Lorna Simpson. 1978–88. 1990. Gelatin silver prints with engraved plaques; each 48 3/4 × 16 3/4 × 1 5/8" (123.8 × 42.5 × 4.1 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Gwen and Peter Norton. © 2023 Lorna Simpson

A few weeks before Solange released her highly anticipated album A Seat at the Table, Lindsey Farrar published the first issue of CRWNMAG. Cofounded in 2016 with Nkrumah Farrar, the print and digital publication is dedicated to celebrating the diversity of Black women and the beauty of their natural hair textures.

But CRWNMAG is about more than hair. In Farrar’s own words, “it’s about the depth of representation.” Like Solange’s influential work, CRWNMAG challenges the ways Black women’s bodies have been policed and limited. “We’re sick of seeing two or three ‘types’ of Black women represented in publications and onscreen,” said Farrar in a past interview. “We’re sick of hearing about ‘good hair’ versus ‘bad hair’ and light skin versus dark skin. We don’t think that our subjects should be contoured and airbrushed beyond recognition. Quite the contrary: We’re here to celebrate and edify Black women in their natural state.”

By reconceiving the ways Black women are represented in the media, Farrar joins a lineage of artists like Lorna Simpson and Ellen Gallagher, who show us the possibility of a world that celebrates and protects Black women.

To hear more about CRWNMAG, the natural hair movement, and the possibilities of changing society through media, click on the SoundCloud audio below.

Ellen Gallagher. DeLuxe (detail). 2004–05

Ellen Gallagher. DeLuxe (detail). 2004–05

See below for a transcript of the SoundCloud audio.

Lindsey Farrar: Hair is not just hair. Hair always carries so much weight. It would be lovely if it was just a form of expression, but as a Black person, you present differently. People may find it to be less beautiful. It’s less in line with the standards that have been set by the culture at large. And the way that you wear your hair—whether you are presentable enough, whether you seem unkempt to someone else—that can be a matter of life or death for you.

But our hair is truly beautiful.

My name is Lindsay Farrar and I’m the founder of CRWNMAG, which is the first natural-hair magazine. We are a print and digital publication on a mission to be the most beautiful and honest representation of Black women in history.

For me, hair is a microcosm of the Black experience. It’s a lens through which, in CRWNMAG, we explore a number of topics that are important and integral to Black life. Whether it’s having your body policed in the workplace or being perceived in a certain way on the street. Or opening a magazine and never seeing anything that is for you. There are these kinds of experiences that are unique to Black life.

CRWNMAG it was always intended to be greater than hair. It’s about the depth of representation.

Throughout the history of media, particularly in this country, the lack of representation and the misrepresentation of Black people relates to our experience with our hair being something that causes fear, and that fear being something that can end a life or can impact your livelihood, the ability to feed your children.

The reason that we say we’re on the mission to be the most beautiful and honest representation is that, for so many centuries, Black women really have never had control of our image. The images of us have been negative propaganda that have depicted us as mammies, as less than, as criminals, as all of these things that allow people to be fearful enough to shoot when they think they see a weapon, but it’s actually a cell phone.

To be the most beautiful and honest sounds like a lofty goal, but it also to us is quite attainable simply because this is something that is independently owned and operated by people with an extreme love for Blackness, for our culture.

I’ve seen women open the magazine and hold it up to their face and say, “This is me. I see myself.” And you don’t realize until you flip through it that, “Wow, I’ve never seen this many Black faces. I’ve never seen this many real people telling real stories and showing our hair.”

So in 50 years, in 100 years, in print, when you see CRWNMAG, you will see this diversity of Blackness.

When we first started the magazine around 2014 it was so hard to find beautiful images of Black women with natural hair on the Internet. And over the following months, couple of years, you kind of saw the boom of social media. And Black women all over the world, maybe unbeknownst to them, began redefining beauty standards as it relates to hair in real time—through YouTube videos, through tutorials, editorials, through conversation, around the subject of natural hair.

Through these tools, various people were taking things that were once shared in intimate spaces—these hair rituals that would normally be done in your bathroom or in your auntie or your grandma’s kitchen—and were now collectively sharing our hair stories with this new sense of interconnectedness.

You start seeing the, quote, “natural hair movement.” And when I speak about the natural hair movement, I’m speaking about the decision to stop processing your hair with a relaxer or wearing a weave or otherwise flat-ironing or pressing your hair. And many times you can choose to grow it out and transition slowly and kind of have an awkward phase where you have multiple hair textures, and many other women opted to chop it.

I think for people outside of the community, it would be hard to imagine going from having long, straight, flowy hair your whole life to now having short, kinky hair in a world where you go to the office and maybe your boss is like, “What did you do to your hair?” Or you’re in a space that’s predominantly white, and you present differently. You may be more threatening. People may find it to be less beautiful. It’s less in line with the standards that have been set by the culture at large.

And so we started to see Black women going through this journey and sharing it with each other and finding power and finding strength in the collective experience, in sharing our hair story, in hearing someone else’s hair story. Looking at them—maybe they remind you of your auntie or your sister, maybe their hair texture is similar to yours—and now you’re seeing that they’re experiencing the same emotions that you’re experiencing. That feeling of not feeling alone may make you continue on that journey, may make you start that journey.

There’s just something special about being able to go on YouTube and see someone who has a very similar texture, who can decode some things for you and stumble along with you and to take something, again, that was once so intimate and almost a secret and make it accessible and make it okay. And, you know, when you’re learning your hair texture for the first time, because you relaxed your hair and put chemicals on your scalp for as long as you remember, you kind of have to relearn yourself.

The initial seed for this magazine started eight years ago. Since then there have been so many changes. Particularly in the wake of 2020 and just the uprising that occurred, I have seen more surface representation. You see more Black faces. But, when you turn the pages of the magazine, it’s not for you. There’s a lot of leveraging a Black face to sell things.

I find that much of the belonging, the inclusivity, these conversations—they’re driven by the bottom line. And, therefore, it’s usually for clout. I think people are more concerned with doing something that sounds inclusive, but when you pull back and look into the simple processes in their companies, when you look at the hiring practices, when you look at how Black women are treated within their walls and the amount of stress that they’re under, those things have not changed at all. They have not changed.

And while representation is still important, when it comes to shifting systems, shifting our place in this world, it really does come down to equity and ownership. Because as long as we are engaging in systems that were not designed for us or were designed to subjugate us, it’s going to be an uphill battle.

So I think, for me, it’s about: How do we create that autonomy and that ownership that will allow us to thrive on our own terms? How do we adjust systems? Or, in many cases, dismantle. How do we build our own institutions? How do we challenge our own minds and adjust our own day to day actions?

Everybody should make the decision that’s best for them when it comes to their hair. We are not in the habit of policing people’s bodies, particularly Black women’s bodies.

So we have to take it further and create that autonomy and that ownership that will allow us to continue to tell our own stories, that will allow us to protect our bodies, that will allow us to not have to ask for, or create, policies so that people don’t mistreat us.

The topic of hair is no less heavy than it was three years ago or eight years ago. But I do think that we are closer on the path toward freedom.

There’s so much opportunity for diverse representation in digital spaces like social media, which has put so much of the power back into the people’s hands. In the past, to create a magazine, to create a newspaper, the barrier to entry was so high, and with social it’s all so much more attainable.

I’ve seen accounts that, just for inspiration’s sake, were curating these beautiful images of Black women. Young people who are going out and producing full editorial shoots, just to post on Instagram. We can create the world that we want to see.

It’s about reprogramming our minds. Really, truly internalizing that we are in control of our destinies, that we can create the world that we want to see. And the only way to do that is to work together and to put more of the images and the stories and the narratives that we do want to see into the world.

Lindsey Farrar is a publisher dedicated to the empowerment of women and the Black diaspora through print and digital media. She is the cofounder of CRWNMAG, which is the first print and digital magazine dedicated to celebrating natural hair and the women who wear it. As the editor-in-chief of CRWNMAG, she works with creatives to produce images, stories, and resources that reflect the platform’s mission “to be the most beautiful and honest representation of Black women in history.”

This episode was produced and edited by Arlette Hernandez with sound design by Brandi Howell.

MoMA Audio is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.