even stumbled across an instructional video by a hair care brand, which tended to reinforce how “frizzy, unruly and really unmanageable” the model’s black coarse hair was. No affirming love-your-kinky-hair message there! No, it didn’t make my top ten list.
Some of the videos caught my attention and I found my self smiling. That’s right. Smiling. Leaning forward. Jotting down quotes.
Though I understand that each of these brands is selling a product and each has an interest in marketing to women, like me, in ways that affirm us in order to sell more products, I still nodded my head and smiled. For me, even given the limitations, and, some would say, capitalistic motives, these messages were indeed affirming and encouraging. And I could see why so many of the corporate women I train found the videos so appealing. They run counter to dominant advertising messages.
Come on, who can find fault with messages such as:
“If I walk like a girl, swim like a girl and wake up in the morning like a girl that’s because I am a girl. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.” ~Always #Like A Girl
“Not seeing the number is freeing, you’re so much more than the size of your jeans” ~Special K More Than a Number
These videos deal with subject matter from beauty standards to the conversational ritual of saying “sorry” to gendered double-binds and stereotypes. And they made me question: Who is the real audience for these videos? Whose interests are these videos really serving? Through what channels are these messages distributed and why not more broadly? For instance, I don’t recall seeing many of these videos in television ads. The one exception is the Dark and Lovely commercial posted on YOU Tube that I also saw on the BET network. I do wonder if these brands are marketing their woman-friendly, woman-affirming ads primarily in the digital space to a younger target market.
Yet, as I do workshops around the world, women of all ages and backgrounds seem to be taking note of these messages. Many of them are also noting that the affirming messages such as the ones found in these videos serve as confidence boosters for women as they defy traditional stereotypic messages. It could be that for some women, these videos remind them that their confidence should not be diminished because of their curls, curves or, I would add, color; and therefore neither should their competence.
Yes, some women may feel manipulated by these videos. I presume because the videos use affirming message about women for the utilitarian purpose of selling more products to women. Yet in this media-saturated world, where so much advertising touts implicit (and explicit) standards of beauty and heaps untold pressure on women to measure up to unattainable ideals, I, for one, was pleased to see some of these videos. They are not perfect, but many of them make a perfect point giving more and more women the confidence to be themselves both at home and at work.
Now, its your turn. Here are the links to my top ten videos (listed in order of posting to You Tube). If you like them, let the brands know you want to see more of this in mainstream media. If you don’t like them I’d be interested in hearing what about the videos turn you off. Finally, if you have found others we should know about, please share them with me in the comments section.
1. Dark and Lovely Au Naturale TV Commercial (281,597 views) posted on March 4, 2013
2. Dove Real Beauty Sketches (65,326,036 views) published April 14, 2013
3. Special K ® More Than a Number (77, 123 views), published August 21, 2013
4. Pantene #Labels Against Women (14,369 views—I could not locate a Pantene sponsored video but a user’s repost) November 2013
5. Special K Shhhhut Down Fat Talk – Special K (1,336,276 views) published on Dec 2, 2013
6. Cover Girl – Girls Can (5,770,646 views) published Feb 21, 2014
7. Pantene Not Sorry #ShineStrong (15,751,020 views) published June 18, 2014
8/ Always #LikeAGirl (56,143,085 views); published on June 26, 2014
9. Dove Hair: Love Your Curls (10,478,118 views) Published Jan 20, 2015
10. Always #LikeAGirl – Stronger Together (61,607 views) published on March 3, 2015