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Hair Cuttery’s “Look Smart” Hair Straightening Ad: Innocent or Offensive?

Avatar • Aug 13, 2014

by Alondra

Portrait of Two Women Back to Back

 

The national salon chain, Hair Cuttery, sent people of the natural hair community into an uproar last month with a brow‐raising advertisement. As a part of their Look Smart campaign, they included the “Straighten Up Package,” which apparently was created for those of ethnic decent.

Just as the package title suggests, this service is for those who prefer to wear their hair straight. It includes a relaxer, shampoo, some fancy treatment, blow dry and flat iron…everything you need to have a head of silky, straight hair! Considering the fact that there are many women who still relax, you probably are wondering why the natural hair community was so offended by this deal. I’ll be honest; I was in between feeling like it was inappropriate and that people were simply overreacting. However, before I flood you with my opinion, I want us to go through the details together so you can, insightfully, choose a stance.

Let’s look at the actual ad first:

sup

At the top it says “Look Smart”. That in itself is an attention grabber. On the surface it looks as if it’s saying, “the featured product or service on this poster is something will help the customer appear to be more intelligent.” Next, you see this smiling girl with straight hair with a caption underneath that says “with our straighten up package.” Okay! There’s the message. If I straighten my hair with Hair Cuttery’s straighten up package, I can appear to be smart. Needless to say, that didn’t rest well with me.

Now, I’m very aware of how things can be misconstrued, so I took it upon myself to visit Hair Cuttery’s website in an attempt to get clarity on this particular advertisement. I found that the “Look Smart” campaign wasn’t talking about intelligence or mental capacity, instead it was promoting their affordable prices: Look good for a smart price, pretty much. Could they and should they have worded it differently? Yes, Absolutely. But because they did expound on its meaning, I decided I would give them a pass on that one.

Next on my agenda was to search for the straighten up package on their site…here’s what I found:

sup2

There’s that girl again! This time it’s called the “Straight “A” Style”. The first sentence reads: “start off the school year right with a straighten up package.” I could interpret this in a couple of ways…this is the style that straight A students wear OR the style, itself, is perfect (considering that straight A’s are a reflection of perfection) for the beginning of the school year. I went with the latter.

Alright, that’s pretty much it for the details of the ad, but what exactly were people saying in regards to Hair Cuttery’s promotion?

In a nutshell, people believed this ad was selling the idea that Black women looked most presentable and intelligent when their hair is straight and the closer to European the Black woman appears the better. They also inferred that “straighten up” was actually saying “get your act together” and not straighten your hair. In fact, such a revolt began that Hair Cuttery decided to take down the ad (not the package, you can still straighten up if you wish).

Along with them removing the ad, Hair Cuttery was respectful and gave a formal apology…but was it really that serious?

If you ask me, I say this is just another example of the natural hair community being far too defensive. Now, I do believe they should look into hiring a new advertisement team for sure. Certain things were a little too hard to decipher; an ad’s message should always be clear. I felt some type of way when they referred to the style as the “Straight A Look”. But that’s it. Honestly, I don’t believe they meant harm to any woman who has abandoned the creamy crack.

Like I said before, there are women who still relax and who believe they look great with their straight hair and that’s who they were targeting with the ad. Hair Cuttery was simply putting it out there, “if you want a relaxer girl, you want that bone straight, we gotcha.” Simple as that.

How do you feel about Hair Cuttery’s ad? Are people overreacting or not reacting enough?  Let’s discuss it in the comments below!

About Alondra: Joke telling, hair pick toting, life‐living Southern Bell by way of Memphis, Tennessee. I’m a young,educated black woman pursuing dreams by day and a super hero by night; my powers reside in my mind. To state it simply, I plan to save the world one conversation at a time. @Color_Me_Diva @MyManeThang

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Tamara Charese
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Tamara Charese

I can see why this would be offensive to the natural hair community but it’s not an offensive ad. Many people in the ethnic community believe that straightening your hair makes you look “smarter/more appropriate” and such. They are just feeding into that and capitalizing on it. It’s marketing to promote business and a smart move on their end. Even if offends curly kinkies like myself.

merry
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merry

It’s not all that smart. Not all communities are the same or have the same reactions.

Fir ex. Asians commonly promote skin whitening. It’s part of their culture historically — it signifies wealth, beauty, etc. Do u think promoting skin whitening is the same with black people?

Same with hair. Others may straighten their hair and promote it in a certain way. But among blacks, promoting this as a smart thing is really dumb given our history with our natural hair in this country.

I work in Mktg/PR/communications. IMO, this is not the right type of add to run.

Tamara Charese
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Tamara Charese

My point is, they are feeding into a stereotype. A real and profitable one at that. I’m not saying it’s right but it’s business. In ref to your Asian comment, I travel to China twice a year. Even though skin lightening is the norm, a lot of Asians find it offensive. Same with this, the skin whitening companies are in the business of making money. If it didn’t increase sales, it would be pulled. We as a natural community find offense in this. Hoewever, many of the women I discussed this with today, that still straighten their hair, had no… Read more »

Cassandra
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Cassandra

I think skin whitening among black people is like a quiet lie among celebrity black people, as I’ve seen mention that women like Beyonce and Lil Kim have appeared lighter with the years (beyond the photoshopping and magazine covers and such).

umm...
Guest
umm...

Just because some people feed into a stereotype does not mean that such statements are not offensive.

Joy-Peace
Guest
Joy-Peace

If the advertisers remove the “look smart” print and change the name of the “straighten up” package to the “relaxer” package everything would be okay.

This company needs a Public Relaions person ASAP!

Deedeemaha
Guest
Deedeemaha

First you say, If you ask me, I say this is just another example of the natural hair community being far too defensive.

Ok, so I will pass on answering the 3 questions and keep my thoughts to myself.

JenniD
Guest
JenniD

Right. Much a do about nothing.

O
Guest
O

I would like to hear your thoughts Deedeemaha especially as it’s been pointed out time and time again on these boards there are plenty of academics and other Black professional women who do not straighten their hair.

In regards to the author’s thoughts — not really interested.

Kellee Blue
Guest
Kellee Blue

That ad was OFFENSIVE and we who are offended are not being just merely being “defensive”. People do not exist inside a vacuum. We exist in a place and with thousands of years of HISTORY and that is to ALWAYS be considered. There is also the barrage of current events to be considered as well as personal life experience. No one should have to dig, as you did, to justify anything. Never spend that much time trying to trick yourself into NOT believing your own eyes or ears. If you do, you are not fully utilizing the mind The Most… Read more »

umm...
Guest
umm...

Thank you. Im happy to see people be sensitive to these matters. I mean, someone has to stand up and demand conscious advertisement. Just as marketing teams take the time to designing glorifying advertisements and representations for other women, they need to do the same for natural haired women.

Alondra
Guest
Alondra

Okay. I didn’t say “defensive” or “overreacting” to be insulting. I have been defensive and have overreacted over things myself so I’m not seperating myself from the crowd. I didn’t have to trick myself nor did it take a lot of thought.…I’m not offended, simple as that. I decided to delve into it for the sake of discussion…but. that’s. it. Now, I said I understood how people can be offended, I didn’t say that it was absurd nor completely ridiculous. But what IS, is the fact that I’m being attacked for just not being upset about it. Before I decided… Read more »

User5-6919
Guest
User5-6919

I think this was a silly and poorly worded ad. ******Tangent: That aside, I would like to address the continued misuse of the word ethnic, particularly as is used in America in the past decade. The word does not mean non‐white, nor does it mean Black. We are ALL part of an ethnic group. Please do not let that foolishness you see at stores in America, who mislabel aisles ETHNIC HAIR CARE, become a norm. That misuse is yet another way to imply that whiteness is a standard around which everyone else orbits. This ad is/was targeting Black women, African… Read more »

Lynda
Guest
Lynda

Being overly sensitive, looking smart is a saying and it means looking good which can be natural or relaxed state IMO. The saying has zero to do with someone’s intelligence and isn’t meant that way.

African Naturalistas Hair Products
Guest

Honestly, this ad is not a big deal. The target market is not the natural hair community. It was not created to offend. Let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill.

You don’t go fighting every dog that barks at you. It’s just a waste of time and purpose. Next…

lauri
Guest
lauri

I think those who are defensive have every right to be considering there are young Black girls who have been denied education because they wear their hair naturally. It may not have intended to be offensive but given the social stigmas that around plague natural hair, IT IS offensive to those who can critically unpack this ad. Wear straight hair, ‘Look’ smart? Wear natural hair ‘look’ dumb or maybe get kicked outta school? Tuh. If they wanted to put up such an ad they could have done so with out that little sneak diss. They’ve been seent.

LadyDulayne
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LadyDulayne

I don’t find this offensive but I will say am I glad to see a black face on an ad for “looking smart”. That is nice!

Darlyn
Guest
Darlyn

I don’t see any negative about this. However, they could have worded it better.

Lovely
Guest
Lovely

Doesn’t Dressing Smart or looking smart have some type of meaning more so in the UK I have heard Youtubers use the term maybe someone can explain it

O
Guest
O

Smart” means intelligent or clever. If you are talking about “looking smart” then you would simply be saying the person is well‐presented.

I don’t think the UK meanings are any different from the US ones.

We commonly use double entrendre here in the UK which means if you say something and don’t word it carefully what looks like a compliment is actually offensive.

In this case the ad is doubly offensive.

Chanda
Guest
Chanda

Doesn’t bother me but why does it have to include a relaxer (chemicals)? What about those plastic, straight weaves/wigs some sisters still sport? Does that look smart (because you’re still hiding your kinks)? So yes, you can absolutely look smart as a natural. Clean, neat hair is the key.

Napturally Kia
Guest
Napturally Kia

yeah…not offended by this one. at all. if you know are smart without straight hair, should you be upset? if it dont apply, let it fly.

coffeeandfingernails
Guest

I don’t think the ad is offensive–I think from their perspective they could probably have swapped out any other package they offer and keep virtually identical copy. That said, this is one of those times when having a diverse staff comes in handy–someone to say, “I know what you mean, but in a particular cultural context this might trigger some negative associations.”

Alondra
Guest
Alondra

I AGREE WHOLE HEARTEDLY!! Simple as that.

Boazwife
Guest
Boazwife

An ad targeting African American women promotes relaxing the natural curl pattern of their hair will cause African American women to “look smart”. The offensive aspect is in what is being implied, African American women sporting their natural curl patterns in their hair does not look smart. Its the same marketing method used when advertising straight hair to curly haired African Americans, since the advent of hair straightening products advertisements. Same theory as the head scarf wrapped Aunt Jemima. If this not offensive to African American women, what is? Did not this advertising campaign speak to every negative stereotype and… Read more »

Oy
Guest
Oy

There’s this trend of naturals who have a lot of fight in them and then those who just want to brush everything off and not get upset. There’s misinformed people on both sides but I’m not sure why people who want to brush things off want to vocally state their position. What purpose does it serve for you to tell others that “Hey it’s no big deal to me. Why not calm down”? Are you worried of the Angry Black Woman trope? I understand the fight. It reminds me of fighting for women’s rights or Black people’s rights. There are… Read more »

Alondra
Guest
Alondra

I’m sorry that me not being upset about this made you upset even more. But just like you are voicing your opinion, I’m certain that I’m well within my rights to voice mine.…even though it’s not aligned with yours. Now I never said I didn’t see why it could come off as being offensive…some of the wording is poor…but I just don’t think they meant to get us all in a frenzy. But why must I be a fighter in order for my opinion to be valid? “If you’re not mad, we don’t wanna hear it!” That’s nonsense. Believe me,… Read more »

V
Guest
V

Come on ladies. I work in marketing and I’m natural. There’s nothing offensive about this ad. CLEARLY the “Look Smart”- is a play on the back to school season which many companies are gearing up for right now, so Ad slogans will need to have a play on words around school/education/ etc. I don’t think this is at all saying‐ you’ll only look smart if you straighten your hair. jeez, like seriously. Enough is enough. Not everything is out to offend us‐ I remember a time mainstream stores like hair cuttery would NEVER even put a black girl is a… Read more »

mimi
Guest
mimi

Ooh we should be grateful they put a black girl in an ad instead of being ungrateful and standing against using said black girl to promote that with straight hair you look “smart”, thus implying without straight hair you look like one of low intelligence.
I don’t know why we should appreciate that they put a black girl there, do black people need others to validate us? No.

cnj
Guest
cnj

I am a little offended but I also don’t care. The more important question is who would get a relaxer from the hair cuttery? What black people go to the hair cuttery? I feel like they don’t cater to black people.

Darlyn
Guest
Darlyn

It depends on the area. In Baltimore, there was a Hair Cuttery with mostly Black hairstylists. I was sad when it closed.

B3 Fearless
Guest
B3 Fearless

Depends on what area you live in. In the Baltimore area, there are Hair Cuttery’s with stylists who do Black hair. Many of the stylists are primarily African American, but there are surprisingly some white women who do our hair too.

Jorden
Guest
Jorden

I can see why this could be offensive but I honestly think this ad was more about using buzz words that are related to back to school. If slogans like “straight A” or “look smart” were put on their ads for color or roller sets I would probably still see it as an ad that was trying to capitalize on the fact that it’s time for kids to go back to school so they should come get their hair done so they can look presentable. From my experience working in a salon, I know that relaxers (and many other texture… Read more »

Nombulelo
Guest
Nombulelo

I am the youth of yesteryear and am mighty proud to see young people who are taking in pride in their Africaness. I also decided many years ago that the chemicals are not for me. For most of my 52 years I am in braids. Dreadlocks didn’t work for me either as my hair texture is too thin. Last month I had an afro which I took out during the week and therefore I had to wear a wig to work the next day. I got so many comments about how young I am looking and it kinda annoyed me… Read more »

Susan
Guest
Susan

I’ve never understood looking smart to mean looking intelligent. Where i come from, if someone says you look smart it simply means you look good and has nothing to do with brains.

O
Guest
O

That’s why someone else asked the different meanings of “smart” in a different English speaking country.

Be aware that different meanings of the same words in the English language can cross to other English speaking countries.

Jocelyn
Guest
Jocelyn

Honestly I don’t know why we naturals are continuing to make mountains out of molehills and perpetuating this debate of natural v. straight. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not it’s essentially a new version of light skin v. dark skin. Anyways to address this advertisement I don’t know why it’s such a big deal, until the age of 15 or so I had natural hair which my mother generally braided for me. However when it was time for the school year to start I would get a fancy(usually straightened) hair style to complement my new wardrobe. For me… Read more »

Dananana
Guest
Dananana

Future hubs (a White male) took one look at this ad and this article and immediately said “Who thought that ad was okay to print? They need to be fired.” It’s not as though we need validation from White people on issues of race and media bias, but if they can immediately see when something’s a problem, why oh why do we try so hard to say that there’s not one? And no, this ad is not keeping me from sleep at night (unlike other current events), but the undertones it presents are hard to deny. Solution: Don’t patronize the… Read more »

JP
Guest
JP

I completely agreed with your post up until the end… But “Next?” What does that mean? It seems like you are trivializing the situation and telling people to move on. Ignoring a difficult and offensive situation is not the solution‐ progress will never result from shrugging your shoulders and simply saying “Next”! Imagine if the generations before us did this… What would our world look like now? Just some food for thought.

Dananana
Guest
Dananana

I meant “Next.” to mean “I know for a fact we have more things in this vein to worry about, and some of them have a much greater import to the Black community.” If you knew me irl, you would know that I am not the person to ignore offensive situations, especially when they deal with the ever‐constant denigration of Black people. When I read this article and saw the ad, I felt a twinge of offense, because it’s definitely pushing the whole “Black inferiority” trope the media likes to shove down our throats on a daily basis. But that’s… Read more »

O
Guest
O

You “hope it doesn’t have any racial undertones” but you can’t clearly see it does.

It is perpetuating a racial sterotype that to look well‐presented as a Black woman you must have straightened hair. Or to put it another way Black women with natural hair aren’t well‐presented.

Jacqueline
Guest

We should not assume there are racial undertones in the ad. A black executive at Hair Cuttery may have actually been the source of the ad pitch if not at least consulted. It is no secret in our community that black women relax their hair and go to salons to do it. Yet, most white people do not even know what a relaxer is or that black women with straight hair do not grow it out of their scalp. True story. One issue with us is that we are schizophrenic when it comes to our identity and hair. One day… Read more »

Carlee
Guest
Carlee

Clearly offensive. Never would I support this company with my money.

JJB
Guest
JJB

Neither innocent or offensive, just a little uninformed. Chill out, pick your battles. Everyone has the right to think what they want. If you don’t like it just don’t support. Were you really going to go to Hair Cuttery???

Brittney
Guest
Brittney

I’m happy to hear the ad was taken down. I was a little upset reading this even though I relax my hair. That ad was not innocent. They used it as a double entendre no doubt about it .

Alondra
Guest
Alondra

I’m loving the feedback!! But can we refrain from trying to insult my spiritual or moral maturity? Yeah, I said people were overreacting; but that is something we ALL have done at some point in our lives so I wasn’t trying to be condescending with that statement. I apologize if it came off that way. Personally, I’m one who is guilty of being too defensive when I didn’t have to be…I’ve gotten all worked up over, well, nothing. I have learned from that so now I’m not so quick to find fault in others. People said it’s obviously offensive…well it… Read more »

Rayanna
Guest
Rayanna

Honestly at first glance I wasn’t offended at all and didn’t see the big deal. But then the “straight‐A” style led me to believe that this ad is doing more than just using the word ‘smart’ to mean attractive. Definitely side eye worthy but I’m not in an uproar or anything. However I don’t think its anyone’s place to tell other natural hair women what they should and shouldn’t be offended by.

JP
Guest
JP

I was equally concerned by the “Look Smart” advertisement… To the point that after I walked by the ad on the street, I immediately Googled it to see if any other women‐ especially African American women‐ found the ad offensive, insensitive, and full of gender bias. To no surprise, it seems that the ad has had an overwhelmingly negative response from the general public.… Yet a version of the ad continues to be displayed in the Chicago area, which prompts many questions. What is the message that is trying to be conveyed? What message is being sent to females, particularly… Read more »

Mimi
Guest
Mimi

I thought it was just supposed to go along with the back‐to‐school theme.

Public_Programming
Guest
Public_Programming

The Dr. Miracle’s Ads are even worse. Someone should of protested him a long time ago.

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