Vogue was accused of cultural appropriation earlier this week over a photo featuring Kendall Jenner with big, puffed-up hair. Apparently the backlash was due to the fact that some people thought that the hairstyle was an afro, and that a black model should have been used if the publication wanted someone with that kind of hair.
Outraged comments flooded Vogue’s Instagram post of the photo:
“There are other models @voguemagazine you could really get a real Afro model tsk tsk.”
“As a black teen growing up in America, this was absolutely hurtful to look at, people keep bringing up that black women wear weaves that are straight. Yeah we wear them because America poisoned black culture with the idea that we need relaxers and to be accepted our hair had to be straight.”
“Does her hair really look like that on a daily basis? Is she African American? Why couldn’t y’all get a girl with a real fro on the cover if y’all wanted a fro so bad!’ someone else wrote. ‘This is not cool at all! It has to stop!”
The controversy prompted the publication to issue an apology statement to E! News on Tuesday.
“The image is meant to be an update of the romantic Edwardian/Gibson Girl hair which suits the period feel of the Brock Collection, and also the big hair of the ’60s and the early ’70s, that puffed-out, teased-out look of those eras,” the statement read. “We apologise if it came across differently than intended, and we certainly did not mean to offend anyone by it.”
Here’s the thing, though: I don’t really think that an apology was necessary. Vogue’s explanation, after all, seems perfectly valid to me: The magazine was not intending to imitate an afro, and anyone who was assuming that it was doing so was incorrect. I completely believe this explanation, especially considering that the hairstyle in the photo doesn’t even look like an afro to me. It just looks like a hairstylist teased her hair a bunch to make it big. That isn’t what an afro looks like, and anyone who has actually seen one should know that.
Fashion magazines such as Vogue exist to be creative with style. It’s an art form; that’s beautiful, and this sort of experimentation and imagination should be encouraged. Although I personally choose to wear no makeup and my hair in a messy bun most days, I understand that fashion, hair, and makeup are a means of expression for a lot of people — and making people too afraid to express themselves out of fear they’ll be labeled racist isn’t doing any favors for anyone.
The truth is, this is about more than Kendall Jenner’s hair; it’s about our society’s power dynamics. By apologizing, all Vogue did was give more power to the people who want to limit expression. Essentially, it taught the mob that all it has to do is accuse someone of racism, and that’s enough for its accusations to be treated as though they were correct — whether they actually were or not. Rather than give the Outrage Police this kind of ultimate power, we should all save our apologies for times when we’ve actually done something wrong.