Sarah Breedlove: Madame C.J. Walker

In March, Netflix released the mini-series Self Made, inspired on the life of Madame C.J. Walker, and based the book On Her Own Ground by A’Leila Bundles. My oldest sister and many friends recommended me to watch it. So I did. 

This series is produced by Janine Sherman Barrois, Elle Johnson, Christine Holder, LeBron James, and others. It has amazing starring actresses and actors like Octavia Spencer, Tiffany Haddish, Carmen Ejojo, Garret Morris, Kevin Carroll, etc. 

Moreover, it has four episodes: The Fight of the century, Bootstraps, The Walker Girl, and A Credit to the Race. Each one has a length of 45-50 minutes. 

My sister and friends knew I was going to like it because one of the topics is about black woman’s hair in the early 1900s in Saint Louis, Indianapolis, and New York City. In the first episode, Sarah Breedlove the main character of the series said: “Making products for our hair is my passion, it hasn’t been easy but, no matter what I refuse to give up the fight”. 

Sarah Breedlove /Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

A lot of other topics are developed in the series. One that called my attention was the “beauty stereotype categorization” among, black woman. Addie Monroe is a businesswoman who has light skin, long hair, and “beautiful”. She is the inventor of the hair product ‘grows’.

In episode one, The Fight of the Century, Addie Monroe visited Sarah at her home who was found sitting in a chair crying and reckless after being beaten and abandoned by her husband because she was “not beautiful enough for him”. This is the first encounter between Sarah and “beauty”. 

Monroe gave her courage, used her to try her hair products, and gave her job as a washing woman. Two years after, Sarah recovered her hair and her confidence. 

At minute 6, Sarah faced her second beauty concept while Monroe was arranging her hair and talking to two of her workers about marketing the product. She said: ” You just need to convince the customer that by using my products they will look like me or you all, at least ( also light skin)”. 

After her hair was set, Sarah proposed to Monroe to work for her as a saleswoman of the product. Monroe gave a face reaction and denied it by saying: “We got a good arrangement here, laundry and hair treatment, let’s not complicate things”.

Sarah was a self-determined and passionate woman, so she got 20 cans of hair products and sold them at the market. She returned to the salon and told Monroe about the success and the ideas to work together, which were not welcome. 

Monroe’s response was harsh: ” Are you out of your mind, even in your Sunday dresses you look like you just step out of a plantation”. This was the third time in less than 10 minutes, in the series, that Sarah had to hear that she was not “beautiful,” and didn’t have the “right look”.

In 1910, Sarah moved to Indianapolis with her family. One day at the market while selling her hair product, a lot of women surrounded her to hear her story. One of the young women said that she wanted to work at the new hotel, but was denied because she didn’t have the “right look”

In chapter 3, her husband, Charles Walker, presented her the new face of a campaign to represent the pyramidal of colour beauty which he names “The Walker Girl” who was slim, tall, “beautiful”, and light skin. Sarah didn’t like the idea and didn’t need to present it to the investor in New York City, since her pitch was good.

The climax of Sarah’s dealing with “beauty” was the infidelity of her husband with Dora, ( one her saleswoman), who had curly hair, light skin, and was slim. She made him feel like a man, he told her. 

The competition of beauty among black women is imposed in society. Unfortunately, the darker skin you have, the kinky your hair is, and the bigger your features are, means the harder you need to work to demonstrate your skills or achieve your goals. 

Audre Lorde was clear in her book Sister Outsider, “some black women still refuse to recognize that we are also oppressed as women, and that sexual hostility against black women is practiced not only by the white racist society but implemented within our black communities as well”. 

Sarah knew she was not a dream girl of the advertisements that we see often see on tv, but this didn’t stop her from telling her story to other women whom she wanted to help. She knew she had a call to have her business, and so she did. She is considered to be the first black female in the United States of America to be a self-made millionaire. 

We need more Sarahs in our society. So are you ready to be the next Sarah? 

2 responses to “Sarah Breedlove: Madame C.J. Walker”

  1. Dear WomenWheel;
    I am glad that you spotlighted Madame Walker and A’lelia Bundles! They are examples of what can be done by women of discipline and fortitude. I am fortunate to know Ms. Bundles, she is living her heritage of self-determination and continues to fight for freedom and equality. Indianapolis is forever changed and the fight for civil rights continues because of Madame Walker’s influence and comportment.


    1. Dear Heady, thanks for your comment. I am sure that Indianapolis had change.They legacy will always be an example. I am sure it is really an honour to know A’lelia Bundles.


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