by Brittany Dawson
Black hairstyles rock. From permed faux hawks, poetic justice braids, to other beautiful up-dos, there isn’t a style around that’s missing from the International Bank of Black Hair. Trust me, we’ve got it all. But more recently, there has been an overwhelming embrace of the natural hair community.
Black women are no longer being bombarded with one sided representations of Black hair. The visibility of celebrities rocking their natural ‘fros—like Issa Rae and Solange, for instance—highlights the power in visibility, diversity, and reclaiming Black hair as an act of resistance. Black women are proudly chucking chemicals, favoring bouncy curls and Bantu knots.
Sadly, the natural hair buzz reached Marjon Carlos at Vogue this month, inspiring the writer to pen an essay titled “How North West’s Curly Styles Are Inspiring a Generation of Natural Hair Girls.” Let it also be known that Carlos is also a Black woman who proudly wears natural hair, adding a unique twist to this story. The essay basically crowns North West the Queen of Natural Hair. Yup. Readers are given the impression that North West started the natural hair movement.
Sorry KimYe stans, but North West is not the Messiah of the natural hair movement.
Truthfully there is nothing the Kardashian-West clan has done for the natural hair community other than birth a multiethnic child with curly hair. Their manufactured “contribution” boils down to one component: North West’s curl pattern.
I’m sure many think North West’s natural hair should be celebrated as a win for the community. And to a certain extent I agree that it’s wonderful to have multiple examples of natural hair, even among our babies. However, pinning West as the Gerber Baby of the natural hair movement is problematic for a number of reasons.
First of all, natural hair isn’t new and has been a thing well before Kanye West left Amber Rose to jump on the Kardashian Bus. Either the writer at Vogue hasn’t taken a look at earlier pics of artists from the Golden Age of R&B and Hip-Hop such as Erykah Badu or Lauryn Hill, or she deliberately chose to misremember women of color with unique curl patterns. Either way, it’s insulting and disrespectful.
Along the same lines, remember when Marc Jacobs took the popular natural hairstyle Bantu knots and called them “mini buns?” Or when Chanel introduced Du-Rags as “urban tie caps” to White models? These hairstyles and Black hair accessories have always been around. Likewise, when publications that primarily cater to White interests smell an opportunity to commodify Blackness, particularly our hair, the significance of Black hair is ripped away and sold as artificial apertures into the Black experience. By championing North West’s multiethnic hair, the author practices the damning act of policing and devaluing Black hair we’re tired of experiencing.
Secondly, North West is a child of mixed race, lighter skin, and wealth. That alone speaks volumes about who and what we value. We can’t forget the exoticization and the hyper-celebration of biracial/multiethnic hair. To put it bluntly, while not explicitly stated, the essay’s undertone mirrors trite debates over “good hair” vs. “regular hair.” Even though some may categorize West as a person of color, we can’t lose sight of the media’s exhausting history of awarding lighter complexioned folk with emblems of beauty.
What about Blue Ivy? What makes North West’s natural hair more worthy of recognition?
The essay spends more time lauding North West’s “fashion week” style (Um, when was the last time you took your child to a New York fashion week?), Balmain blazers, and biracial coils rather than exploring the gloriousness found in all curl patterns.
Ironically the author features a quote on the importance of multiethnic hair by Anthony Dickey, a prophetic figure in the world of curls:
“Really believe your kid’s hair is much more reflective of a diverse world that we live in.”
Rather than applying this poignant quote to her natural hair analysis, we’re rhetorically pushed to a conclusion that claims North West’s multiethnic locks deserve to be credited for the boom of natural hair. Bloop.
The author’s claim is more hazardous than many are willing to admit. Quite frankly, it’s a slap in the face to Black women and children who’ll never reach this celebrated curl pattern. Vogue steers clear of acknowledging the danger in awarding a lighter complexioned child with an exclusive curl pattern the title of bona fide beauty.
Can I be honest with ya’ll? Curl patterns from multiethnic women are almost always more favored in comparison to more textured hair, meaning North West’s hair is the cream of the crop. Notice the author’s choice of words throughout the piece: “sleek” and “enviable.” In other words, non-sleek or kinky hair isn’t embraced.
What about patterns that require more than a spritz of water or curling cream? Again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t celebrate the full array of natural hair. But as seen in Vogue’s article, it’s clear Eurocentric beauty standards continue to poke holes in communities that aim to celebrate all facets of Black hair.
No, not every Black woman can achieve 4C or 3A hair. And we shouldn’t. But if we continue to allow White news outlets to hijack and redefine how we should celebrate Black hair, then everything we’ve worked and hoped for our young girls is meaningless in the dawn of only prioritizing the curl patterns of lighter complexioned biracial folk.
What message does this send to Black girls who probably spend hundreds of dollars a month to achieve this style?
What’s missing from this piece is a celebration of all curl patterns, not just one.
We are more than our curl pattern, Vogue. Black hair is complex. Black hair is beautiful. Black hair is whatever we want it to be. No, North West didn’t teach us that. We did taught ourselves.
Brittany Dawson is a regular contributor at For Harriet. She is a University of South Carolina alum and teacher who is passionate about equality, social justice, and education. You may follow her on Twitter: @BrittanyJDawson or send an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.