Winnie Harlow, former Cycle 21 ANTM contestant celebrated for embracing her vitiligo—revealed her big chop on Instagram this past Monday but unfortunately, dulled her own moment by criticizing another model—Nyadak “Duckie” Thot’s—hair. After showing off her beautiful TWA, Harlow shared a photo of Thot in which she wore her hair in a short ponytail.
“LMFAO! WHAT ARE THOOOOOSEEEE? Cauliflower ass head,” she captioned on Snapchat.
Online backlash against the statement ensued, including a “Not you too” Instagram post from Duckie herself.
Duckie’s statement highlights the fact that Black women have an already limited amount of safe spaces where our beauty and overall being receive embrace. Most often, it is other Black women who curate these safe spaces. But when we are attacked by our own—intentional or not— it chips away at the already thin shell of protection we thought we had. And we all have a story, similar to Duckie’s, to share.
Olympian Gabrielle Douglas, must have felt a similar sting when Black women on Twitter went in on her hair when they should have been celebrating her making history for American gymnasts. Many Black women felt betrayed when Sheryl Underwood made negative comments about natural hair on her CBS show, The Talk. She’s since apologized for it and made an awesome natural hair reveal.
Harlow also apologized, expressing that her natural hair joke was not about race and that she knows the Black model experience first-hand. “I know what it feels like to be forced to do a lot of things with your hair that you’re uncomfortable with,” she said. “As a Black woman in the industry and as a Black woman period, it’s hard to deal with your hair. Not a lot of people know how to deal with your hair. So please understand, from deep in my heart, I apologize if I hurt anyone’s feelings. I am human, I do crack jokes with my friends and family…”
This is a greater teachable moment for her and, really, all of us. And it is bigger than her needing to be more mindful of appropriate social media banter. Way bigger than another apology. Big chop TWA and all—Harlow, like many of us, is obviously still unbraiding the anti-Blackness and Eurocentric beauty standards that create a hierarchy of Black beauty.
Let me tell you a story:
Grandma’s house in the ‘90s. I spent every other weekend there with all of my cousins, but I loved to play with my cousin Dee Dee the most. We were as thick as thieves. Every morning of Sunday school, Grandma would pull my closest cousin and I into her kitchen chair to do our hair. One morning, I hopped out of her chair feeling fine with my two-ponytail signature (as I always did when I left Grandma’s chair as long as she wasn’t on one with the curlers). But when Dee Dee sat down, she couldn’t stop fawning over her tresses. I hadn’t gotten such a celebration. It confused but didn’t bother me, until she began repeating that, “Dee Dee’s hair is wayyy longer than Quaysa’s.” Just over and over. Stretching my cousin’s hair as far as it would go to her shoulders and smiling bigger than she ever did in the choir at church. Her comments sent me tumbling with a hurt I couldn’t articulate at the time—and created a competition betwixt Dee Dee and I that we never asked for. It also planted a seed of self-consciousness in me about my hair length. I felt alone and worthless in a home that had been my refuge for years.
Years later, when I told my mom, she did not believe Grandma would say something like that. Just like Harlow does not believe her comments had any undertone of anti-Blackness. But, so it was and is.
Like Harlow, Grandma was just operating the way she was taught. She was not a racist and she definitely did not hate me. But that alleviates none of the damage. And unless we challenge ourselves to unlearn the BS we have been told about what is and is not acceptable (and desirable) about Black hair and Blackness at all, we will continue to participate in our own oppression.
The piece I initially wanted to write about Winnie Harlow would have been a scathing one, raking her over the coals for this offense. I felt she deserved a real “tongue-lashing”—as Grandma used to say—for bullying another Black model when she, herself, has battled bullies. But the truth is, we are all learning, and shading one another on the ‘gram or in a “think piece” only earns us all an L.
The world is going to bash Black women enough. We don’t need to be fighting “them” and trying to survive each other too.