Allure lost itself a few fans this month when it featured an Afro in its August 2015 issue — on a white model.
The beauty magazine included what it's calling a "Loose Afro" among its '70s-inspired hair how-to's. But as several Twitter users pointed out, the classic Afro style wasn't worn by a black model. Nor, as BuzzFeed reported, was the black history of the Afro mentioned whatsoever.
Instead, the hairstyle is simply billed as "not an introvert's hairstyle."
When inspiration is appropriation: As Twitter lets out a collective sigh and shakes its head, we can recount the endless ways we've been here before. In the ongoing conversation about cultural appropriation, women's hair has been a particularly common subject when "mainstream" media outlets cover traditionally black styles without acknowledging their history — or worse, acting as if the longtime style has been newly discovered. (Hence the term "Columbusing.")
The most notable example is Marie Claire's misstep in describing cornrows simply as "bold braids" taken to "a new epic level." As the Huffington Post's Julee Wilson wrote, "There is nothing 'new' about the plaits or anything 'epic' about the way Kendall is rocking them. Cornrows have been around for ages and are credited most to the black community."
Similar oversights included Vogue declaring the "big booty" as a rising trend or Elle comparing Timberland boots to "the new Birkenstocks" in a trend piece. The tendency not only glosses over the cultural history of a style, but also seems to take credit for it. As the bloggers of BlackGirlLongHair.com observed in response to the latest snafu, "First they laugh, then they copy... #blackwomenaretastemakers."
When the faces don't match the hair: Allure's other misstep was actually one made by Teen Vogue earlier this summer: highlighting a traditionally black style without actually highlighting a black woman wearing it. In June, Teen Vogue featured a light-skinned, mixed-race model for a story about Senegalese twists. "The problem, though, is that some say the model doesn't look black enough," wrote Elaine Welteroth (who herself is biracial).
There are already so few women of color featured in magazines, highlighting a classically black hairstyle would seem to be the rare opportunity where black models could have a real shot.
That lack of black models is particularly acute in beauty magazines like Allure, in which acknowledging different skin tones and hair textures is actually crucial for dispensing advice.
But arguably the most disappointing part of the Allure Afro story for readers is the revealing headline, with enthusiastic phrasing — "You (Yes, You)" — that seems to assume the reader is white.
Despite the widespread backlash, the magazine stands by the story. In a statement sent to Mic, a rep for Allure said, "The Afro has a rich cultural and aesthetic history. In this story, we show women using different hairstyles as an individual expressions of style. Using beauty and hair as a form of self-expression is a mirror of what's happening in our country today. The creativity is limitless — and pretty wonderful."
It seems people were hoping Allure would get a little more creative in selecting its models and addressing its readers.