By Aaliyah Moore
Since being quarantined, I’ve had a lot of time to catch up on some Netlflix’ series, one of those being Self Made: Inspired By The Life of Madam CJ Walker. Prior to watching it, the only knowledge I had of Walker was that she made contributions to black women’s hair care products and the pressing comb. After watching the series, I learned much more about her story and walked away feeling empowered. In this blog, I’m going to share what I found to be the most significant takeaways for me as a black woman.
My Black is Beautiful, Too
The series tells the story of Sarah Breedlove who would later become known as “Madam CJ Walker.” Early on, Walker sought out Addie Munroe who was a fair-skinned, slender woman who worked in the hair care business. Walker began working for Addie as her washerwoman. She wanted Addie to allow her to go into business with her, but because Walker did not “look the part” Addie refused.
Addie felt that she needed to look a certain way for her products to be able to be sold. Madam CJ Walker never conformed to Addie’s Eurocentric beauty standards, and she always owned who she was.
Sis, There’s Room for Us All
Madam CJ Walker did not allow Addie’s rejection to hold her back; instead she went on to become an entrepreneur in the beauty industry as well. While she may have gotten her inspiration from Addie, she put her own spin on the products and built quite an empire doing so. Instead of being willing to work as business partners, Addie did everything she could to compete with and sabotage all that Madam CJ Walker had built. Addie unfortunately did not understand that it’s possible for two people to exist in the same industry and both do well. One of my favorite quotes describes this scene perfectly. “Another woman’s beauty is not the absence of your own.” There really is room for us all to win out here.
I’ll Bring My Own Seat to the Table
The early 1900s marks a time when African-Americans were trying to find their place in society. Black men had very recently been granted their right to vote, so progress for black women was of course even slower. Madam CJ Walker was a visionary who was ahead of her time, and did not care about “societal norms.” As she started to make a name for herself, she knew she was going to need an endorsement, so she sought out prominent figure, Booker T. Washington. He turned her down, but she continued to be persistent and bold. Walker didn’t mind walking into and having a presence in spaces that were not designed for her, and she never let a man’s ego get in the way of her dreams.
Walker’s ability to rise from poverty as a washerwoman to becoming the first female self-made millionaire speaks to her resiliency and tenacity. In spite of being betrayed both personally and professionally, she pushed past it and continued to expand her empire. That was definitely enlightening to witness especially during the time in which she lived.
Even in this season of stillness and trying to stay safe from COVID-19, the time that we spend in the house doesn’t have to be wasted! Catch you a Netflix series or read you a good book. You might be surprised at how inspired you can become.
Aaliyah Moore is a contributing writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC. Aaliyah enjoys spending time with her family and is a lover of food, writing, and Quartet Gospel music. She is a higher education professional and loves the impact she gets to make in the lives of college students, every day. You can follow her on Instagram @aaliyah.m.moore.