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Curly Nikki

Ponderings of a Graphic Designer…

By January 27th, 202146 Comments
Ponderings of a Graphic Designer...source: H&M catalog model

Naturalartmaven writes;

I’ve noticed a lot more curly, coily and kinky naturals in commercials and print advertisements lately. As a graphic designer, I’m always looking at how things are marketed. While I’m excited to see so much representation in main stream media, it brings up a couple questions for me:

1. If marketers and big name brands feel that natural hair is acceptable enough to use natural haired models (the whole curl spectrum) in their ads, why are there still misconceptions that it’s dirty, unkempt, not professional, etc? If Loews, Chase, Mirena and other big name multi-million dollar companies think it’s good enough to represent their brand, why isn’t it good enough to represent an individual?

2. In marketing and graphic design we try to use imagery that will appeal to the demographic that we are trying to reach. As a graphic designer, I have to make someone do some sort of action (buy, call, sell, use a product or service) using only their eyes. By using natural haired models, marketers are obviously trying to reach a certain demographic. I often wonder who that demographic is. If the majority of African American women have relaxed hair and many African American men do not neccessarily care for natural hair, then why use a natural haired model if that is the target demographic? It makes me wonder if to marketers, natural hair is perceived as being “blacker,” especially when that model appears with other models of different nationalities. Almost like saying “hey you, black person, buy this product. She’s not a token because she has kinky hair, so that makes her black and therefore relatable.” Maybe African Americans specifically are not the target, especially in ads that do not feature any other nationalities and are not products or services specific to African Americans. I wonder if a natural haired model in those cases appeals to mass audiences because her hair is NOT the typical straight hair usually seen on African American women. This would make her non-specific to any particular race and makes her more of an everyman.

Maybe I am thinking to hard about this, but it always interests me to know why marketers and brands choose to market the way that they do. I’ve found that many times the marketing strategies of some companies really are that deep and intricate and other times not so much.

I was wondering what did the Curly Nikki readers think?


  • Unknown says:

    I appreciated your work very thanks Logo Designer

  • Anonymous says:

    Well, when we start SEEING more of us consistently on the major fashion magazines and beauty t.v. ads then I'll be impressed! But I do love seeing all the natural hair ladies in non-beauty commercials!

  • Anonymous says:

    I've also noticed that some designers have been styling their models with HUGE afros. Louis Vuitton had huge afros of every color in their runway show of Spring 2010. Their must be something going on.

  • Anonymous says:

    Have any of you noticed that in advertisements with black families where there is a young girl, the girl often looks mixed although her model family is black? Rarely do you see the typical black girl next door look with darker skin and maybe braids or balls in her hair. I think advertisers are sending a dangerous message to our young girls that long bouncy curls is what all of them should have. Also, what is so bad with showing interracial couples? Most of the models are anyways.

  • Anonymous says:

    Yes, I agree w/ one of the early posts. I think it def. has to do with buying power and the perception (rightly or wrongly) that Bonqueesha is wearing the blonde weave with purple highlights and the Black girl at your college is wearing the twist out. It's meant to appeal to whites and the college educated Black crowd.
    As for always having natural representation? Not quite. Yeah, we had the Pine-Sol lady, but she was middle aged, over weight with braids. Oh yeah, and she "sounded" black. She was more like the nanny than any educated, white person's colleague. Now, the naturals are fit, young and (to quote white folks) "well-spoken". It's vastly different and it's not just 1 or 2 token commercials. We're NOT just selling Pine-Sol and Dairy Queen anymore. We're at Chase, Fidelity, GNC, H&M, Express etc. I've been natural since birth and I LOVE IT! My mom notices the diff. too ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Anonymous says:

    Honestly, I think it all relates to demographics and money. I think that marketers probably believe that women who have natural hair are higher wage earners with more disposable income. Market to the people who can afford to spend the most. Whether that's true or not, I haven't a solid clue but IMHO, it seems a lot of the natural hair community are people with more education, better jobs and more wealth. That is not to say that EVERYONE meets that criteria. It is simply my opinion of what I've noticed in some of the online communities.

  • Anonymous says:

    In the U.K biracial/mixed race people have worn their hair out and loose since Mel B popped up in the 90s. This look of a free curl-fro was just a style of kids with white mothers who maybe didn't know what to do with their hair but advertisers, marketing people and the fashion industry couldn't help but relate to it and find it desirable.

    In fashion and advertising circles natural is definitely viewed as more authentically 'black' than perms or weaves plus of the 2% of us here, few of us are natural hair wearers and the majority of UK naturals seem to be mixed race not black.

    I do think that for non-blacks our hair is definitely tied to a notion of defiance, confidence, retro hipster culture and as someone said, the cool black girl.

    However, I beg to differ on the above person from the UK who reckons that there are loads of black natural in ads here. Fashion definitely celebrates a certain kind of black female in the UK usually the opposite of the middle class black girl, people are more fond of girls that have 'made good' i.e don't come from great backgrounds and were discovered in say our equivalent of TJ Maxx. The commercial advertising world here is completely different in that whenever they need a non white person of some black origin, it is always a mixed race person. Often there is a black father and a mixed child but no mother present. There are never any black women in ads with mixed children and the only black ad family are currently advertising pizza hut. They often tie black people to ads where the main focus is how you can save money on something and it most definitely speaks to our position as black people in the UK.

    US ads with black people playing lawyers, business people etc are a revelation to me as we just are not portrayed that way in the UK at all.

  • Maria says:

    I've always noticed that most advertisements (magazine, newspaper, tv, etc) feature a black model with kinky curly hair. Its been like this for a while. In my opinion, I think the advertisements are geared towards whites. I think that they like the natural hair exotic look and it appeals to them. whatever works! I love it too and I am always drawn to natural hair, even when my hair was relaxed.

  • Anonymous says:

    Natural haired women have always been in the media. To be quite honest WE just never noticed until we looked liked them.

  • CurlyInTheA says:

    I'm in advertising too and I'm sooooooooo glad to see the shift in natural hair models. In recent years, I've seen a number of them, in mainstream commercials.It's a welcome change from the 90s… when the only thing you saw was straight hair models, because the was mainly the style you saw at the time (the only natural hair "icons" back then were Lisa Nicole Carson in the late 90s and Cree Summer from Different World in the early 90s. Now, I like the diversity. But … here's the thing: We're seeing mainstream products marketed with natural hair models. When will we see "black" hair care products marketed with natural mods? I think it will be a while. Usually, you get the horrible Dr. Miracle commercials or natural hair is seen as a "bad" thing and then poof, it's magically straightened and so it's *supposed* to be better than kinky! I don't think white folks are thinking too hard about our natural hair because: 1. They love it. 2. They accept it quicker than we do(SMH). 3. It's not that big of a deal for them, but they do want that hipster look.

  • HairPolitik says:

    Thanks for this great article. I actually do not think they are targeting African Americans. For many Americans, the afro is a symbol of individuality, or doing your own thing and going against the norm (and rightly so). So many whites, and others love seeing it advertised, especially along side others because it represent the sort of multi-racial it's all good color blind society that we all are striving for. It makes folks feel good to see it. Very rarely do I think that these ads are targeted towards African Americans in general.


  • Anonymous says:

    What about the use of natural hair models in advertising in countries where the black population is very low, such as the U.K.

    Here black people are less than 2% of the population, yet appear in a significantly larger percentage of advertising and often times with natural hair, which hasn't caught on as rapidly in the black population here as it has in the U.S.

    And this advertising trend has been ongoing for at least 10 years.

    What could be the explanation for this?

  • Maeva says:

    I think the graphic designers are totall aware of why they put people with natural hair in their ads… Because people with natural hair represents self-confidence,natural beauty and future… It is about standing up and saying "I am proud of myself, look I even have natural hair !" So it is absolutely not dedicated to black people only OR to white people only it is a universal message. At list in my opinion ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Jewell Marie says:

    Most of my white friends prefer my natural hair worn curly over flat ironed. They wish their has was a thick. I think they like our hair more than we do and the ads are a representation of that. I haven't seen one commercial in that last year that had a relaxed model.

  • Anonymous says:

    I think marketers/white people see the beauty in natural hair. They like the look and I LOVE seeing all the ads and commercials. I get more compliments from white people than I do from African Americans. When I bc'd, the first person to compliment me was a white coworker. A black coworker just came out and said she didn't like it.

  • Anonymous says:

    …so can anyone out there reach some of the major brands and ask them why?

    would love to know.

  • Star says:

    I've always seen natural haired black women in commercials & catalogs and to tell you the truth they are the ones whom inspired ME to go natural! There was this one Special K cereal commercial that had this natural hair lady that was so gorgeous, I just remember seeing her and all the fabulous other natural hair ladies & saying…"Man, I want my hair like that soooo freaking bad!" I do know that since I've been natural I'm quick to notice other naturals, but of course they always been there, I just pay attention more!

  • Anonymous says:

    I definitely agree! I planned on making a list of all of the commercials I've seen featuring black women with natural or curly hair. I think company's may be reaching out to a mixed demographic since some of the curlies tend to look racially ambiguous. This video may make my point more clear.

  • Breanna says:

    I like seeing so many naturals on tv, it's left like multiplying left and right. It's good to see that mainstream is accepting of our hair.

  • Anonymous says:


    To those women that use Yes to Hair products, it's being discontinued for the "Yes to Cucumbers" Leave in Conditioner. Saw this mentioned on LHCF site that was psted 6/8/11.

  • Anonymous says:

    I haven't read everyone's comments yet, but I have to say that I've been natural for 11 years and I've always noticed more natural African-American women with curly hair in commercials than relaxed. Shoot, I can't figure out which product it is, Arm & Hammer, Mr. Clean, one of those … that woman with locks has been the spokeswoman for years. I just wonder if people who are newly natural are just noticing this similar to how you start noticing people with your same car when you buy a new car. Just a thought.


  • Paula says:

    If you've ever permed your hair or used extensions, I KNOW some white person must have asked why did you do that/how do you do that/why can't you get your hair wet/etc. SO in some ways, perming hair/using extensions is something that "the other" does. So if one doesn't use perms or hair extensions, and just uses his/her own hair in its natural texture, he/she no longer follows the same behavior habits of "the other," making them more in tune with the majority….does that make sense? It does in my head, but I don't know if it does when typed/written/said out loud.

  • blinkykinks says:

    Its great to see a rainbow of colours on our screens/ads representing most races, its got to e a step forward!!!

  • sandy says:

    I agree with Ashley Jane
    Most of the professionals doctors, lawyers and teachers I know have natural hair or embrace it proudly without issues. (Not hatin on straight)
    And most non black people I know have more positive opinions about our hair than our own people. Advertisers do your thing. At least someone is getting it.
    That look screams power and confidence. It is affirms. It doesn't denigrate

  • Ezinwanyi says:

    I think a lot of the comments have merit, but I just don't know if it means acceptance or appreciation of the natural look.

    I really don't believe that marketers appreciate the hair as "beautiful" or anything. Their purpose is to draw your attention to the page and engage your attention, then your wallet.

    A few years ago, that whole heroin look was in. I never understood that either. It is a "grab your attention" kind of thing.

    I don't know, so I look forward to you marketing majors schooling me. This question is definitely interesting

  • Franki says:

    Natural hair reads as "hip" and "with it" to many white consumers – it's acceptably diverse, different but not too out there. I think marketers tend to prefer natural-haired models because they read as "cool" to white consumers – this model could easily be your Cool Black Girlfriend.

    I also wonder if black women in predominately white communities are more likely to be natural than black women in heavily black communities (fewer black folk = fewer places to get that touch-up), and so the models may be more representative of the black women white consumers come into regular contact with. That's just my off-the-wall theory, though.

  • Unknown says:

    I've noticed a lot more natural hair models being used as well. I think marketers are realizing that natural hair models are the same as any of the other models they use. I think also because there is more recognition of natural hair, they are recognizing a huge sector of people they may have excluded by not utilizing these beautiful women in their ads.

  • Anonymous says:

    There used to be a kinky haired black model at, but now there's a straight haired black model. ๐Ÿ™

  • Anonymous says:

    Huh??!! What??!! Yes, I think you are thinking too hard!! Yay for all the kinky curly haired models in the ads and commercials!!

  • Anonymous says:

    There has to be something to it because I'm noticing that almost every time I see a black woman in an ad, she has what appears to be natural hair. (I say "what appears to be" because there are plenty who texturize.) Maybe the natural haired women stand out in the auditions? Or maybe they have finally recognize beauty. Whatever the case, I love it. It makes me smile whenever I see natural hair black women in adds. Did anyone see the woman in the Kate Spade ads? Well, I am a Kate Spade fan now.

  • Anonymous says:

    I've always that thought that black women with relaxed hair weren't featured as much unless it was commercial marketed specifically towards black clientele. I've also *felt* that advertisers preferred using mixed models; who tend to have lighter skin, looser curls in national ads meant to appeal to everyone.

  • Leah says:

    Oh and two snaps to Anon 3:57. I think that's closest to spot on.

  • Anonymous says:

    Hip hip hooray for all of the models that are being used who happen to have natural hair and who remain natural for as long as possible. When I see a model w/ natural hair in an ad, I am more likely to pay attention to it. Shame on big companies for not being all inclusive and still traveling down the narrow minded road, thinking straight is the end all, be all.

  • Leah says:

    I have noticed the many natural hair actresses in commercials as well. I second the possibility that they are marketing to 1) non-black people who love big natural hair and 2) black people who support natural hair because the second group has been segmented as a more affluent and more highly educated bunch.

    We obviously know rich folks with straight hair and people barely making it who rock their kinks but I wouldn't be surprised if marketers have figured out that people who respond positively to natural hair have deeper and growing pockets.

  • NaturalArtMaven says:

    I'm loving all of the comments and perspectives! Sometimes I am in marketing meetings and the imagery that they want to use to reach certain demographics (soccer moms, homosexuals, different nationalities, etc.) can be hilarious and sometimes borderline offensive.

    @Anon 3:57 – My mind was drifting along your line of thinking.

  • Ashley Jane says:

    1.Natural hair is very appealing to white America believe it or not! I have yet to encounter a white person that did not like my hair. The most negative attention I can think of wasn't so negative as it was "hey that looks different, I wonder how she got her hair like that." So in appealing to a white audience natural hair would be the way to go.
    2.Also, the typical black female wearing natural hair is most times, middle class and college educated. So someone like Chase bank would be looking for those kind of black people to do business with and appeal to. Same with Lowes. Educated middle class blacks are much more likely to be homeowners and need such services as home improvement. Seems like a no brainer to me ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Notes says:

    I'm trying to think of commercials and advertisements that I've seen that have black women with natural hair. Aside from the obvious hair products specifically geared for natural-haired women, what I'm recalling are the advertisements for every day, non-color-specific products like household cleaners. In those I've seen natural-haired women. I think it's as simple as corporations looking for broader appeal, much like the State Farm commercials that feature a Latino actor (the cutie with the dimples), for example.

    Black women will spend some money on hair and hair care products. I'm sure that there are people out there whose sole job description is to track spending and purchasing by demographics. If some higher-up sees that natural-haired women are spending X dollars on Y products (devoted to natural-hair upkeep, let's say), they probably figure that they can channel that same buying power to other (non-hair related) products.

    Relatability helps in advertising, so if they can hire an actress who sports natural-hair to give the product "mass" appeal, then they'll do it.

  • Anonymous says:

    In your point number 1) about black hair being seen as dirty and unkept, it is my experience that black people are the most critical against black hair. Other black people don't like black hair and think its dirty. Similar to what some of the other folks have said, most of the other races that I encounter and talk to about my hair absolutley love it and are intriqued by it.

    2) I read somewhere that natural hair is often times a black middle class effort to express african-american individualism. Often times the "ghetto" black girl is shown with silky blonde weaves, ext. etc. In some circles, natural hair may actually seem a lot more progressive and upscale then relaxed and other variations of black hair. I think that advertisers may pick up on that and may be catering to a middle class or slightly upscale African American community in thier efforts. I don't think they see it as being "more black".

  • Anonymous says:

    I think I agree with the comments so far. But I've also read articles that suggest the socioeconomic status of naturals is a bit different as in they tend to be more educated and make more money (idk if that's true) and they maybe looking to target people with more money to spend. Marketing seems very looks oriented and I think races other than blacks find well-groomed natural hair as interesting and attractive.

  • Anonymous says:

    Here's my theory on it:

    Before I started seeing this influx of natural haired black women in ads, I remember seeing a whole lot of whom I would describe as racially ambiguous women in ads. It seemed as if these women would be too dark to be white, but too light to be unmistakably declared as black, since she could have been Latino or something "other." I strongly suspect that the natural haired black women leaves no doubt that yes, she is definitely a black woman. Even if she is fair skinned, that hair is the black truth. Relaxed haired women see her and although they might not want her hair style, they know that she's black. Black men and white people see her and they have no doubt. Also, since she does not look like the average black woman (because natural hair is not the norm for us yet), maybe some people might not be turned off by the ad because she's "different." She doesn't look like the neck-rolling Bonqueesha that rang up their organic spring mix salad at the grocery store…This woman in the ad looks more like a college professor or someone from the Cosby Show. LOL. Maybe many white people need for us to seem "different from the rest" in order to be comfortable.

  • Anonymous says:

    I just think companies these days are becoming more demographically inclusive with their marketing so they can make more money. I don't think it gets any more meaningful or philosophical than that. Black, white, asian, hispanic, straight hair, curly hair, no hair…everyone is a potential customer. Money has no colour, and they want everyone to buy their product. The more diversisty they throw into their ads, the better chance they have of appealing to the masses.

  • Anonymous says:

    I love all of the hype natural hair is drawing and I don't think it's just a trend because it's too much of a commitment and sacrifice (transitioning and bc'ing)for that.

  • Tonya says:

    I think advertisers are going for an exotic look. Over the past few years, I have read that a lot of people (in particular white) see our natural hair as something exotic.

    And as I type I am thinking that advertisers may be appealing to mixed people which would include two or more nationalities. So therefore, their product would appeal to more people.

    But, whatever the reason, I am just glad to see more natural hair ads.

    And the longer I am natural, the more I see there is to enjoy about it.

  • Anonymous says:

    I definitely agree that it makes an extreme "this is a black person to relate to" statement. Advertisements exaggerate. Using natural haired models is part of their exaggeration. But whatever…maybe it will help more people, especially black people, that natural hair is beautiful.

  • socialitedreams says:

    i don't think they are marketing to black people the vast majority of the time. white people are gaga over my natural hair. and it looks dynamic in a commercial/on print so draws the eye to what they are trying to sell. a huge head of hair, regardless if it's an esperanza spalding fro or rihanna with big sideshow bob red curls, will stand out and draw the eye, which is the point in a small slot. get that attention ๐Ÿ™‚


  • Anonymous says:

    I have noticed this too and I don't think they are necessarily marketing to black people. Like the way my black friends and family coo over my hair when it is straight while my non-black friends are more enthusiastic about my natural hairstyles. Its "interesting" and "other" and black people do it so it is cool or something like that

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