There’s a reason why black women are averse to having their hair touched without permission, whether that’s in the form of unsolicited hair-grabbing from willingly obtuse white people or, in the case of Lupita Nyong’o, whereby hair-touching amounted to Grazia magazine Photoshopping the kinks out of her hair on their latest cover.
Having seen the image, in which the actress appears to have a smoothed, cropped hairdo, Nyong’o took to social media to point out the differences between her hair in the original, undoctored photographs from the Grazia cover shoot and the final product – they had cut out her afro puff and straightened the texture of her hair.
More optimistic people may have thought that, less than a month after ES Magazine was rightfully blasted for cropping out Solange Knowles’s braid halo in the cover for a feature that’s almost exclusively dedicated to Solange’s relationship with afro hair and braiding, magazines like Grazia would get it by now. But it has been clear that whitewashing or flat-out failing to engage with coarse afro hair, unless it serves as a gimmick on non-black women, has been big business in the fashion industry and beyond for a while.
Ballerina and Miss Black USA Daphne Lee Martin highlighted the importance of wearing her hair at work “without having to make any physical changes to it” in a recent interview with attn:, which points out that black women are twice as likely (though I’d argue it’s more than that) as white women “to feel pressured to straighten their hair for the workplace”.
In a society that values whiteness above almost everything, having to put up with the erasure of our defining characteristics is incredibly disappointing
If you’re still failing to understand why that pressure exists, consider why it is that stories of black school children having their hair cut or being criticised for being “untidy” roll out across the globe every few months. Consider why it is that black women are seen as more radical for allowing their hair to grow from their scalps. At the very least, think about how exhausting it is that admissions of our haircare practices almost always turn into teaching moments for non-black people – whether or not we have the energy to engage.
As Nyong’o said of her cover photo on Facebook: “Being featured on the cover of a magazine [...] is an opportunity to show other dark, kinky-haired people, and particularly our children, that they are beautiful just the way they are.”
By way of existing in a society that values whiteness above almost everything, having to put up with the erasure of our defining characteristics in order to appease those who do not see beauty in anything other than European standards, especially when said appeasement serves a publication that claims to champion women – all women – is incredibly disappointing. Especially when the mere presence of women like Nyong’o affirms the beauty of black girls who have the media, teachers or employers trying to convince them that they’re anything but.
Grazia has since issued the following statement with regards to the cover image in question: