Women of color with natural hair are making strides in all walks of life, most recently in the modeling world. There is a new, refreshing crop of models who are boldly embracing their natural coils according to a recent article by Vogue Italia. This is a major milestone for natural hair women everywhere. A few models like Alek Wek and Noemie Lenior withstanding, rarely have we seen beautiful natural-haired black models on the runway, who really look like us and rock their textured coifs with regal pride.
In fact, the black model chronicles are regrettably filled with stories about the aimless handling of one’s hair. Left in the hands of hairstylists who are ill-equipped for caring and handling natural hair, black fashion pioneers have recounted tales of their coils and strands being “stretched to their breaking, frayed ends; scalps carelessly permed, harshly scorched, battered with color, and left to be restored by weaves, wigs, and the shearing of frazzled locks.”
Vogue Italia recounts that few models have been empowered to speak out about the mishandling of black hair. We assume this is perhaps due to the fact that black models are a rarity on the catwalk. Why complain when in essence we should be happy to be featured at all?
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“These haunting experiences are rarely talked about among the fashion world and often concealed in frustrated Facebook statuses, or tweets, or woeful interview admissions from present-day Black fashion favorites Chanel Iman and Jourdan Dunn, messages that acknowledge a problem, but rarely hold few responsible. This while Black model veterans Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks have fought the effects of alopecia publicly, Banks raised significant awareness to the damaging toll modeling has caused to her hair by going completely natural in 2010, even urging Larry King to feel her restored scalp in an on-camera 2009 interview.”
Such horror stories are all the more reason why a rise in natural hair models is to be applauded. It is becoming more prevalent and welcome for black models to rock textured ‘fros and hopefully avoid the mishandling of their hair with careless tactics aimed at altering its original texture. As Vogue Italiawriter Marjon Carlos muses, “It is uplifting and inspiring than to see the newest group of Black models storming the catwalks in full embrace of their natural hairstyles, from cropped Afros, flat tops, too buzzed scalps–and in turn, being embraced by the industry that has typically approached black hair with skepticism and harsh critique.”
To those models, we say thank you for not being afraid to be who are and to embrace all parts of you, even your hair, when the world that you work in does not normally encourage such things. You inspire us. And to the designers, who allow these women to shine in their natural beauty, we extend kudos to you as well.
These images on the catwalk have reverberated from blogs, editorials, and even red carpets in Hollywood (where Viola Davis proudly displayed her TWA) where natural hair is lauded and celebrated. Only time will tell if this trend will span from the catwalk to ads, movies, and the like, but the runway is a valiant start.