Black Hair: The Unnecessary Rubics Cube of the Fashion Industry
Black entertainers sounded off on Twitter Tuesday after Teen Vogue published an article about model, Olivia Anakwe’s experience of the incompetent hairstylists at fashion shows who cannot (or refuse) to do afro hair. Black actors and actresses shared their experiences, which were much of the same. Even in the multi-billion dollar business of fashion and entertainment, Black hair, identity, and culture continues to be an unnecessary battleground. Yet, the battle is not just about hair, hair training, or professionalism; it is indicative of a multifaceted issue where Black people have to engage in the emotional, financial, and physical labor to make spaces comfortable for themselves.
Black models and actors not having their hair needs met on set or on the runway may not come to a surprise to those of us who’ve experienced the blank look and intimidated grimace of a hairstylist; the one who is supposed to be and should know how to do your hair. Some of you might have phrases already prepared when seeing a new hairstylist: “Do you know how to work with my kind of hair? Do you have training with Black hairstyles?” Some might not even bother with someone new and rather create a bond with a Black hairstylist, who they hope lives forever, never moves, and never changes careers. However we choose to navigate, the message is clear: It doesn’t matter if you’re famous or not. Afro hair just isn’t given the same attention and care.
In order to have a hairstylist who understands afro hair, you need to have someone who is taught how to take care of it... As Anakwe explained, some hairstylists have “experience”, which means they have done afro hair a few times, so models are supposed to trust this person to not damage or ruin their hair. Not ideal. Many models and entertainers are forced to find and fund their own hair care needs. From cosmetology school to the backstage green rooms, something is missing. Black hair and bodies continue to be this mystery to never be solved, or worse, considered something to be afraid of. When this happens, it is not only about professionalism but also common decency.
And while there is a severe need for more information and training about afro hair when educating hairstylists, there is still obvious questions that need answers: Where are the black hairstylists? How can room be made for more Black hairstylists in the industry? What doors need to be (busted) opened so that Black hairstylists can thrive? Everytime we share, repost, and support local artists in these roles, who do their job without a biased lens, we can be a part of the solution. But this conversation of diversity, respect for Black professionals, and the emotional energy spent to make room for our holistic selves is far from over.