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Meet the Face (and the Inspiration) Behind Those Instagram-Famous Brown Hands

Photo by Kendra Frankle

We’re seeing big changes in the fashion and beauty industries: racial diversity on the runway, age inclusion in hair care ads, and size inclusion in athletic wear to name a few. While it’s easy to get swept up in these important industry shifts, Hannah Harris is focusing on the little (albeit equally impactful) changes. Her first daunting question, where are all the brown hands? With a beautifully curated Instagram feed and an emerging content studio by the name of Brown Girl Hands, Harris is beginning to answer her own question.

In another world, Harris’s Instagram feed would be simply applauded as a well-done, aesthetically pleasing influencer beauty feed. In this world, when you compare it to a sea of white hands in the beauty space—many of which have hundreds of thousands of followers—you quickly realize that Brown Girl Hands is revolutionary. The platform is an anomaly in an industry that insists on moving forward yet can’t seem to bring their product photography along with them. So we caught up with the girl behind the brown hands to see what beauty looks like through her burgeoning lens.

Where Are All the Brown Hands?

Our first impression of Harris over our video call was that she is incredibly warm and collected beyond her years—especially for a college senior preparing to graduate Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in the spring of 2022. Her hair falls effortlessly to her shoulders in a silk press, a straight style she was excited to wear while in New York and away from the South Florida humidity. She smiles and waves hello with her brown hands, an act that makes us remember the question that started it all—why don’t hands like Harris’s end up in the advertisements of major beauty brands

This question was first probed by beauty reporter Jessica Defino (a writer with a knack for eloquently telling the beauty industry to kick rocks) when she called out the lack of brown hands in a viral medium post. It was this very article that motivated Harris to photograph her own hands. “It’s like a microaggression,” says Harris. “It's like so many of those little everyday situations that are clearly biased, but people are always making excuses for. It’s easy to make big equality statements, but let’s get into the knitty gritty of everyday life. That’s what it’s all about.”

What started off as a photo of Harris’s negative space nail art that matched her Glossier Balm Dotcom has turned into a movement. Her images are often simple yet playful and impactful with a clean clarity that makes you feel good just looking at them. She often creates them by herself on the camera she got for her birthday in high school, or sometimes with the helping hand of her roommate or her mother. She’s gone from posting for fun to collaborating with some of beauty’s leading brands to help make a pretty brown wave in the sea of white hands consumers are used to.

Harris also makes a point to consume the products she comes into contact with responsibly, often sharing beauty gifts with friends or opting out of PR mailers. Even though it’s easier than ever to get her hands on beauty products these days (pun intended!), Harris is not one to hoard products. “I don’t want to do 10 steps everyday, and honestly, I’m tired by step three. I love using LESSE. They make a cleanser, toner, mist, and a mask. On the daily, I use the cleanser and serum, and I probably mask twice a week or even twice a month. It has a simple approach to skincare, and is my favorite brand for sure. For my hair, my go-to is PATTERN BY TRACEE ELLIS ROSS, and the only makeup I wear everyday is my GLOSSIER Boy Brow & Brow Flick.”

On Beauty Standards and Body Image

Self-expression is nothing new to Harris. “I started competitive dancing at age five—and it was totally the Dance Mom era,” she recalls. “So for me, beauty was all about glitter and having fun. I think it’s a good place to come from because stage makeup is more creative than just wearing makeup for coverage on a daily basis.” Though Harris had a great experience with dance, it also came with its challenges. “Sometimes there would be a hairstyle we’d have to wear, and it wouldn’t work for my hair. Ugh, like remember the bump-it era? My hair did not want to bump right So, there were definitely moments that I didn’t fit into, but I enjoyed the creativity of it all.”

“When I was younger, beauty meant long straight hair. I had a perm until my freshman year of high school when my hair started breaking out from all of the chemicals. I also had eczema, so the burns were horrible. As a solution, I started getting weaves, and then before I knew it, the relaxer had grown out, and I began to wonder why I ever needed a perm in the first place. The natural hair movement online helped give me the confidence to go for it myself. I have my hair straight right now—and it’s just because I was seeing silk presses everywhere and wanted to do it. It’s no longer some beauty standard I feel I need to achieve, and I love that freedom. If today I want it straight, that’s for me. If tomorrow I want to wear it curly, that’s for me, too. I think the shapeshifting that we can do as Black women is so cool.”

Over the years, Harris has learned to embrace her individuality as well as the changes her body has experienced. “Growing up, I never had many body issues,” she says. “I would go to pilates or hot yoga or barre in addition to my dance classes, so I was training six hours a day. My metabolism was fast, and I could eat Chick-fil-A everyday. When I stopped, I started gaining a lot of weight, and I was so confused. I had to learn to navigate that but now, I think I'm in a pretty good place. It’s really about finding workouts and things that aren't necessarily about losing weight, but activities that make you feel powerful. If you don't feel good during your workout, then I feel like it's not the right one for you. For example, I love to go to Rumble and take boxing when I’m in New York. I’ve also found Pilates, and I'm kind of obsessed now. I love having those days when I feel really strong. It’s all about reframing your view.”

Activism as a Way of Life

Harris is not the first girl to ever capture beautiful product photography on Instagram—but the nature of our culture makes Harris’s work important and progressive. She didn’t expect Brown Girl Hands to “be a thing,” but it has garnered the praises of many and has even categorized her as an activist.

“To say that I’m constantly pursuing activism sounds exhausting, but it’s definitely something that is in me. I went to school not too far from the Parkland shooting. My peers founded March For Our Lives, and we all grew up with this activist backbone that just made speaking up a natural choice. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves, if I’m not going to say anything, who will? As much as I want to just go to class or go to work without thinking of the social issues, I do take it seriously in hopes that the people after me will have a better time or an easier time.”

On Taking it Easy and The Future of Beauty

Young women like Harris have a real chance at being the tastemakers that stimulate the change we’re so eager to see. In spring of 2022, she’ll be earning one of the first Beauty & Fragrance Fine Art degrees from SCAD. In addition to her content studio and social media community, the 21-year-old Ulta MUSE 100 honoree is a recipient of Virgil Abloh’s Post-Modern Scholarship Fund and a recipient of the inaugural CFDA x Coach Dream It Real Design Scholarship. In other words, Harris is racking up receipts that show the change she’s already made to the beauty industry in just a few short years.

After her upcoming graduation, Harris hopes to find herself immersed in beauty or creative marketing. She’s also got her eyes on the tech space, where there’s more opportunities for content marketing than ever. The young creator also is excited to explore new mediums, like video, for her Brown Girl Hands community.

We asked Harris how she manages to create so freely. Her secret? Don’t put too much pressure on things. “Sometimes I go a month and a half without posting because I'm doing other things, and that’s fine,” she says. “When I come back, the community is always still there. When I’m not posting, I’m still working with brands or doing other things I enjoy. I’m taking my time with it, and I’m not rushing things—that helps a lot. I don’t know why everybody is trying to be everything by age 25. As I build my community, I don’t want to focus on a twice-weekly posting cadence. That’s not how art used to be created, and we can’t put too much pressure on ourselves to work at that speed.”

Harris’s generation represents a group of people who aren’t waiting for doors to be opened for them, and are instead choosing to build these doors themselves. Harris feels that her work won’t be done until the day comes that we won’t need drastic diversity and inclusion measures. Instead, she hopes that brands and individuals will embody diversity and fairness at the core of who they are from the start. “Right now, if you google pretty hands, they will literally all be white. I want to change that. If I can make people sit and think, and hopefully take that new way of thinking into other aspects of their lives—I’ve done something good.” The young luminary is off to a great start.

Interested in reading more Beauty Through The Black Lens? Read how celebrity stylist Lacy Redway is changing the beauty industry. Want in on all the IPSY Glam Bag fun? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started. Already an Ipster? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter @IPSY.

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About the author
Kindra Moné
Kindra Moné is a writer and content creator who works with brands and magazines to create culturally relevant fashion and beauty content. She is also the founder of The Moné Edit: a community and podcast at the intersection of style and wellness.
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Article Last Updated January 25, 2022 12:00 AM