H&M doesn’t have the cleanest reputation. The retailer is no stranger to being accused of mistreating black models. Before being supposedly negligent of a black girl’s hair, they were once under fire for a hoodie that insinuated racial undertones with its poorly coined “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” phrase. They apologized and we all moved on either continuing to or no longer supporting the retailer, until recently.
In the retail giant’s latest controversy, a black child was faced with criticism over the presentation of her natural hair (rather her texture). The initial reaction was fair. Granted black models in the industry are often faced with stylists who don’t specialize in black hair and H&M’s less than stellar reputation left room for some side-eye. The initial reaction was heightened upon the engagement of celebrity stylist, Vernon François, who’s analysis was, in fact, valid, but lacked proper context.
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It’s essential that we have a conversation about this photograph from the @hm_kids campaign. Before I begin, I do not have the facts, nor have I seen any statement by #H&M or the team who worked on this. This post is just an assessment based on all my years of seeing situations like this happen time and time again. And its got to stop. This beautiful young girl’s #kinky hair appears to have had very little to no attention yet all of her counterparts have clearly sat in front of someone who was more then capable of styling other hair textures. My heart breaks imagining yet another girl from my community sitting in front of a mirror being ignored by the team around her, left to her own devices because someone didn’t know how to handle her texture. As if that’s not bad enough…. Prior to this campaign appearing this photograph will have been seen and APPROVED by countless ‘professionals'. Lets say conservatively 50 people. It’s breathtaking to me that not one person looked at this shot and had the same reaction that the internet seems to be feeling since the campaign broke. THAT IS AN ISSUE. We must do better. Our girls, our young women deserve better. Let this be a moment of learning. #Education is key #wehavetodobetter #vernonfrancois #Ignorance #blackgirlmagic #allhairisgoodhair
I admit. I based my reaction around the overarching opinion of Twitter, or so, until seeing the intended concept H&M was going for. Every kid involved in the shoot had messy hair:
And today I’ve learnt not to engage in conversations on here where no context has been provided. Turns out H&M were just doing shoots that are representative of what our kids look like 90% of the time pic.twitter.com/4uCs7HrZ9q
— Ben Anderson (@IAmBenAnderson) September 20, 2019
If anything, the only black (and non-biracial) child being singled out is very telling of the state of the black community when it comes to natural hair.
The natural hair movement has come with many setbacks. It’s often met with the golden standard of loose, springy curls that lay down with a spritz of water and edges that remain flat on our heads. These events bring light to the concept of ‘hair-ism’ which can be defined as the discrimination of black hair according to textures. This can be traced back into wanting to assimilate to euro-centric ideals and standards as well as avoiding discrimination within the workplace. The main takeaway, however, is the clear disdain and view of coarser hair textures as being ‘unkempt’ and ‘unprofessional.’
This alarmingly shallow debate over the appearance of a child’s hair feels shrouded in self-hate. If anything, being able to model for such a company is a huge accomplishment at such a young age and shouldn’t be overshadowed over something as minuscule as hair.
There is a little Black girl whose face is floating around the internet who should be celebrating landing a modeling opportunity for H&M right now. Instead she’ll have to see commentary over how her hair should’ve looked better.
— Negrita (@HustleAndFro_) September 20, 2019
This debate is almost parallel to the one over Gabby Douglas’ hair, taking away from her history making victory in 2012 where she became the first African-American woman to win a gold in the team competition and the individual all-around. Black women are faced with shame inside and outside of the media and this policing imposes this idea of perfection we’re desperately trying to reach. ‘Nappy’ edges and curly roots are no longer a rebellion against white societal norms, rather it’s seen as being lazy in our appearance and providing a bad representation of one another.
The thought that this little girl could potentially see the harsh judgement of the crown that grows out of her head instead of praise is disappointing. This judgment is damaging to not only the child involved, but also other children (even older) feeling as if their is something wrong with their natural appearance. I hope at some point, black people can move past the point of always trying to meet the impossible standard of remaining perfect at all costs. More than anything, I hope it gets through to everyone we shouldn’t be judging ourselves (and taking away from the success of others) so harshly with the intention of looking acceptable to society.
Featured Image via Flickr/Mike Mozart