You may not recognize her face, but you will certainly recognize her hands. Hannah Harris is the name behind the brand @browngirlhands, an Instagram account dedicated to showcasing the beauty of Black hands in product photography. Spurred by the lack of diversity shown in beauty and skincare brand campaigns where products were held by hand models, she made a vow to highlight the delicacy and poise of Black and Brown hands with her own Instagram. With a mission dedicated to changing the perception of Black beauty within the industry, Harris has set her sights on transforming consumer-facing beauty content. Since then, she's worked with brands such as Aveda, Supergoop, and Versed to shake up the conversation around age and race, and been acknowledged by Virgil Abloh’s SCAD program, where she will be mentored by cultural icons such as Beyonce, Michelle Obama and Tracee Ellis Ross. Ahead, get to know Hannah Harris and her vision for a more inclusive beauty industry.
How did the concept of @BrownGirlHands develop?
The story of Brown Girl Hands is the merging of two scenarios. One scenario involves me leaving the nail salon for my mom to mention, “Your nails match your [Glossier] balm dot calm you should take a photo and send it to them.” I picked up my camera and snapped a few shots against my bathroom wall and my vision came together. I must admit that a few weeks earlier, I had also read a Jessica Defino article entitled, “Where are all the brown hands?”, which sparked the question: why weren't Black hands displayed on the Instagram feeds of some of the industry’s biggest brands? These two situations became one and I created the Instagram page; and the rest is history.
What was it about the industry you felt was missing?
I think the beauty industry has focused a lot on diversifying shade ranges and models, but product photography has always been under looked. The goal for Brown Girl Hands is to bring awareness to this niche sector and showcase the beauty of brown hands too.
Why hands as a photography focus?
Hand models are often seen as "aesthetic" and by not including Black hands, it created the perception that Black hands aren’t as aesthetic or as beautiful. I remember a comment made by a social media editor who said that she didn’t post Black hands because they didn’t get enough engagement and with Brown Girl Hands, I wanted to prove that Black hands are and can be beautiful and that people want to see them represented.
What is the beauty experience you want to offer when people come onto your page?
When people come to the Brown Girl Hands page, if they are people of color, I hope they feel seen. I get so many messages from people saying how refreshing it is to see them themselves reflected in beautiful product photos and how self-conscious they are about their hands. For non-POC, I hope it opens their eyes to these more niche areas of diversity. For everyone, I hope they discover new product favorites, regardless of what hand is holding it.
What has the feedback been like from other girls and women?
I have to share some direct messages:
“Thank you so much for doing this! I just launched a beauty retailer specifically for women of color. And in the past few months when I was researching stock photos for my site, I found virtually no photos of brown hands. This is so needed!”
“Thank YOU for creating an account dedicated to providing representation! The beauty industry is entirely whitewashed and one area we often forget about is hand modeling”
“Your page is such an ingenious idea! Black women are so underrepresented in the minimal space. I love that you’re calling attention to that”
What is your vision and hopes for the brand you have built?
My hope for the future is to continue nurturing our social media community and start to grow Brown Girl Hands Studio. We now work with brands as clients to create more inclusive product photography to create real change. So far, our clients have included brands like Versed, Glossier, Birchbox and more.
Finally, tell us more about your scholarship.
I am currently a junior at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in its Business of Beauty and Fragrance degree program. SCAD is actually one of the only universities in the U.S. to offer a program like this, so it is very cool to get to be a part of it. My most recent project was my grey hair campaign for age diversity that I developed as part of one of my classes at SCAD. It was submitted for the Fashion Scholarship Fund (FSF) Case Study Scholarship competition–and because of that, I was honored as one of the first-ever recipients of FSF’s Virgil Abloh scholarship that will help me continue my passion and business! I’m also currently working on a SCAD project with Google, Facebook, and Amazon, tasked with researching how to create more equity in these companies. It is game-changing.