H&M Responds to Controversy Over Ad Of Black Girl With 'Undone' Hair
|thenorthstar||Sep 23, 2019|
H&M is facing controversy after releasing a campaign that featured a little girl wearing her natural hair. Detractors took the retail company to task over the young Black girl’s “undone” hairstyle.
Celebrity hairstylist Vernon François brought the issue to the attention of his more than 105,000 followers on Instagram on September 20. In the post, he shared a photo of the young H&M model, sporting her natural hair pulled into an undone ponytail. The girl’s 4c hair and edges are uncombed, Essence noted.
“Before I begin, I do not have the facts, nor have I seen any statement by H&M or the team who worked on this,” the celebrity stylist wrote. “This is just an assessment based on all my years of seeing situations like this happen time and time again. And its got to stop.”
François said it was “essential” to have a conversation about the photograph from the H&M Kids campaign.
“This beautiful young girl’s #kinky hair appears to have had very little to no attention yet all of her counterparts have clearly sat in front of someone who was more [than] capable of styling other textures,” he continued. “My heart breaks imagining yet another girl from my community sitting in front of a mirror being ignored by the team around her, left to her own devices because someone didn’t know how to handle her texture.”
François also noted the problem with H&M’s process because the photos were published after being seen and approved by “countless ‘professionals.’” He added, “It’s breathtaking to me that not one person looked at this shot and had the same reaction that the internet seems to be feeling since the campaign broke. THAT IS AN ISSUE. We must do better. Our girls, our young women deserve better.”
The UK-based stylist’s post generated more than 22,000 likes and nearly 2,000 comments.
“Well said and it breaks my heart and takes me back to painful memories of when I was first starting in this business and makeup and hair not knowing what to do with me. Not to mention it’s still happening!” actor Sydelle Noel commented.
British actor Cynthia Erivo added: “It just has to stop, responsibility should be taken and education must be had.”
Not everyone agreed with François’ take. He shared a message from someone who said they understood the criticism but wondered “beneath that criticism is there a knee-jerk reaction to reject natural Black baby hairs?”
“Her hair, in the state it was photographed, is beautiful,” the message continued. “I’ve been natural way before it was cool, and your criticism cuts deeply. Our beauty, and by our, I mean women, girls, and Black females, is not dependent on expensive products and glam squads. We are beautiful [because] we are. And yes, I know this is a million dollar campaign ad, but it’s also an impactful statement about true beauty."
H&M responded to the controversy in a statement to The North Star.
“We are aware of the comments regarding one of our models for H&M Kids. We truly believe that all kids should be allowed to be kids. The school aged kids who model for us come to the photo studio in the afternoon after school and we aim for a natural look which reflects that,” an H&M spokesperson said in an email.
H&M’s Head of Inclusion & Diversity, Ezinne Kwubiri, also responded to the controversy on her personal Instagram account with a post saying #LetsTalk, Essence reported. She posted a side-by-side comparison of the H&M model with one of her own childhood.
“A few points to make… I am both of these girls,” Kwubiri wrote. “In my hair’s most natural state, I look just like this. If I weren’t so fearful of society’s response, I would embrace and celebrate my hair the way it grows out of my scalp. The child models (there were several) used in this photoshoot embraced their natural, every day, carefree looks. Like everyday children always do.”
Kwubiri noted that the young model is likely still exploring her “self-identity and her perception of beauty, and how those things might connect to her hair texture, skin tone, lips, brows, etc.” She acknowledged that the presence of hair stylists that can work on a diverse pool of models with different hair textures is “sorely lacking.”
H&M faced similar backlash in 2018 after running a controversial ad with a little Black boy wearing a sweatshirt that read “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.” The retail company removed the ad, discontinued the sale of the shirt, and released an apology.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.