Recently, the Internet was in an uproar when a photo of Black model Zuri Tibby on Victoria’s Secret website went viral. The reason? The model’s unkempt hair, which looked like it had barely been combed or brushed, let alone styled by a professional.
Washington, DC-based hairstylist Serena Hampton was just as shocked as the rest of us. “I’m puzzled that a company as large as Victoria’s Secret would publish an image that looked as unrefined as this one did,” said Hampton. “This showcases a much deeper issue in the industry and that’s one of disregard for Black models. The industry consistently sends the message of devalue amongst Black models, actors and entertainers.”
However, this incident wasn’t the first time that a Black model has been photographed with an unruly style and it was clear that someone who wasn’t familiar or trained in styling Black hair had unfortunately wronged another Black model. Earlier this year, model Ebonee Davis addressed racism in the fashion industry in both an open letter and a moving TED Talk. Davis discussed how models of color are often forced to work with hair stylists who aren’t trained in handling multiple hair textures. She also complained about makeup artists who aren’t able to match foundation to darker skin tones. Davis isn’t the only model to complain about the lack of diverse hair stylists on set.
In a recent interview with Into The Gloss, model Duckie Thot revealed that stylists didn’t know how to style her hair when she started in modeling. Thot said, “I’m going to be 100% real—a lot of people don’t know what to do with Black hair. I remember when I’d just started modeling, I went [on jobs] with my natural hair and they just looked at me.” Even actress Gabrielle Union revealed her “hair problems” when she started in Hollywood in an essay she penned for Glamour earlier this year. Union said, “I realized very quickly that there were many people in hair and makeup trailers who were totally unqualified to do my hair.” Union continued, “I was like a guinea pig on set, and I didn’t yet have enough power to request a stylist who I actually wanted to touch my hair. It got to the point that I would pay to have my hair done before I got to work and pray they didn’t screw it up.”
Last summer, there was also that incident when Black model Malyia McNaughton appeared on the Today show for a natural hair segment, and South Asian on-air beauty expert Deepica Mutyala styled McNaughton’s hair into a style that went terribly wrong. Mutyala later issued an apology for the natural hair fail.
“I think the misconception that people have is that ethnic hair is difficult to manage,” said Hampton, who’s been styling hair for 13 years. “Hair is hair. You have different textures of hair. Some require more time but if you’re a real professional, you have been educated and know that in order to achieve a certain look, you have to use different tools and products. If you’re dealing with fine hair, you’re not going to use the same tools you would on curly hair.”
So how exactly does a lack of experience with ethnic/textured hair become so commonplace? “I think it has to do with accessibility,” explained Hampton. “Models and actresses are usually on the go. Most of the time, Black models are using a stylist provided by an agency, and it’s usually a lack of concern for the agencies. Unless you have a stylist that travels with you, it’s hard to have someone that can do your hair as you travel all over the world for work. This is why many resort to wigs, extensions or braids. Many also wear their hair short and natural. This is for convenience and to safeguard against any hair nightmares.”
Davis, who mentioned the “burning and ripping out of hair” in her open letter, gave this piece of advice to makeup artists and hair stylists: “Rebuild your repertoire of techniques.” While we certainly agree with Davis’ advice, we believe there is a bigger need backstage, at photo shoots and on TV and movie sets. There is a need for more Black stylists, or at least stylists who are familiar with and can properly style ethnic hair.
“I think they need to be mindful to hire someone that has range in dealing with different hair types, and recognize that not one stylist fits all,” said Hampton. “I‘m experienced with working with all hair types, so for me it’s natural to know how to style various hair types. I’ve worked behind the scenes for networks, fashion shows and photo shoots and there is always a shortage of Black stylists. There are several reasons for this. One is because Black stylists usually don’t get the same opportunities as white stylists. Another is the industry is cliquey. In order to get these opportunities to style in the industry, you usually have to know someone.”
While A-list Black celebrities have their personal hair stylists at their beck and call, the average Black model or actress has to simply work with whoever was hired for the job. If that hair stylist isn’t Black, that doesn’t mean she or he isn’t familiar or trained with styling textured hair, but the bookers or whoever are responsible for hiring the makeup and hair team should ensure that they are properly trained beforehand. The other option, which we fully stand behind, is hiring Black stylists to style Black talent.
This isn’t about being exclusive; it’s simply about preventing the “burning and ripping” of hair and not making Black models and actresses feel like they have to resort to wearing weaves and wigs so their hair is easier to deal with when they’re booked for a job. It’s imperative to prevent future Black hair fails like those we’ve recently seen.