Black Girl Magic!

Why The Black Girl in The H&M Ad Is Being Shamed For Her Natural Hair

Another beautiful Black girl is going through the harmful ritual of being nationally shamed for the hair texture that keeps the Black community divided in ways that are evidential of the formidable grasp of White supremacy.

H&M was recently forced to release a statement addressing the growing uproar that was catapulted by the instagram post of celebrity hair stylist, Vernon Francois, who unleashed his disapproval over the images of a Black girl, happily posing in the retail giant’s latest accessories with her hair casually packed into a simple bun.

Francois detailed the common plight of Black girls with hair textures that are best described as “kinky,” and how this specific trait seems to serve as the never-ending challenge for stylists, who are incapable of masterfully producing shiny, curl-defined coils.

Those expectations prove how we’ve become accustomed to the endorsed images that sustain the thriving business of the “natural hair movement,” that’s blossoming on the picturesque platform of Instagram.

The notion that this fresh-faced Black girl could be the victim of gross negligence by an industry that excels in the art of beauty with currency of the White aesthetic is an unacceptable travesty for Francois and many others.

He also notes how inconceivable it is that the controversial images depicting the unkempt hair of the Black girl in question, never warranted the attention to fix what obviously needed fixing.

Once the post began to gain traction with the fury that usually escalates issues pertaining to the grooming standards of Black women, it was clear that H&M would have to acknowledge this newly-minted scandal with the rushed generic apology that contains necessary phrasing, that takes ownership for another embarrassing cultural misstep with the promise to do better.

But interestingly enough, the “apology” was more of a standoff in the form of refusing to submit to the pressure cooker of online furor, that has the capacity to end careers with simple clicks and the venomous threads that rapidly spread the virus of discontent, that rarely misses embattled targets.

It’s worth noting that not long after the cringe-worthy event that involved the cute Black boy donning a shirt that read: “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle,” a little over a year ago, H&M made the decision to hire a highly qualified Black woman, Ezinne Kwubiri as head of inclusion and diversity (yes we have the same first name.)

The truth is that the 2018 scandal was pretty much as bad it gets when it comes to the tone-deaf approach to an ultra-sensitive issue, that shouldn’t ever be mishandled in the name of fashion, and the cultural misguidedness that reflects how a boy with Black skin can wear a shirt that downgrades his value in an homage to his ancestral entanglements.

This recent “snafu” that was borne from the finessing of a Black girl’s hair without the aggressive gelling sessions and over-twisting for the defined curls that have to pop with relish, and conditioned proof of a passable grade of hair is absolutely ridiculous.

It’s also indicative of how Instagram ruined the basic principles of a movement that has been hijacked by the wrong contenders.

My heart goes out to the innocent Black girl, who is undoubtedly enduring the mob mentality of those who aren’t comfortable with the notion of hair textures that don’t match the swoon-worthy crowns of It Girls like Zendaya and Yaya Shahidi.

The bodacious curls and waves that populate the slate of Insta-stories with the authority of what we’ve been trained to aim for when we dare to go “natural.”

My heart also bled for Blue Ivy back when she was a baby, and her features were routinely compared to her father with the mockery of how she had acquired more of what she will regret when she grows up.

The hatefest extended to her hair as Black women left nasty comments about the dryness and uncombed state of naturalness, that North West escaped because of her shinier and smoother bun, compared to the daughter of world-class superstars, who are disgracefully unskilled when it comes to the vital task of keeping Blue Ivy’s curls glisteningly nurtured with fiery baby hairs to boot.

The viral threads dedicated to the tragedy of Beyonce’s baby girl’s thirsty tresses was a relentless tradition that lasted long enough to force the inclusion of that searing verse in “Formation,”

“I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros.”

Of course there was nothing wrong with Blue Ivy’s hair then and now. And as the seven-year-old blossoms into the gorgeous interpretation of both her parents, the reception around her appearance has softened into pride and admiration. But we can’t ever forget the horrible treatment she received from grown adults, who had the audacity to harass the features of a child who inexplicably didn’t meet the standards of Black excellence.

I’m definitely one of the few who agree with the response from H&M regarding the Black girl’s hair in the ad campaign because she looks exactly the way I did growing up.

As a Nigerian girl who wasn’t mixed with anything other than Black, and who didn’t possess the kind of lineage that would result in the exoticness of a sharp nose and wavy patterns, that promptly obey the modest application of gels and leave-in conditioners, I spent my childhood plaiting my thick mass of tightly-coiled hair according to the rulebook of boarding school.

It wasn’t until graduation at the age of 17, that I was finally allowed to relax my hair with the harsh chemicals that turned my scalp into mush, but gratifyingly tamed my monstrous helmet into a sleek, sheet of moveable strands that instantly sent my self-esteem through the roof.

But as young adulthood beckoned, and armed with my college degree with the setting of New York City, it became too expensive to maintain the regiment of perms and blowouts, and so during the mid-aughts I was inspired to settle for the convenience of wearing my hair in its natural state.

There was no way to predict how radical that decision would prove to be at a time when such a concept wasn’t in vogue, and the plethora of blogs and saturation of over-priced hair products hadn’t begun to emerge.

My family members were appalled by my need to walk around as if I had literally lost my damn mind, and some of my friends were irritated by my quest to give Black girls a bad name, with the un-beautifying of a stubbornly stiff hair type, that should be buried under the duress of chemicals and products that ultimately make it “manageable” and decent enough for public viewing.

Fast forward to a decade later, and despite the gloriousness of the “woke culture” that helped to usher the mandate of how natural hair textures should be embraced and celebrated without reservations or prejudice, the fundamental symptoms of a disease that threatens to keep us divided over stupid shit is still very much alive.

The reason why that Black girl in the H&M ad is being shamed for her natural hair is the same reason why biracial celebrities like Tracee Ellis Ross who just recently launched her own line of hair products are revered as the spokeswomen for the natural hair movement.

We haven’t made that necessary transition to the respectful recognition of how our textures vary according to the heritage we’ve been assigned.

The dominating visuals of the movement seem to convey the standard default of looser curls and the effortlessness of lookbooks, that don’t represent the main reasons why it was imperative to establish an initiative, that gives Black girls the power to proudly display hair patterns that typically don’t make the cut when it comes to landscape of global viability.

We also don’t dissect the divisiveness that erupts from judging hair patterns that aren’t submerged in the pool of moisturizers, that are supposed to adequately hide the brutal truth of curls that don’t appear on command, or move with the ease of bloodlines that provide those “advantages.”

Maybe the time has come to revise the palette of the natural hair movement so that it refocuses on Black women with tight coils that are just as beautiful as the bountiful curls that we’ve placed on the pedestal of desirability, as opposed to the less-appealing version that desperately needs the love and adulation that would appropriately normalize its dignified presence.

The Black girl in the ad for H&M Kids looks exactly the way she should, and her hair texture is naturally healthy and perfect. Nothing needs to be added or subtracted, and instead of scrambling for the aid of useless products that end up leaving built-up residue that clog the pores, her strands are lightly brushed into a bun to show off that pretty face.

The images of her are strikingly unfiltered with the playfulness that elevates the messaging of the brand’s campaign.

The worst part of this controversy has to be the painful reminder of how we’re still struggling with the ability to love who and what we are without the interference of the prized aesthetic of Whiteness, that steps in with vengeful tactics that blinds us to the unique beauty of Blackness that should never cower to the attributes that are deceitful replicants of our captors.

Instagram can be a great resource, but the polarizing glorification of certain hair types at the expense of textures that are generally ridiculed for the lack of “definition” in the game of curls has resulted in the embarrassing and unsightly denouncement, that leads to the current shaming of a Black girl, who committed the crime of being presented with the simplicity of her features.

For those who are ashamed of this girl’s hair, perhaps this is the prime opportunity to examine what motivates that repulsion.

For those of us who can relate to the hair textures that always cause riots on social media platforms, all we see is the beauty that we didn’t grow up witnessing in the avenues that mattered.

So why is our joy your pain?

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store