“The Today Show” Hair Fail and Anti-Blackness in the Beauty Industry

Last week on the Today Show, a nightmare for naturalistas everywhere became a reality for Malyia McNaughton. The segment was titled “60-second Summer Hairstyles” and it featured beauty expert, Deepica Mutyala. Deepica, famous for her tutorial video highlighting how to use red lipstick as a corrector, would be showing Today Show viewers how to do four summer hairstyles that would each take less than a minute.

Deepica begins with the first model, Phan, who has straight, wet hair, as if though she just came from the pool. She effortlessly pulls Phan’s hair into a high ponytail and styles the pony into a “rope braid.” The style takes about 50 seconds, with a few of those seconds wasted as Deepica struggled with trying to turn the chair, and then she moves onto the next model, Malyia.

This model has a kinkier texture of hair that has been styled to have more curl definition. However, an earlier picture makes it appear as if her hair has been manipulated and she’d lost some of her curl definition. Deepica pulls Malyia’s hair up in another high ponytail, like Phan’s hair, but this time the pony isn’t as high or as easy to pull up on the top of her head. She tugs on Malyia’s curls in the ponytail to pull the pony up higher, but also to loosen the curls more. Deepica moves onto her bangs, once again pulling her curls apart. She comes back to Malyia’s ponytail one more time, before moving on to the next model, Whitney.

Whitney’s hair is slightly wavy, as if she’s coming back from a day at the beach. Deepica styles her hair in a half-twist, half-down style, using little effort like she did for Phan’s hair. She bobby-pins Whitney’s hair into place and moves onto her own hair. She finger combs her loosely curled hair away from her face. She rubs some gel through it to give a wet, chic look and the style is done. While Deepica, Phan, and Whitney ended the segment with cute (pretty basic) styles, Malyia’s hair was sticking up all over her head.

As a Black woman with natural hair, it was infuriating to watch for several reasons. The first reason being Deepica messed up Malyia’s hair more than she actually styled it. Editor’s note: It looked a hot ass mess. If you know anything about natural, kinkier hair, it was clear that Malyia had come with her hair already styled, unlike her fellow models in the segment. As someone who has spent many-a-night getting cramps in my arms and neck as I combed, moisturized, and styled my hair in a protective style, it was painful to watch Deepica finger comb and tug all of Malyia’s definition out. And the way she styled the model’s hair was indicative of her lack of knowledge about natural hair. She didn’t pick up the brush on the table next to her nor did she have a styling product like a cream or gel to help her slick Malyia’s hair up.

Another reason the segment was infuriating is the complete lack of imagination when it comes to Black women and their natural hair. Phan and Whitney had whole scenarios of spending the day at the pool and the beach. But, Malyia was only there as an example of how to quickly style curly hair. Deepica seemed to be unable to place Malyia and her hair in any space or time. She just wanted to style her hair in a way that helped her embrace her curls, although Malyia didn’t appear to be having a problem with that. It’s clear that the segment was meant to be inclusive, featuring hairstyles on three women of color. But, there was no diversity when it came to hair texture, leaving Malyia to appear as the outlier. For the sake of diversity, Deepica included this Black woman with natural hair, with no actual clue on how to style her hair. If the goal was to include a Black woman, they should have at least known enough about kinkier hair to know that type of style in the allotted time required someone with a looser curl pattern. In an interview with The Cut, Malyia wanted to be clear that she was happy to be included in the segment. But, it is not nearly enough for Black women to solely be included.

And it’s even more insulting to watch the disaster happen as the two other models are given styles that are clearly coopted from Black people. Phan is given a style called a “rope braid” that has become quite the rage this summer. Deepica says that it is the “new evolution of the braid,” but in reality it’s not a braid at all. “Rope braids” are actually twists, and are known as two-strand twists by the Black community. While the style seems to be the new trend of summer ‘16, it isn’t new to Black women at all. Even Whitney’s hairstyle is a variation of a widely used style by Black women. This segment quickly becomes an example of the beauty industry coopting the work and style of Black women without crediting or fully including them.

The segment aired the week after a Kentucky high school came under fire for banning certain hairstyles that were specific to Black students. The school dress code banned “dreadlocks, cornrows, and twists” and noted that afros should not be more than two inches. The dress code specified that the school “[feels] that a student’s academic success is directly correlated to appropriate attire and appearance.” It’s very offensive for the school to correlate styles that Black people, particularly Black women, use to protect their hair as inappropriate styles that impact people’s success. While it is true that Black women lose jobs because of their natural hair, it is clear that those cases are results of anti-blackness and white supremacy and has nothing to do with their hair. While these cases may seem to not correlate to each other, it’s the same anti-blackness and white supremacy that makes it possible for a beauty expert (and frankly the beauty industry as a whole) to be revered as having a wealth of knowledge, but knowing nothing about people’s hair.

And, I wasn’t the only person to be offended by what happened on the television show’s segment. The internet swiftly let Deepica know how she had messed up. The backlash prompted Deepica to make a public apology, declaring how sorry and sad she was about what happened. While Malyia has no hard feelings, it’s important that we call out beauty experts and the beauty industry on its blatant anti-blackness, even when it’s perpetuated by other people of color.  Black women shouldn’t continue to be exploited for their styles and tools, while also being punished and excluded for those very same things. So Deepica, sorry (not sorry) you got checked, but next time you and your friends need to watch a Youtube video or two, before you put your fingers in a 4B scalp!

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Quita Tinsley is a fat, Black, queer femme that writes, organizes, and overall is working to build sustainable change in the South. She holds a B.A. in Journalism with a minor in Sociology from Georgia State University, and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from her alma mater. She is a member on the board of directors of Access Reproductive Care – Southeast, and is a former content creator for the The Body Is Not An Apology. As a femme, feminist, and queer Black woman, it is through her lived experiences and complex identities that Quita has come to believe in the power of storytelling and the validation of lived experiences.

Quita Tinsley is a fat, Black, queer femme that writes, organizes, and overall is working to build sustainable change in the South.

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