A new H&M ad campaign sparked a lot of outrage and dialogue all due to a misunderstanding…or was it? A photo was shared on social media of a little Black girl with her hair in a messy ponytail. To me, she looked like a child who didn’t have a care in the world after playing all day. This photo had people calling on yet another “boycott” of the clothing retailer because women, mostly Black woman, couldn’t believe they’d photograph this beautiful child with her hair “unkempt.” Most of these people didn’t care to look further to find that the photo was part of a larger campaign of children sporting their after school looks, mainly in response to the trendy photos of parents posting before and after looks of their children.
H&M intended on presenting a diverse group of children in a similar fashion, however, it didn’t go over so well. This is sadly because many people immediately got offended because they felt this child was done wrong because of how her hair looked to them. She has a tighter curl pattern (referred to as 4c) and less length than the other models, and people felt that her messy hair wasn’t on par with the others.
What bothered me most about this is the message it sends to this beautiful child, and anyone else with her hair type and length. To me, this tells them that their hair, as it grows from their heads is wrong in it’s natural state if it happens to fall out of place. It says that their natural look is less beautiful than children who have longer hair with looser curl patterns. Because, why is her messy ponytail something to be upset over when the others aren’t? People argued that her hair could have been brushed or gelled up a little more, but no one had their hair smoothed over in the campaign, because, well, that was the point.
I totally understand that there is and always has been an issue with the way people of color are represented in the media and in society overall. If that little girl had been the only one in the ad with messy hair, then, I’d totally understand the outrage. This isn’t what I see here though. I see a bunch of people who consciously or self consciously see something wrong with the way that hair texture looks in comparison to others. While most will quickly say it’s not about her hair texture, but about her hair being improperly styled or cared for, it’s hard to deny the fact that they are the ones who see issue with her hair in this state, especially after finding out the direction of the campaign.
As someone who has a similar hair texture, I can’t support the opposition to this ad. I grew up hating my hair, became an adult and still hated my natural hair. It wasn’t until I became a parent and called my hair ugly out loud, and my then two year old repeated, that I learned to embrace my hair as it comes from my scalp. I felt horrible when she, in her little voice, said “My hair is uggy.” I knew then, that in order to teach her to love herself, and love her own hair, I needed to lead by positive example. My daughter has a head full of thick, beautiful hair and I always encourage her to embrace her natural coils.
This will likely blow over in a day or so, and people will be on to the next hot topic. But for me, this situation sparked a very important dialogue about how Black women view some types of ethnic hair, and how at times, we can be our own worse critic. I hope the little girl in the ad knows that she and her hair are just as beautiful as all the others, and that she never has to read the hurtful things that were said about her hair. We can’t teach our little girls to love their hair if we hate it.