It feels like every day there's a new headline telling the story of a black girl who was sent home from school or humiliated at work because of her hair. That’s why Shonda Rhimes and Dove launched the Crown Coalition to help end hair discrimination, in partnership with the National Urban League, Color of Change, and Western Center on Law and Poverty. Together, they sponsored the CROWN Act (SB 188) in California, making it the first state to make hair discrimination illegal.
I chatted with Rhimes at Dove’s Self-Esteem Workshop in Los Angeles, where 100 students and school administrators from across the country came together to create change. In attendance were Mya Cook, Deanna Cook, Tyrelle Davis, and Faith Fennidy, all girls who made headlines when they were discriminated against for their hair. “I have a chance now to help other girls, to stop this from happening to other girls. I want to use my voice to help,” Fennidy tells Allure. For Rhimes, this issue hits close to home.
“It’s obviously something I care about, especially as the mother of three girls who all have very different kinds of hair,” Rhimes tells Allure. “By age eight, a black girl is more likely to be insulted because of the way she looks than any other type of girl. [Editor's note: That's according to a study done by Dove.] It’s horrifying. I got excited when I heard about [the Crown Coalition].” Rhimes has worked with Dove’s Self-Esteem Project for two years and is passionate about girls having the choice to wear their hair however they please, wherever they please. “It’s important to feel like you have a choice. With your cultural representation and who you are and the [standard] of beauty, if there’s only one kind, you feel like you don’t have a choice,” she says.
It’s slow, but Rhimes is seeing those standards of beauty starting to change. “There was a moment after Grey’s [Anatomy] and Scandal and [How to Get Away With] Murder were all on the air, when we started casting and I started seeing actresses of color come in with natural hair,” she says. “Five years ago, that never would have happened. Everybody had straight hair and looked a certain way. At a certain point in time, it just shifted. It was kind of wonderful.”
Of course, that was thanks in part to Rhimes. At the helm of ultrapopular TV shows as creator, head writer, and executive producer, she’s been able to put more characters with natural hair on the small screen. “You didn’t have as many characters having natural hair on television," she explains. “I had Olivia Pope [from Scandal] have natural hair; there‘s an [actor] named Kelly McCreary [from Grey's Anatomy] who has natural hair. You wanted that to happen, and you saw it on other shows, and it feels important.” She notes that you’re also seeing that shift in both the music and modeling industries. “Once you see it on models, that is a standard of beauty that people are working with,” she says.
And as a mother of girls, Rhimes says she sees the judgment put on not only black girls but on their mothers as well. There’s this idea that hair has to be “done,” and Rhimes doesn’t get what that means. “Celebrities will be on Instagram and people will [say] something about [Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s daughter] Blue Ivy, and I’m always like, ‘The child looks fabulous. Leave the child alone,’” she says. “Or they’ll say something about Chrissy [Teigen] and John [Legend]’s baby, and you’re like, ‘What?’ And I’ve seen people say, ‘Do that child’s hair.’ And I’m like, ‘Are we kidding?’ I think that goes to applying standards of motherhood, which is different than standards of beauty to children. It’s a judgment about motherhood, which is not a thing I understand. Mothering is not a sport.”
But that doesn’t mean she speaks for all black mothers. “There’s a lot of curiosity, and I think that people care and they’re well meaning. It’s just very hard to be the ambassador for your hair to everybody else,” she explains. “There’s a lot of information for everybody on YouTube. You can Google almost anything. Stop asking us about our hair. It would go a long way towards helping self-esteem because then you don’t feel like someone’s science project.”
Rhimes believes education starts at home. “I don’t care what culture your child comes from. You provide your child with images of women you declare [are] beautiful from all different [heritages],” she said. “I don’t care who your child is — white, black, brown — [they] should have dolls that are from all different ethnicities. You should be showing them women of different sizes and declaring them beautiful.”
To find out more information about the CROWN Act and how you can help, head over to Dove’s website.
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Originally Appeared on Allure