Representation Isn’t Good Enough If It’s Not Done Accurately

Let me preface this by saying that I used to model on the Today Show while an intern for their style editor, Bobbie Thomas, back around 2011. I only mention this because I understand the process (as much as I can remember) of how a fashion and beauty segment is put together and executed. If most hosts operate the way Bobbie did, then the execution was rehearsed backstage or off-site and thought out. Models didn’t seem to be chosen randomly, but every host for each segment probably had their own way of doing things.

I remember really wanting to model for Bobbie on national TV because I had never, ever seen a dark skinned Black woman with wide hips and a big behind like me on a show like the Today Show. I’d volunteer whenever I could because if anything, representation mattered to me. Bobbie would do her ultimate best to make sure that every model she used looked good, having us try on a multitude of outfits that looked perfect on our variety of shapes and sizes (she championed diversity). She made sure we felt confident and prepared to be seen in front of millions of people, if only for 60 seconds.

I don’t bring this up to compare Bobbie to Deepica Mutyala, who unfortunately created one of the worst natural hair “styles” on national TV during a Today Show beauty segment last week. But it’s important for me to be honest about the fact that this situation that many have called a “natural hair fail” or “disaster” could have been avoided. And while the model, Malyia McNaughton, didn’t seem too upset given her interview with The Cut, we as Black women were upset and highly embarrassed for her, and rightfully so.

Now, I will give Mutyala credit for being inclusive and having a Black (especially natural), Asian and White model showcase diverse looks on TV. Mutyala, a woman of color herself, probably understands the issue of not seeing enough diversity in media.

But that leads me to the point of this particular article: representation alone isn’t good enough if it’s not accurately done when it comes to beauty. In other words: it’s fine to show us in media, but you also have to make sure you’re doing right by us, too. Especially when it comes to our damn hair.

I’m not here to attack Mutyala (y’all have done enough of that on her Instagram page) and I don’t think in any way that she just threw a Black model in the mix. Especially being a woman of color herself. But with all of the policing, criticizing, and punishment Black women have to deal with around the world when it comes to our natural hair, you’d hope that any moment natural hair is showcased to the world is done so fabulously.

While Mutyala’s intentions were good, the unfortunate truth is that the only person equipped to handle natural hair, or Black hair for that matter, is a real hair stylist who has worked with Black hair successfully.

Understanding Black hair, how it moves, what it does, how it lays, how it reacts, the various textures and so on, is not only necessary but should have been the standard in a situation like this.

This is not to assume that women who aren’t Black don’t have different textures and types of hair (I know they do). However, our hair is so different across the board, it’s actually insane. Most of us Black women have multiple different curl types on our head! I can’t tell you the many times “experts” or “stylists” at beauty events assumed that they could do to my hair what they did to a White woman. It just doesn’t work that way. Even relaxed Black hair doesn’t work that way. You have to know what you’re doing.

I’ll assume that Mutyala may have had some nerves as well, which we can’t fault her for. We would too. Once the cameras start rolling, you really have to make the most out of whatever situation you’re in.

I won’t condone the mean spirited comments people have left on her Instagram account. But, I do understand the frustration that comes with seeing someone, not from our culture tackle, and sadly fail at addressing our hair and beauty needs. It’s almost cringe-worthy to watch.

We can bow down and give it to Malyia McNaughton, who kept her cool on live television and expressed her gratitude post-show in her interview with The Cut despite the outcome. That was nice and very understanding of her. According to McNaughton, she and Mutylala practiced the style the night before, as it was supposed to be a “curly ponytail” that sat “high on the head and kind of combined with the bangs”. That actually sounds kind of chic. But, alas.

While Mutyala apologized for her mistake, the lesson to learn here is understanding that beauty, especially when it comes to hair in regards to Black women is not something to assume you know anything about. You must really educate yourself so that when we show up, we are represented well.

P.S, I love the fact that she found a way to make light of the situation via a cute YouTube video in which she tries to learn as much as she can about natural hair.