At Sunday’s Oscars ceremony, Zendaya arrived on the red carpet looking fabulous in an ivory Vivienne Westwood gown and a new hairstyle: gorgeous, thick, flowing locs. While most fans and admirers were praising the singer and actress for red carpet look and new ‘do, the Fashion Police had a different opinion.
“I feel like she smells like patchouli oil . . . ,” Fashion Police host Giuliana Rancic said, sparking laughter from the studio audience.
“Or weed,” added an off-camera voice (suggested by many to be co-host Kathy Griffin), to which Rancic responded, “Yeah, maybe weed.”
I don’t need to explain in length why this in fact is racial, whether the Fashion Police meant for it to be or not. 18-year-old Zendaya has already spoken for herself by releasing a statement on Instagram, in which she expressed her pride in wearing locs, something that she has in common with loved ones and many prominent black Americans. She said that she wore locs on the red carpet because black hairstyles receive too much criticism, and “to remind people of color that our hair is good enough.”
I don’t think that the Fashion Police hosts are out to get black women — racism isn’t always that simple. Sometimes, people mess up and words just come out the wrong way. But if we put intentions aside, it’s still racism. Invalidating how black women look is about as old as colonialism, and it happens on an institutional level as well. The U.S. military once had restrictions on certain hairstyles that are typically worn by black women. Last year, a meteorologist for a TV station in Shreveport, Louisiana was fired for defending her natural hair. In 2013, a 12-year-old in Orlando, Florida was threatened with expulsion after refusing to cut her natural hair, which the school considered a distraction.
What was a harmless joke to Rancic and Griffin is a constant reminder to black women of how our hair is perceived. It is a reminder that the way our hair comes out of our head, as determined by our DNA, is neither pretty nor professional. It makes us unfit for military service, an education, and careers in our chosen fields.
Rancic seems to understand how harmful it is to perpetuate negative views about black hair. She said in her on-air apology:
“I just want everyone to know that I didn’t intend to hurt anybody, but I learned it’s not my intent that matters. It’s the result. And the result is people are offended, including Zendaya. And that is not okay.
Therefore, I want to say to Zendaya, and anyone else out there that I hurt, that I’m so sincerely sorry. This really has been a learning experience for me. I learned a lot today and this incident has taught me to be a lot more aware of clichés and stereotypes, how much damage they can do. And that I am responsible, as we all are, to not perpetuate them further. Thank you for listening.”
It’s funny how I don’t remember anyone guessing what Kylie Jenner smelled like when she was wearing locs just several weeks ago. And this is what bothers me the most. Not only are things that black women do for beauty inherently wrong, but people seem to think that these looks are better on white people. There are several examples of this, for instance:
Kylie Jenner’s lips have been one of the most talked about topics in celebrity beauty over the past several months. The beauty community continues to be fascinated with emulating the look. Kylie Jenner lip tutorials seem to be everywhere, and she’s not the only celeb who’s into the overdrawn lip.
When CTV’s The Social posted this tweet about Jenner´s lips on January 9, Black Twitter was swift to call them out on their offensive use of the phrase “beauty trend.” Some sarcastically expressed how a common facial feature for millions of people can be "trendy," while others voiced their frustration at the fact that it is only so because of a white woman. Black men and women used the hashtag #TwitpicYourTrendyLips to post selfies of their suddenly in vogue lips that they’ve had since birth.
People of all shades have always worn red lipstick, but some seem to think that it doesn’t suit dark women. In 2013, rapper/amateur cosmetologist A$AP Rocky decided to bestow his beauty wisdom on dark skinned black women, and said that we shouldn’t wear red lipstick, saying, “You have to be fair skinned to get away with that.” The rapper perpetuated the idea that while the beauty possibilities for fair skinned women are endless, there are limitations on what a dark skinned woman can do to be beautiful.
Since A$AP Rocky’s comments, and to this day, women with darker hues have been proving him wrong by showing off their crimson pouts with the hashtag #DarkSkinRedLip.
Last spring, Marie Claire was blasted by Black Twitter for saying that Kendall Jenner took “bold braids to an epic new level.” Her braids were neither bold nor epic, and there is nothing “new” about a hairstyle that black people have worn for ages. “Cornrows,” according to hairstylist Jon Reyman, "are moving away from urban, hip-hop to more chic and edgy.”
In other words, in the past, cornrows were so inner-city, but now white people have polished them up and made them acceptable. Once again, this style so many black people have been doing for centuries is now a “trend," thanks to white celebrities like Cara Delevingne and Rita Ora.
We know now that “we’re officially in the era of the big booty,” thanks to an article that was posted to Vogue.com in September. As Patricia Garcia wrote, “For years . . . a large butt was not something one aspired to, rather something one tried to tame in countless exercise classes.” According to Garcia, Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez are responsible for making having a big butt the standard of beauty.
The Vogue.com piece received widespread criticism for ignoring the significance of curvy behinds in the black community. It is true that booties are more accepted in the mainstream now than ever before. Again, they’re acceptable because they’re on famous white people.
Gelled Down Baby Hairs
This look goes back as far as the 70s and was a favorite of Latoya Jackson. In the 90s and early 2000s, hip-hop artists like Omarion, Chilli from TLC, and pretty much every Black and Latino kid at my middle school rocked this look. Today, white people such as Katy Perry are taking baby hairs from “urban” to high-fashion.
I have focused on black people here because Zendaya is black, but there are several examples of appropriation of beauty “trends” by white people from other POC.
Things that make people of color beautiful, whether they are genetic or cultural, already have inherent value within our communities — approval, or disapproval, by white people is not needed.