‘CRWNMAG’ Founder Lindsey Farrar Knows Black Hair Is About More Than Aesthetics
Farrar grew up in the '90s, poring over magazines like YM, Seventeen, and Jet. Roughly 5 inches by 7 inches, Jet was smaller than most magazines, but during its 63-year reign, it resonated deeply with Black America. "I just remember them covering our coffee tables," says Farrar. "There'd just be stacks of them." And while she could find wedding profiles, photos of beautiful women, and music reviews in the pages of Jet, she couldn't find hair inspiration. Most of the Black women featured wore wigs or weaves.
Farrar says she also loved reading magazines like Vogue, but had to skip over the hair advice, which often began with directions like, First, brush your hair dry. "It's like, okay, how you're coming at that does not apply to my hair setup, so I'm going to just keep it going," Farrar remembers. "I loved the content that was relevant to a young person, but I didn't see myself in it necessarily—which I could have never articulated at the time. It makes you aspire to things and internalize versions of beauty that are not true. Or they're not the full story."
That lack of representation fueled Farrar and her now-husband, Nkrumah Farrar, to launch CRWNMAG. They began working on the idea in 2014, when the natural hair movement was taking off within the Black community. "Black women were really redefining beauty standards for ourselves on YouTube, doing twist-outs, and sharing tips," says Farrar. "All of these conversations that would have been happening in your home, with your sister or your mom or your auntie, were now broadcast across the world."
At first, Lindsey and Nkrumah, who serves as the magazine's chief creative officer, weren't sure if a print magazine was the right medium, and Lindsey wasn't even ready to address the topic. "Honestly, with the hair baggage I have, I was like, 'I ain't touching that subject matter off top,'" she says. But eventually, they decided it was the right path. "There needed to be something to immortalize this story and to document it in a tangible form," she says. "One, because we're worth being in print and having something beautiful to look at on our coffee table that represents us. But two, there's money around it."
In 2015, they distributed a zine version of CRWNMAG at the Afropunk Festival, in Brooklyn, and in 2016, they published their premiere issue—two years after Jet had ceased its print operation. The magazine came out in September, just as a group of girls at a South African high school made news for protesting a policy that prohibited them from wearing their hair naturally. The next month, Solange Knowles released "Don't Touch My Hair," a song that would become the soundtrack for Black women everywhere who were tired of having their hair exoticized and policed.
Although Lindsey wanted to see her story and her likeness reflected in the media, it would not have been enough for that to happen through the channels that already existed. "It's more important to build our own institutions than to keep begging for people to represent us well, to represent us at all, to hear us, to care about us," she says. CRWNMAG is a way to control the narrative. "It's about telling our story. … We need to see ourselves reflected with humanity, that's it," she says. "For some reason, mainstream publications and platforms seem to be much more intent on telling stories about Black people for white consumption. And as long as we keep supporting and promoting that as the pinnacle, they're going to keep doing it."
Lindsey and Nkrumah don't rely on retailers for distribution, and they don't scrimp on quality. CRWNMAG is sold online and available in two forms: a larger journal ($38) and a digest-sized magazine ($20). It's a luxury product and priced higher than traditional magazines, but Lindsey felt there was an audience. "It was just like, if we create something that is of value and truly serves this woman, we will find enough of our girl—our person—to make it viable."
And who is that person? "Our reader tends to be highly educated, she tends to be searching, challenging, wanting to make the world a better place," says Lindsey. "And when I say educated, sometimes that means she has five degrees, but sometimes that just means that she is actively engaging in learning and growing." Even though CRWNMAG is written for Black women, Lindsey believes it can be a resource for everyone. "I say this particularly in the climate that we're in, while people are searching and trying to understand and make sense of things and hopefully listen more to Black women, [the magazine] really gives you a strong glimpse of what is on our mind."
It also offers much more than styling tips, tackling hair-related issues that many Black women face, like if they might be more likely to get hired if they relax their hair or whether or not they should straighten their hair on their wedding day to please older family members. Lindsey says these stories are important, because history carries weight: "All of these things get compounded, and we pass them down to our children. And then it's generational trauma and curses," she says. "I hope with all of the conversations that are happening now and all of the people that I feel are coming awake, I hope that we can somehow, someway end these cycles, and stop passing these things to our children."
Flipping through recent issues, you'll also find pieces about reparations and Black political power. These stories are fitting because the natural hair movement has never really been just about hair; it's about undoing the discrimination and misogyny Black women have faced for centuries. And since CRWNMAG launched, many of these issues are finally getting national attention. For example, the CROWN Act, which bans workplace discrimination on the basis of hair, has been passed in seven states. And a national bill recently passed the House of Representatives, bringing it one step closer to becoming federal law.
"The hair conversation is just one expression of the Blackness that has been hated for so many years. There is no empowerment if there is not equity and repair. … We have those conversations, we take it there," says Lindsey. "And then you can get some hair tips and some beauty tips."
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