I almost couldn’t get through Vogue.com’s latest offense of “How North West’s Curly Styles Are Inspiring a Generation of Natural Hair Girls” without getting fidgety in my seat and hyper in emotions. I wanted to hop on the MTA to Lower Manhattan and rush to the outside of Conde Nast’s offices and scream “Stop It.” And don’t worry. I’m not about to attack the utter adorable-ness that is Kimye’s baby girl. Matter of fact, I find North West to be quite precious. That face! Yes, she is cute. But this is not about her necessarily. This is about how ONCE AGAIN a White-led, renowned and long-standing media publication has ignored the contributions or attributes of black people, people of color and African-Americans and willingly credit an influential style or tip to someone either not Black or “less comfortably so” in their eyes. Didn’t we just go through this like three weeks ago?
So for their June 15 piece, aka how not to report about cultural trends, was written by Marjon Carlos and the first paragraph is enough to make you say “Get a grip.”
When Riccardo Tisci sent models with intricately gelled coils on their hairlines down his fall 2015 Givenchy runway, the awe these baby hairs inspired in the fashion world was rivaled by another very famous set of curls: the scraped-back and artfully sculpted tendrils of mini It girl North West, who turns two today.
Well, damn. I didn’t even know you could be an It girl at two years of age. (Okay. When Madonna gave birth to Lourdes in 1996, her first-born was totally “It”, but I’ll like to believe that journalism back then would not have actually said that).
But don’t you love how Carlos acts as if it was the second coming of Jesus watching those Givenchy models rock baby hairs? I just imagine bugged-out eyeballs, a knee slap reaction and commentary like: “Did you see those baby hairs!” Um, did you also see them in 1990? Or better yet, any video from the Radio and Salt with a Deadly Pepa days of LL Cool J and Salt-N-Pepa? Even Chilli from TLC and her baby hairs are legendary in R&B circles! (Honestly, baby hairs never went out of style for women of color).
And then the kicker from that same bit: “these baby hairs…[only] rivaled by another famous set of curls…the…artfully sculpted tendrils of mini It girl North…” blah blah blah. Gosh, the piece quickly and weirdly translated as a one-woman fan club for a celebrity child. On what standard is West’s hair groundbreaking as a toddler? Because of who her parents are? West’s hair doesn’t look or is styled any less different from other Black, Latina and biracial girls in America. I mean, jokes completely to the left, where has this writer been that West’s hairstyles are changing the face of kiddie fashion? C’mon Vogue!
By the third paragraph (after I got through sentences like: “I’ve been charmed by the sleek styles that Kim and Kanye’s offspring has sported as she sits front row at Fashion Week on her mother’s lap, arriving to ballet class in custom Balmain blazers, or globetrotting to far-flung locales on family trips.” Vogue’s wordplay is so Madison Avenue rigid, you feel like reminding yourself that real life still exists over at K-Mart), Carlos discloses that the article was partially inspired by her own niece Isabel who is also biracial and has wavy hair.
Whether a top bun or a comb-over, North’s pint-sized hair styles compliment her fashion-forward play clothes, while remaining refreshingly easy and age-appropriate. They’ve established little Nori as a kind of hair icon for a nascent and diverse generation of tots rocking their natural curls with unprecedented flair—among them, my two-year-old niece, Isabel.
Once Isabel was included, I began to ease up a bit on Carlos because another child was brought into the equation, and I wanted to thread with sensitivity (though there was none at all for how long Black girls have also worn textured topknots too).
Along the way, I still found the article sad and disrespectful. Was Carlos writing this piece for White people? What if North West had been born years later? Or (*shock*) was born with a darker skin tone? An article like this, despite the bevy of other celebrity children of prominent Black and Latino stars, likely would not have been considered worthy of a place in VOGUE before. And there wasn’t a piece like this when Beyoncé and Jay Z‘s baby girl Blue Ivy Carter was bullied for having her Afro effortlessly free. Beyoncé is a two-time VOGUE cover girl too. No Beygency within the Anna Wintour-led army in there? I guess they chose to stay out of it when even Black people themselves were doing most of the ridiculing of Blue online. But there’s no time to criticize West’s loose curl pattern however. Again, we are witnessing the traditional texture of Black hair left to satire and not as upheld as culturally significant.
Reading on, I was further pushed to furrow my nose when Carlos explained how she began consulting her Russian-Jewish sister-in-law on “styling [Isabel’s] little corkscrews, passing along a long familial tradition of black hair care that emphasizes detangling and moisture.” Duh to the connection of West to her niece Isabel, but why didn’t she feel compelled to explain in the past how Blue’s hair was just as “revolutionary” and maybe even more than West’s considering her uber-famous mom is known for her honey-blonde, down the back weaves, wigs and locks? Her daughter wears her natural, loud and bountifully kinky which is a beautiful message to Black families everywhere and young sista’s self-esteem. What about Blue?
When my sister-in-law doubted her ability to skillfully do her daughter’s hair on a daily basis, I offered encouragement: as I wrote here before, she is not alone in wanting to bring out the natural beauty of her mixed-race child.
Now, a lot of the comments went in on Carlos and her article. VOGUE.com readers did not hold back on their disappointment of misplaced hair-do credentials.
In her piece, Carlos linked back to her November 2014 support of Team Natural: Why Halle Berry’s Lawsuit over Her Daughter’s Hair Matters and it’s evident that she likes to talk about hair and attempts to bring a multi-cultural angle to the mainly White women readership of Vogue. Hitherto, the whole approach of her latest insight, and the packaging of it (the title: ugh) was wrong. It undermined Carlos’ intention to encourage other parents of biracial children, and even Black children, to not rush for chemicals and to learn together how to treat our children’s hair. Under the harsh editing and agenda of VOGUE, West became an icon of a style that is not all new.
And hello! Has Carlos not seen Christina Milian‘s 5-year-old daughter Violet‘s hair-do’s! That’s another stylish kid, who’s also Afro-Latina.
The piece unintentionally, but undeniably, gave black girls that have worn similar styles, since forever, the “nobody cares when you do it” shoo-away. And for the record Carlos and Vogue.com, that hidden determination translated as extremely hurtful. The black fluffy hair, twisted and wrapped at the end with plastic baubles or the bundles of braids garnished with colorful beads, I wore the former and saw the latter as a little Black girl myself all the time. A trend or beauty history piece on these staples of Black hair history would’ve been just great to read in 1993 as well as in 2015.
What could have been a super cute article about North West as the new kiddie representative of U.S.’s increasingly multicultural and multiracial population was condescending to the one community that will have West’s back when she is reminded that she is Black in America: Black women and women of color.