THE BLOG

Grazia Removing Lupita Nyong'o's Hair Is Not Just Dumb, It's Dangerous

11/11/2017 15:47 GMT | Updated 11/11/2017 15:48 GMT
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

It was when an unusual number of Twitter notifications were pinging on my phone that I realised something of interest was definitely trending - but I was still shocked when I saw what the news was.

What on earth possessed Grazia magazine to airbrush out Lupita's afro puff, when the Hollywood actress is well-known for embracing her natural hair? And just weeks after the Evening Standard had to apologise for photoshopping out Solange Knowles' braids?

Come on! It's 2017, when we're all supposed to be enlightened, inclusive and understand the power and beauty of diversity.

Grazia's blunder is ridiculous to say the very least and a small part of me thinks it might even be a publicity stunt. What else could be their justification for thinking it's okay to edit out such an important part of Lupita's identity?

Even though some strides have been made in the media, fashion and beauty industries of late to be more inclusive of other beauty narratives and to embrace diversity, there is still a very long way to go. But this latest dumb stunt (what else can you call it?) by Grazia has taken us many steps backward. And this is dangerous.

Dangerous because it reminds me of the young children, some as young as three, pleading with their mothers to straighten their hair. Of young girls hating their hair so much that they grow up to become women who think that afro hair is a curse.

Dangerous because it reminds me of my younger self and all the intense pain I felt I had to endure to get my already beautiful hair "beautiful" - or rather, to get my hair straight because the only reference I had for "beautiful" hair was straight hair.

Dangerous because many black women's (and girl's) hair doesn't actually look beautiful when straight as it is damaged (we all know straightening hair damages it, right?) and with time, it thins and breaks. The earlier you start to straighten, the earlier the thinning and breakage starts - to the extent, there are now women in their late 20s and early 30s with permanent bald patches.

Dangerous because now these women have to rely on fake hair for the rest of their lives to hide the damage.

Dangerous because after many, many decades of afro hair being discriminated against and maligned, the social stigma around natural hair is still very much alive, with many young children being penalised or punished for having their natural hair style in school, and many employees being made to feel they have to change their hair texture to be and/or remain employed.

How is it acceptable for black girls to wear fake European weaves to school and not their own hair? Oh and remember the three-year-old girls I mentioned earlier? Well, the idea of self-love and acceptance when it comes to their hair is not being addressed, so they grow up to be women who cannot stand to have their natural locks and feel uncomfortable and ugly with it. I remember a friend of mine telling me how she looks great "even" with her natural hair because she has lost some weight.

If we are going to inspire women to be seen as equal in society, we cannot do that without addressing the issue of accepting themselves for who they are and how they look. If we are going to encourage women to take their place in society, we have to empower them to love themselves unconditionally, because it is these conditions of beauty and acceptance that drive women to do things that are damaging both to their physical and mental health. If we are going to progress as a society, we have to promote and embrace diversity with all its ramifications.

With Project Embrace, I hope to drive home the reality that there is more than one way to be beautiful and have beautiful hair, that it is okay to be your own kind of beautiful.

Black beauty - especially dark skin and afro hair - is still not reflected in the media as equally beautiful and acceptable. You still can't find a shampoo advert featuring afro hair or a Disney princess with afro hair.

Black models and actresses still complain about the lack of skill in dealing with their hair and makeup. Part of the problem is the lack of black talent behind the scenes.

I hope we can start to change all of this with the next Project Embrace Afrovisibility billboard campaign and the various events we're organising, the next of which is our panel discussion, Afrovisibility: Being Black & Creative.

As Grazia's shocking treatment of Lupita has shown, it looks like we still have our work cut out. However, with everyone's support we are hopeful - really, really hopeful - that all of society will embrace the beauty of afro hair - even Grazia.