From locs to braids to twists and 'fros, I love natural hair in all its forms. So when I saw actress Zendaya Coleman rocking loc extensions at the 2015 Academy Awards, I was ecstatic. But it wasn't until after the awards show that I had to shake my head.
Here's how Zendaya usually wears her hair:
But like most teenagers, the 18-year-old actress has been known to switch up her look every now and then.
Zendaya debuted her gorgeous faux locs hairstyle at the 2015 Academy Awards.
Zendaya Coleman switched things up and rocked FAUX LOCS on the red carpet tonight! #BETTweetsOscars pic.twitter.com/h5i2uV0xfs
— BET (@BET) February 23, 2015
Full disclosure: I've had locs (sometimes referred to as dreadlocks) for over 10 years, so I instantly loved everything about Zendaya's look. So I'm somewhat biased, but I couldn't help but love Zendaya's explanation for wanting to rock locs on the red carpet.
So imagine Zendaya's surprise when Giuliana Rancic of E!'s "Fashion Police" had this to say:
"I feel like she smells like patchouli oil ... or weed." — Giuliana Rancic
Now just to be clear, Giuliana made these comments the day after the Oscars during her "Fashion Police" segment on E! She didn't actually *smell* Zendaya, she just assumed she must smell like patchouli or weed because of her loc'd hairstyle. And while there's nothing wrong with liking the smell of patchouli or smoking weed (if that's your thing), patchouli is often associated with uncleanliness because its pungent smell is sometimes used to mask body odor. Given that, it's easy to understand why Zendaya didn't take so kindly to such comments.
That's when Zendaya went on Twitter to respond to Giuliana's hurtful and ignorant comments.
— Zendaya (@Zendaya) February 24, 2015
"There is already harsh criticism of African American hair in society without the help of ignorant people who choose to judge others based on the curl of their hair. My wearing my hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of color that our hair is good enough. To me locs are a symbol of strength and beauty, almost like a lion's mane." — Zendaya Coleman
Whew! Say it, Zendaya!
Then Guiliana offered an apology on her Twitter.
Dear @Zendaya, I'm sorry I offended you and others. I was referring to a bohemian chic look. Had NOTHING to do with race and NEVER would!!!
— Giuliana Rancic (@GiulianaRancic) February 24, 2015
So what's the big deal? Well, despite Giuliana's intentions, we can't ignore the very complicated politics surrounding black hair.
Throughout history, black women have been told that their natural hair is unprofessional, dirty, and even distracting. And that doesn't even begin to touch on the misconceptions surrounding locs. Many assume loc'd hair is dirty and cannot be washed or that people who wear locs are drug users. In recent years we've seen companies and schools institute regulations banning natural hairstyles, including the U.S. military. One Oklahoma school even sent home an elementary school student for wearing locs, resulting in the student unenrolling from the school.
It's also worth noting that hairstyles, fashion trends, and even body shapes that are normally associated with blackness (like locs, braids, full lips, and even shapely behinds) are often dismissed as ugly, "ghetto," trashy, or a whole host of other negative insults. But when those same attributes are co-opted by white people, they're suddenly "edgy" and fashionable. This is cultural appropriation at its finest.
For example, when R&B singer Ciara debuted her faux locs shortly before her wedding day, People magazine initially wondered if she'd keep them since they might not work with a "very elegant affair."
(The original People post was later updated after audience feedback.)
Meanwhile, when reality TV star Kylie Jenner debuted her "dreadlocks" on Instagram, Cosmo magazine labeled them "edgy."
While I don't doubt Giuliana didn't mean for her words to be harmful, it's important to understand that there is a long and painful history associated with criticizing black skin, hair, and bodies that continues to this very day. That on top of appropriation that deems blackness "cool" when it's on white bodies and associates those same things with "ghetto" — or in this case, drug usage — it's hard to ignore the racial undertones. As much as it pains me that this conversation had to happen, I hope Giuliana can learn from her mistake and Zendaya's words can inspire other women to love and embrace their natural hair and natural beauty.