Meet Audrey, a fashion experience analyst and founder of Prism Travel Club, who shares with us her journey of self-acceptance and the importance of centering the voices of people of color in each level and in every industry.
1. Walk us through your hair journey. How has the response been like from your community?
I had a lot of hair growing up and have been tender-headed my whole life. My mom heat styled it for the most part. Most wash days, she would blow dry it on high heat and style it in braids with hair bobbles and barrettes using Ultra Sheen grease to keep my scalp and hair shiny. For special occasions, she'd use a pressing comb to straighten my hair -- heating it up on the kitchen stove and being careful not to burn my ears. I remember feeling like Aaliyah when I got my hair straightened. My mom took care of my hair until I was about 11.
The universal preteen struggle of gaining both autonomy over, and approval of, my appearance hit me in sixth grade. I didn't want to look like a kid in braids and bows any more but I wasn't sure what the alternative was. I genuinely don't remember how I wore my hair that year but I remember there being a lot of disappointment. In seventh grade I got a silk press and recall a lot of compliments from my mostly white classmates. By eighth grade I got my first relaxer and was happy just wearing my hair straight. Over the next several years, I experienced a lot of breakage - in retrospect it was probably from not moisturizing regularly or properly and from using heat tools daily.
My senior year of high school, I decided to stop perming because of cost. While researching online for alternatives, I came across Nappturality.com which made me curious about my natural hair texture. I started transitioning but was still using heat styling to blend the natural texture growing from my scalp with the relaxed hair on the ends. That, of course, resulted in heat damage of the new growth and was really frustrating at the time. I don't think I was even aware of that term at the time. So, I started doing twist-outs to blend the two textures and trimmed the relaxed ends little by little. The summer after my high school graduation, I finally big chopped the remaining damaged hair leaving a small/medium afro. My mom hated that I wore my hair "nappy". I was a bit self-conscious about the way I looked but, in general, didn't think very highly of my physical appearance and had accepted that there wasn't much I could do about being unattractive (yes, I l do look back on this and realize how sad it is). That said, I was still pulling cuties from the local basketball courts so my overall perception of my natural hair was that some people would love it and others would hate it.
In the eight years since graduating high school, I've tried a lot with my natural hair. I've done everything from wash and go's and bantu knot-outs to color and wigs. In this time, the black community's impression of natural hair has really evolved. It went from being widely looked down on to being really normalized and accepted. Early on in my natural journey, I felt like I was stereotyped as being a certain kind of black woman. We were all assumed to be watered-down versions of Erykah Badu. However, as I began to feel more freedom in my appearance and tried more with my hair, I felt like I broke down those stereotypes of the people around me. It seemed like society was changing in the same way at large. There were lots of natural YouTubers and product lines. My mom eventually came around and really likes my hair now.
2. What approaches are you taking to unlearn Eurocentric ideals of beauty?
I became aware of the toxicity of Eurocentric beauty standards in my life when I went natural. At that time I learned how political my appearance is as a black woman. I've been spending time dismantling those ideals within myself since that time and feel that I'm at a point now where I'm pretty unplugged from that mindset. However, those standards are so pervasive that they of course pop up in my psyche without my awareness. I know that I only have control over my appearance so I unlearn these ideals by rejecting them in my personal style, makeup, and hair choices. I've been spending the past year taking time to get comfortable with details of my appearance and learning self-acceptance. So now, I treat my personal appearance as a statement of my standards as opposed to anyone else's. The more I value myself, the less relevant any outside influences become in determining how I should look.
3. As someone in the fashion industry how do you think diversity can move beyond a trend?
This is hard to say because I think as long as the industry is controlled by white voices, true diversity is going to be an afterthought. Even at organizations that seem to be diverse from the outside, there can exist a true lack of inclusion within. A brand's final result, whether it be clothing, a service, or publication, is 100% the reflection of the point of view and experience of the people who developed it. That's why it's important that people of color are hired at all levels of an organization so that their influence is reflected in the final product. That is how true diversity and inclusion is achieved. I think a lot of brands are more focused on the benefits of appearing diverse for the sake of being trendy (and fear of being considered racist) than the actual state of being. So, if they could put that branding effort towards recruiting a significant number of people of color to employ at ALL levels of the organization, their products would truly reflect that diversity. That is how I think diversity would move beyond being a trend.