While it seems that Black natural hair has been under attack, Elle Canada is countering that narrative, dedicating an empowering spread to the diversity and beauty of our tresses.
Their September issue’s “Natural Anthem” showcases six Black women from around the world — with different skin tones and hair textures — rocking a collection of natural styles, including Bantu knots, Afro puffs, molded baby hair, and long braids.
The models — Milly, Aliisa, Idil, Naro, Kiera and Cassandra — opened up about their favorite hair care products, their makeup routines and what being involved in this shoot meant to them. And for Elle Canada’s Beauty Director Vanessa Craft, this spread was “a visual love letter to the girls I grew up with and the women we all have become.”
BET.com sat down with Craft to discuss her own natural hair story, what this spread means to her and how she hopes it will help chip away the misconceptions about our locks.
What’s your natural hair story?
First, my mother is white and didn’t know how to do my hair, and so I had to lean on my friends, who had hair like mine, for advice. And I’ve done it all: Wore it short, finger waves, braids, etc. Lucky for me, I grew up in a West Indian and Italian neighborhood in Toronto and didn’t have to look far for hair products.
[Read Craft’s piece on her “tangled hair history” here.]
“Natural Anthem” is truly great to see. What is the message behind it?
It’s all about celebration and inspiration. At Elle Canada, we give advice on what to do, what to wear and what we love. So this is a really a visual love letter to everything beautiful. But it’s not a trend story. So if you already know [about Black natural hair] you know, and if you don’t know, don’t sleep on this beauty that’s always been there.
This is why we’re not going to call this something special. This is a really beautiful story with cool pictures in a national magazine with a population that is diverse.
How excited were the models to be on set?
Very. They staggered in an hour apart and as they walked in, you could see that relief of them not being the “token black girl” at a shoot. It was really beautiful and everyone was really pumped.
You work at a mainstream publication; was your staff on board for this?
Definitely. We have a pretty savvy staff; we’ve won awards internationally together and I’ve worked with them for five years. And when we saw the reaction to my earlier essay about my hair, it was like, ‘OK, this is what I want to do, it’s going to cost more and the hair, it has to be like this,’ and they trusted me. And if they were unclear about things, they asked questions.
I’ve seen other mainstream publications do the same, but the model/actresses were all light-skinned with straighter hair. “Natural Anthem” is truly diverse.
That was really intentional because we understand what colorism is and how it works. Early on, we had conversations about having as many dark-skinned women as light-skinned on set and having a range of hair textures. We didn’t want to have avant-garde and futuristic hairstyles either, because that can further give the impression that Black hair is unusual — the opposite of what our message is.
On one hand, natural hair is more popular and empowering than ever, but it’s also been under fire lately: Black women and girls are losing their jobs and being suspended from school because of it. Then you have Colin Kaepernick trolling folks with his picked out fro. How does your 'Elle' spread fit into this current conversation?
We hope it helps counterbalance the negative messages that women of color are hearing, not only in Canada but beyond. The more you chip away at these misconceptions about our hair, in time it becomes normalized. As it should be, because there isn’t a damn thing wrong with our hair.
This interview was edited for clarity.
(Photos: Saty + Pratha/Elle Canada, September 2016)
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