Allure, You Tried It
Oh sweet, sweet Allure. How did you manage to royally screw this one up? Have you not been paying attention? Did you think you would be spared from criticism by all the women who are no longer willing to let cultural appropriation slide?
Within the pages of Allure’s August 2015 issue, White women are instructed on how to rock the perfect afro. In a short piece titled, “You (Yes, You) Can Have An Afro,” a beautiful White woman is pictured wearing what their editors have deemed as an afro. But honestly, it looks closer to a twist-out. The look was one of five that celebrity hairstylist Chris McMillan gave five Hollywood actresses. The magazine wanted to give the women makeovers with ‘dos that were popular in the ’70s. The article states that this look is achievable, “even if you have straight hair.”
What’s interesting is that when this style gained a great deal of popularity, it was due to African-American women deeply entrenched in the Black Power Movement wearing it. Then and now, the afro was nowhere near the beloved pillar of beauty standards. Still, many women, then and now, abandoned their flat irons, hot combs and chemicals to rock their beautiful hair in its natural state.
Allure, not only did you miss an opportunity to open a doorway to a discussion of perhaps showing the difference between “appreciation” and “appropriation,” you have continued to operate within a sense of privilege that allows you to believe that this style represents nothing more than creativity. It’s just hair, right? You wish.
For decades, we have been bombarded with standards of beauty that are not our own. Encouraged to try styles and looks that are difficult for us to achieve. Made to straighten our hair in the workplace so as not to appear unpolished. Ordered to change our hair even when we are serving our country in the military. When we do wear our hair in its natural state, we aren’t labeled as creative. Instead, we are labeled unkempt and unfit for any corporate office or formal function. Our hair is even compared to the mane of a dog. But when a White woman pulls out an afro, yet again, it’s a “limitless” individual expression of style. That’s what Allure had to say when responding to backlash about the how-to article:
“The Afro has a rich cultural and aesthetic history. In this story we show women using different hairstyle as an individual expressions of style. Using beauty and hair as a form of self-expression is a mirror of what’s happening in our country today. The creativity is limitless – and pretty wonderful.”
Hair is definitely a tool we employ to display our “individual expressions of style.” But if a White woman with an afro and a Black woman with an afro enter the same place for a job interview, the two are instantly received differently. There may be initial intrigue and curiosity when it comes to both looks; but while the White woman will be labeled as “quirky,” the Black woman will undoubtedly be labeled as “militant.”
Owning our hair as a tool for expression isn’t easy for women of color. When you’re taught to believe that straight hair is all you should desire as if there is a Bible verse proclaiming so, reclaiming our hair in its naturally coily and kinky state is hard. It is shedding a layer of oppression that many people will never understand. And yet, beauty publications continue to snatch the looks we have struggled for many years to embrace while leaving us out of discussions or odes to them.
Well, we aren’t going to sit around and be ignored when we have in too many instances contributed to or created the new beauty standards. Whether it be the love for curves, a rounder butt, plump lips and yes, an afro (as in AFRO-American), a Black model isn’t very hard to find and should be included in the discussion and appreciation of such looks.
Come on Allure, get your head out of the clouds and pay attention. And that goes for other mainstream beauty and fashion publications. Black women are tired of being told that the styles and looks we help bring to the forefront are unacceptable on us, but acceptable and “pretty wonderful” on everyone else.