Gamine Defined: Madam C.J. Walker

March 03 , 2017 | Gamines

The beauty industry has been a ticket to liberation for millions of women.  However, we sometimes think of this industry as enslaving us to chase the dragon of youth. Constantly changing trends and the rebranding of the same old shit can do our heads in.  However, I like to think of this vast billion-dollar industry as a liberator.

The beauty industry has provided a road to independence, wealth, and dare I say fulfillment to innumerable people. A female dominated industry where someone can start with nothing and make it to the top.  My story began at 17 (although I knew what my life’s work would be at birth).  A public school student, the state paid for my 1600 hrs of beauty school through the Regional Occupational Program (sadly these trade school programs are no longer funded).  I was finished with school and licensed by 18.  Emancipation! I could work and that meant freedom. That was the thing I wanted most for a long time.  Not only was it an “out,” but it was also an “in”.  An “in” to a wonderfully creative world that gets bigger and bigger with each new skill learned.

There is no limit to what a person can do in this industry.  Passion is really all that’s needed, coupled with a drive to perfect the perfected and to reinvent it all.  I’ve met the craziest cast of characters along the way and each of them has a unique story.  You can get out of your small town and with persistence, work freelance to travel to new places.  People have very fulfilling lives working behind the chair making deep connections and great money.  Many have gone from the shampoo room to the boardroom, taking claim to Head Bitch in Charge.  This industry has saved freaks and geeks as well as lured architects into a second career. It’s all there for someone with a little gumption.  On my journey I’ve had the support of so many beautiful people that have shared all their knowledge with me. People who have amazing careers who started from scratch and made their vision materialize.

It’s emotional when contemplating how many women were able to claim independence and support themselves and their families by selling as an Avon Lady or Mary Kay Sales Consultant (you have no idea how badly I want one of those vintage baby pink Caddys).  Sarah Breedlove, A.K.A. Madam C. J. Walker, is known to be the first female self-made millionaires in America and possibly the most successful African-American business owners ever.  She was born during sharecropping.  Her inspiring story is one of overcoming poverty, illiteracy, and prejudice and yet another example of how the beauty industry has empowered women through the ages.  A hairdresser by trade, she founded her company that specialized in beauty and haircare in 1906 and hired thousands of women as her “beauty culturalists”.  She encouraged women to become financially independent by showing other black women how to budget and build their own businesses.  Her contributions to the advancement of civil rights was equally astounding.  Her leadership and generosity in support of civil rights and equality movements during her time made a tremendous impact on our history, the results that are still felt today. 

On this International Women’s Day we celebrate the women of the world and their accomplishments. Let us take care of you, whenever you need it!  We know pimpin ain’t easy, honey!


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