When H&M featured a black child model as one of several models shown with purposefully messy hair in an after-school-inspired photoshoot, it led to heightened criticism of the company as culturally unaware.
“This beautiful young girl’s #kinky hair appears to have had very little to no attention,” celebrity hairstylist Vernon Francois said in an Instagram post Friday, “yet all of her counterparts have clearly sat in front of someone who was more then capable of styling other hair textures.
“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.”
Francois went on to say “our girls, our young women deserve better.”
“Let this be a moment of learning,” he said.
The post was liked more than 20,000 times, and the sentiments in it were shared even more widely in the black social media community.
The criticism comes more than a year after H&M issued a public apology for featuring a black child in a “coolest monkey in the jungle” sweatshirt.
“This image has now been removed from all H&M channels and we apologize to anyone this may have offended,” H&M spokeswoman Anna Eriksson said in January of 2018.
But the company was clear in a statement released Friday to several media outlets that the recent photo work would not trigger the same reaction.
“We are aware of the comments regarding one of our models for H&M Kids,” the company said in the statement. “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.”
Ezinne Kwubiri, a Howard University alumna and H&M’s head of diversity and inclusion, had this to say in an Instagram post the same day:
“#LetsTalk I’m the one on the left. The image on the right has sparked so much dialogue in the past several hours. Talking points that are centuries old and have been hashed and re-hashed at kitchen sinks, beauty shops, and front porches. A few points to make… I am both of these girls. 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.
This young lady 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. I certainly was at her age. It’s important to keep this in mind when having these “internet” conversations as words are very powerful. They can uplift, and they can hurt. She should be afforded the same carefree joy and vulnerability as the other kid models. The adult brown skin girl that is me, wishes one day to have the same.
Also, the presence of hair stylists on a wide variety of sets with the ability to work with a diverse pool of models with different hair textures is sorely lacking. I stand with these hair stylists that are using their platform to bring awareness to this gap & I am committed to continuing the conversation to promote diversity and change.
Perception is a wide spectrum. Everyone should take responsibility for their own role in a creating & circulating their opinions based solely on their own biased experiences. Look within yourself & think of your contribution to this conversation. I know I am using my experiences as a tool to educating people that don’t look like me nor share my experiences. The work continues.”