Monday evening, Victoria’s Secret held its annual star-studded runway presentation. The usual fashion “it” girls strutted down the runway to performances by Lady Gaga, the Weeknd and Bruno Mars. It was pretty standard VS runway—with one kinky exception. Four gorgeous black models walked the runway with their natural tresses this year.
I remember the coil-collective claps that went up when Maria Borges made history as the first black Victoria’s Secret model to hit the runway with her natural hair. This year she was joined by three more models rocking their ’fros or loose, natural curls.
True, it was only four models out of the 54 total chosen for the show, but progress is a process, as they say. All in all, this year’s VS runway show seemed to go off without an appropriation hitch. That is, until Wednesday, when PopSugar released a video addressing what it felt was an issue from the runway show—the underrepresentation of natural hair among the Asian models.
The entertainment and fashion site posted a video on its Facebook page titled “Why Aren’t Asian Models Included in Victoria’s Secret’s Natural-Hair Revolution?”
The video starts by explaining that Victoria’s Secret pledged to include natural hair in this year’s runway show—and much of the press and attention was centered on the four black models wearing their textured hair. The narrator goes on to ask why the Asian models were not also given the chance to rock their natural hair texture, concluding that this is another example of how Asians are left out of the conversations around race and representation.
I want to recognize that Asians deal with oppression, systematic discrimination and mass stereotyping in media—and many times, there is not the same public outrage attached to whitewashing and yellowface as when it happens to other groups of color. The glaring issue with this video is that that it grouped Asians as a monolith and seemed to be pitting their hardships with underrepresentation against those of black women. A caption on the video read, “ … especially when other women of color are being celebrated for rocking their natural beauty.” The Asian models walked the runway with heat-styled hair in loose curls—the same voluminous ringlets that have become synonymous with Victoria’s Secret angels.
The video has received much criticism for a list of assumptions. First, that there is one natural-hair type for all Asians. The Asian race includes many ethnicities and nationalities, so which “natural beauty” of Asians were they referring to in this video? The four Asian models included in the runway show were all fair skinned with long, straight hair. However, many are asking about Asians who are not of East Asian descent—where is the outrage surrounding their gross lack of representation? Predominantly dark-skinned Asians are often totally forgotten in the conversations around the lack of Asians in media.
Second, there is the comparison of natural-hair stigma for black women to the seemingly nonexistent stigma against Asian hair. Not forcing black models to chemically straighten their hair or wear wigs or weave in order to be included in a runway show seems a far cry from celebrating their hair. Natural hair does not mean unstyled. Natural hair is hair that has not been chemically altered to change its texture. Many black women know the struggle of having to worry about being passed over for a job or deemed unprofessional for wearing their natural hair, a reality that does not exist for many Asian women.
Many of the comments under the video were from Asian women who criticized the video for (once again) speaking over the struggles of black women in order to attempt to make a point—one that many of them agreed they weren’t even angry or worried about.
In an interview with Refinery29, the head stylist for VS confirmed that the company allowed all models to decide how to style their hair for this year’s runway show. Apparently, instead of putting wigs or extensions in the models’ hair to create their iconic, long-flowing tresses, VS wanted to embrace the natural beauty of all models, regardless of length or texture.
Lack of representation in mainstream media is an issue for people of color, but we should not use the progress of one oppressed minority to grab the mic and scream, “But what about our oppression?!” Black and Asian women alike took to the comments section to share their sighs and side eyes for this blunder of a video. Solidarity among women of color doesn’t always shine through during conversations regarding representation, but everyone seemed to be in agreement that PopSugar was trying to “one-up” black issues with this video.
The natural-hair movement isn’t exclusive to black people; however, it is about creating confidence and pride in an aspect of minority identity that has been historically condemned and ridiculed. There is no stigma attached to straight-hair texture—oppressive European standards of beauty created a need for a movement centered on textured and kinky hair. Representation is important for all women of color, but this video completely missed the mark and instead sounded like the start of some “all hair texture matters” nonsense.
Shayna Watson is a freelance style and beauty writer who can be heard saying “Natural hair is a lifestyle” at least once a day. A Pittsburgh native, she currently lives in a shoe-box apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y.—which is fitting, since she really loves shoes. You can check out her personal style musings on A Nu Creature and follow her on Instagram.