Lindsey Day is giving black women the royal treatment they deserve with her magazine, CRWN.
Too often black women have been told our hair is “bad,” “unmanageable” or unprofessional just because it didn’t fit Eurocentric beauty standards. Mainstream media doesn’t help, as it has consistently failed at representing black women in an honest and non-stereotypical way. Day noticed this growing up. And even though the narrative is slowly starting to shift, the industry is still a ways away from genuinely celebrating black women’s beauty.
After spending years irritated with major magazines for not properly showing the diversity of black women (and often erasing us altogether), Day launched CRWN, a publication dedicated to showing the beauty and range of black women’s hair, in 2016. It’s more than just a hair magazine, though: Day created CRWN to celebrate the wholeness of black women by offering thoughtful dialogue, inspirational imagery and more as a means to take control of our own narrative.
HuffPost spoke with Day as part of our “We Built This” series for Black History Month. She discussed creating CRWN Magazine, diversity among black women and eliminating her “mental chains” to redefine what beauty is.
I built CRWN Magazine from the ground up over the last couple of years.. It’s a print publication centered around black women, lifestyle, hair, culture. It’s centered around natural hair, but it’s really a tool to address the whole woman. The whole black woman. For us, hair is a device to talk about a lot of the things that are outside of just our hair, which is how that relates to our identity in this world, our place in this world, our power and our beauty.
Speaking of hair and the crux of what people know CRWN as, what was your relationship with your hair growing up?
I think like most black women, hair was always a little bit of a tumultuous relationship. There’s so many different things that come into your hair. It’s never just like, “Oh, I’m gonna do my hair and go out of the door.” There’s the baggage that is sometimes associated with hair. There’s the relationship with your family, the relationship with your mother, your cousins, all of those things. Our hair is politicized whether we want it to be or not, so there are these internal struggles and external forces that are telling us that perhaps it’s not the best, or this type is better than that type, or all of these strange dynamics that you end up internalizing as a child. I think like a lot of us.
A lot of my coming-of-age was unpacking and eliminating some of those mental chains, and redefining what is true for me, and what is beautiful. Going to shop for your hair and not seeing anything for you. Explaining your hair rituals and having people think, “Oh, you flat iron your hair? You put your hair on an ironing board?” These things that are just normal to you. So I think it’s been such a beautiful experience to see this natural hair movement, and how things that were once done in the secret, almost, of your home with your auntie or your mama or your sister, are now broadcast and shared on YouTube, shared on social media across country borders. It’s such a powerful way to connect, but there’s so much more to be talked about, and that’s what we’re really excited about.
What was a catalyst for you in creating CRWN?
I think so much of it was my upbringing. Always looking for something that represented us, and not just represented one small part of the community. So frequently you see a certain prototype, or maybe three prototypes of black women, and when you look in your families, we represent the rainbow. There’s all different shapes, sizes, textures, everything. It’s really wanting to see depth of representation of black women, and see the genius of black women represented, and not just beauty or strength, but everything. All of it. Everything in between.
What’s CRWN’s mission, for those who aren’t familiar?
With CRWN, we’re on a mission to be the most beautiful and honest representation of black women in the history of print. We do that through painstaking work and dedication, and through really connecting with our reader in real life and real experiences, and reflecting her power and her beauty back to her.
When it comes to the natural hair movement and CRWN’s role in it, how have you seen the movement change or shift or open up so that even more black women feel included?
I think it’s interesting. When we started CRWN Magazine, you did not see very many black women on covers of magazines, sadly. When you did, again, it’s one of three prototypes. We could only be represented by Lupita [Nyong’o], Solange [Knowles], or… Still to this day, when you open some of these magazines now, I think in September there was a record number of black women on covers of September issues, which is the coveted covers. But when you open those magazines, the depth of representation still isn’t necessarily there.
So we’ve definitely seen a shift in people wanting to grab the attention and perhaps the consumer dollars of black women. But the depth and the authenticity isn’t necessarily there. When you open it, you’re still struggling to find your story, or it may be one story of many. With CRWN, it’s fully dedicated to the lifestyle, from health and wellness to economic empowerment to education to reading to all of the different facets that are in our lives. The conversation starts around hair, but it leads to all of the different areas of our life.
What do you hope people see when they open up your magazine?
I hope, when people open CRWN Magazine, that they finally truly see themselves. It’s such a demoralizing experience to grow up and open a magazine, look on a screen, and have to insert yourself into this white image of, OK, well… It’s like your mind is playing tricks on you. You have to pretend like this thing represents you, but it never truly was meant for you.
I hope that when people open CRWN, and I’ve heard this from our readers, they open it and they cried because it’s like, “Wow, every page… That looks like my mom. It looks like my aunt. That looks like my cousin. This is my experience, and it’s speaking to me directly.” “When I transitioned with my hair, I went through those exact same emotions.” “When I negotiated my salary, I felt that way.” Yeah. We just want people to feel like they’re seen. We want black women to feel like they’re seen, and not just spoken about, but really served.
At what point in your life/career did you feel like you were totally empowered to be your authentic self?
Hmm. I mean, the first time I felt truly empowered to be me was when I became an owner. When I decided full-time I’m gonna dive in. Not gonna do the side hustles. I had done side hustles for a decade. First decade of my career, I had a good corporate job and a side hustle. Or, I had the startup job and was still working on something on the side. Even when I started CRWN, I was consulting, and then I was afraid to take that leap, because it’s so scary. You almost feel like you have to have these other things to be more secure. It was a shift of, “What if I just went all in and did this thing?”
Of course, are people gonna say things you don’t like or don’t agree with? … But knowing that I can leave those situations, or knowing that I have leverage and I have power in those situations because I’ve created something that represents a community and that speaks directly to a woman, and that woman will purchase from us whether these people decide to or not ― it has been a transformation. I think so often you’re told that you’re less than, by… whether it’s going in the aisles and not seeing anything for your hair, or whether it’s on screen and all of these different inputs, or in the corporate space where you feel like, “Why are these people getting ahead and I’m not getting ahead, but I’m working so much harder and I went to this school and I did these things and I’m trying to go by the book?”
I think stepping outside of that and realizing, wow, I made more than my salary in six months, the highest salary I ever made, by digging in, that was a transformative experience of, wow, I was so paralyzed in fear that I didn’t know how much power I had, and how much just really committing to it and pushing through that fear would open things up. I think that transforms everything. My hair’s been getting shorter. I’ve been just having more fun with it because there’s not so many restrictions and I’m not worried about, “Oh, I have to fit in this box or I might get fired.” Or all of those different things and this baggage that I think we often carry with ourselves.
I know that has to feel so liberating.
Yeah. It is. It comes with its challenges, but it is liberating for sure.
Who are the black history makers who inspire you to continue your work?
Oh, man. There’s so many. I would say Madam C.J. Walker is very much on my mind these days, obviously having been a pioneer in the hair care industry. I think it was now 102 years ago that she gathered hundreds of women in Philly at her home that she owned. I found out that Madam C.J. Walker owned three cars back in 1919 when she passed away. She was the first self-made millionaire 100 years ago, and she created the model that Mary Kay has gone on to make very famous. She had that model before Mary Kay was born. I think she died a couple years before Mary Kay was born. [ed. note: Walker died almost exactly a year after Mary Kay Ash was born.]
It’s just, you think about the legacy and you think about the fact that she was washing dishes and was, I believe, an orphan, and was widowed before she was 20 years old. A’Lelia Bundles is actually in our next issue, and it’s her great-great-granddaughter and also a historian, and she was writing that there was this shift in her where she was just like, “I could be here washing dishes every day or washing clothes every day, or I could try something else.” And try she did, and made history in the process. Knowing that that is our legacy, that’s our ancestry, and that we’ve been making something out of nothing since we’ve gotten to this country.
We didn’t start with seed money. A lot of our entrepreneurs don’t start with seed money. We receive less than 1 percent of all funding. We start with our genius. We start with revenue funding, starting with, “I have this idea. How can I sell it, and how can I flip that and make more and make more?” The women in our ancestry that have done those things are just… It’s just so inspiring to know that 100 years ago, with much worse conditions, arguably, she was able to accomplish so much. [It’s] so encouraging.
Photo shoot produced by Christy Havranek. Audio production by Nick Offenberg and Sara Patterson.