Another day, another social media analysis of Black hair. If you happened to miss the latest episode of “under the microscope” which saw the scrutiny of a beautiful little girl and her hair in a H&M ad (where have you been??) last month, having mulled over the main points in the last couple of weeks, Cherise Rhoden is ready to catch you up!
When it comes to courting controversy, high street clothing brand H&M has got form (remember monkey-tshirt-gate?) they were back in the spotlight recently generating more than a little side-eye among some people, with their latest campaign.
The little girl at the centre of the controversy is first of all stunning and an obvious choice for a child model, but the increasingly persistent murmurs of unease about her hairstyle gathered pace on social media following hairstylist Vernon Francois Instagram post … big time. Vernon’s repost of the picture and accompanying caption referred to her #KinkyHair and concerns for the perceived lack of attention it received in comparison to the other models in the shoot. The post highlighted a valid question within the Black community about the expectation on how (a child’s) hair should be styled for such a campaign and if the little girl’s hair texture could have been managed differently for the camera. After all, many adult Black models have shared their negative experiences over the years when it comes to hair and makeup.
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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
With opinions strong yet varied over how the little girl looked, the first phase of questions arose. Why Did H&M not make arrangements to have a Black hairstylist at the shoot to style her? Why didn’t her mother style it or refuse the shoot if her hair couldn’t be ‘done’? And so on. It became clear that that the images were eliciting uncompromising emotions, some people were outraged, and others embraced the natural-looking image of the young girl sporting her hair in a low maintenance ponytail with minimal styling.
“The online heat around this campaign image serves as a tough reminder to retailers that the community is paying attention to how we appear in the media and they ought to put real thought and resources suitable to the diversity of the people they cast.”
However, absent as it was from stretching, braids, beads, or slickness, the image of the little girl’s hair appeared to strike many as unsuitable for public consumption. Is it possible that her natural hair was maybe a little too natural for some? Many of us from the Black community obviously take pride in our children looking their Sunday best on family outings and starting the school week with a fresh style. Go to any kiddie’s party and the variety and attention to details on all the little-ones crowns is truly beautiful to see.
However, this campaign unravelled a rather unsavoury reality for some people. Is there an “acceptable” version of natural hair for our children to sport publicly? Take a scroll through some popular Instagram and Pinterest pages and you will find endless images of loosely coiled hair, perfect bunches, juicy twists, canerows and laid edges for child hairstyle inspiration.
We are in a wonderful era of celebrating natural coils but let us not forget that chemical free does not always equate to hair that can be styled in seconds with nary a touch of product. We know some plaited styles for example require a whole afternoon dedicated to cajoling a squirming little person between your knees in preparation for tomorrow’s kiddies party.
As Black hair requires time and attention, something which is limited when you are raising a young family, we are subconsciously aware that styling will vary due to interpretation, availability and most importantly, actual co-operation from the child being styled. It seems hard to believe that a little girl displaying her simple, shorter hair with shrinkage on display made far too many people uncomfortable about the connotations to wider society and forced such a hot conversation online, all because she dared to showcase her natural hair in all its realistic glory.
Little Mix’s Leighanne Pinnock was all for team natural via Instagram.
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This beautiful girl gets the opportunity to model for a massive brand and her picture is circulating all over the net because her edges were not slicked down. Social media can be so cruel, we must not forget we have a child involved who was probably over the moon that she got casted for the campaign and parents who are exposing their daughter to something amazing. Her hair is beautiful as it is and naturally styled, we need to lead by example and teach young black girls to love the hair they were born with and to understand how beautiful that is…styled, unstyled and natural. Congratulations to this angel, I cannot wait to see her beaming smile on more campaigns in the future ♥️
“Her hair is beautiful as it is and naturally styled, we need to lead by example and teach young black girls to love the hair they are born with and to understand how beautiful it is…styled, unstyled and natural.”
H&M, feeling the heat of the furore, issued a statement the following day, and it seems, on this occasion, this campaign was not the result of a lack of attention or preparation to the needs of Black hair.
“We are aware of the comments regarding one of our models for H&M Kids. We truly believe that all kids should be allowed to be kids. The school-aged kids who model for us come to the photo studio in the afternoon after school and we aim for a natural look which reflects that.”
The online heat around this campaign image serves as a tough reminder to retailers that the community is paying attention to how we appear in the media and they ought to put real thought and resources suitable to the diversity of the people they cast. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, having adequate representation in the decision-making rooms would go some way to avoiding gaffes like monkey-tshirt-gate.
This whole issue served as a reminder that our children’s hair comes in many different forms, all of which are beautiful and should be visible in the mainstream. Yes, there have been too many instances in the media where styling Black hair has been an afterthought hence disappointment from some quarters when our hair is not catered to. But that’s not what this campaign image was about. There is a difference between the two.
We have a duty to reinforce positive body (and hair) image in our children. Shrinkage and a struggle-pony is our reality. It’s about time we embraced the wide-ranging versatility and difference within Black hair.
So now we have brought you up to speed (phew!) what were your thoughts on the situation? Share your view in the comment section below…