Naturally, Oprah Got it All Wrong

I thought Akiba had snuck on here with a post when I saw our last  headline was “Gabby. Work!” — like, look at her being up on the Olympics on our blog when I didn’t even know she was watching. Turns out, no, she was talking about a 2010 Elle cover of Gabby Sidibe, not the gymnast champion. Whatever the blog equivalent of cobwebs is, now’s the time to dust ours off and show small.medium.large a little bit of love.

Speaking of Gabby, I refuse to talk about a child’s hair on the internet or even to discuss that people were discussing a child’s hair on the internet. Anyone raised with a smidge of sense knows better than that.

However, I’m nowhere near above talking about Oprah’s hair. This “natural” hair that she is reportedly wearing on the new cover of O is not, as anyone with Black hair can attest to, “natural.” Or that’s what I thought…until Twitter and Facebook informed me that “natural” hair now means hair that you didn’t buy it. Oprah, via her magazine’s website, is publicizing this as natural because it is “…the first time ever, Oprah’s appearing on the cover of O without blow-drying or straightening her hair. She says that wearing her hair naturally—as she often does on weekends and on vacation—makes her feel unencumbered.”

Oprah, a child of the 60s from Mississippi who lived in Black Hair Capitals Baltimore and Chicago, knows that this is a real stretch of the word “natural.” Missing a date with the comb attachment on your blow dryer does not make your hair natural, it makes it un-blow dried. Oprah considered going for real natural with a close-cropped Camille Cosby look, but Bill told her she had the wrong-shaped head for all of that (mind your business, Bill, lest we start telling you that you have the wrong belly shape for all those tight sweaters). So instead we are left with this cover, where she looks more 80s crimped out than 70s Afro’d out.

I suspect Oprah is enjoying this. She has been looking for hair accolades for as far back as when she was wearing those green contacts on her show. In the early 90s she told us she’d always wanted “hair that moves.” Then, in the early 2000s she was so happy to have it, she told Chris Rock to stick his fingers in her roots to prove it was all hers. Everyone cites Tom Cruise trampolining on that couch, but the Root Feel-Up was the ultimate inappropriate moment of her talk show run.

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Connie. Gabby. Work!!!



Yesterday, as I was writing about Constance Jablonski’s blackface-with-a-random-Black-baby shoot, deja vu struck. Hard.

I was all like, “Is it that this chick looks like ‘fro’d out Claudia Schiffer on the cover of Stern Fotographie? Like French Vogue‘s shoe-polished Lara Stone? Al Jolson freaking “My Mammy”? Marsha Ambrosius?”

Then it hit me: Under the frankenlights of an ignorantly conceived and poorly executed photo shoot, the ruddy Frenchwoman Jablonski and a dark brown, Senegalese-American superstar by the name of Gaboure Sidibe are about the same complexion—chestnutty, with newborn baby poo undertones. Fashion magic!

Pantone, MAC, Sherwin-Williams: If you’re looking for a color-branding specialist, I’m available.

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High fashion is confusing to Ak

a White model named Constance Jablonski. A Black child. Grass, ostensibly African grass..

This is a swipe from a recent Numéro magazine shoot. The French model, Constance Jablonski, usually looks like this:

Constance in her natural habitat

Now, if you’re a pedestrian size 8-to-10 like me, you may not have heard of Numéro before. According to its website, what may look like litter pan liner to you is actually an “international” magazine that offers “an avant-garde view of the worlds of fashion, art and luxury.”  Apparently, “both today’s icons and tomorrow’s master talents” contribute to Numéro.

In comparing the magazine’s stated mission to the clichéd, colonialist-porn pictured above, I got confused. I hate being confused. So for my own clarity, I jotted down a few questions:

1. What is Constance doing in this picture? Why is she wearing an afro wig circa Foxy Brown and brownface circa Soul Man?”

2. Why is that baby standing in dried grass damn-near naked when Constance is layered and aggressively accessorized?

3. Of the 17 covers crawling atop Numéro‘s homepage, why is there a White person on every single living, loving, motherfucking one? And of some 60 back issues for sale, why are there just two people of color on the covers? I mean, the White woman with bangs, the White woman in orange eyeshadow, the White woman in green eyeshadow, Kate Moss in turquoise eye shadow, the White man with black fishnet on his face, the White dude spitting water into the air, and Jude Law are perfectly lovely. They are. But doesn’t this seem strange to the current icons and future masters and avant-garde-y people of all stripes who rabidly consume high fashion and images of it?

If I come up with some sensible answers, I’ll let you know.

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If there were a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize for body image work…

…this arresting photo essay by photographer Carl Bower would certainly be a contender. These 30 images and the accompanying text tell the story of a single mom named Diane who underwent a mastectomy, six months of chemo and breast reconstructive surgery. Diane is a hero. Not because she’s aggressively chipper, uncomplaining or stoic. This work is not a visual platitude. It’s real and the result is some serious beauty.

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Aiyana Stanley-Jones and Our Confused, Grieving Hearts

Ak wrote this for Colorlines.com.

Aiyana Stanley-Jones and Our Confused, Grieving Hearts.

Save the babies.

RIP Aiyana Stanley-Jones and Je’Rean Blake.  Justice and peace for these children’s families.

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Rape and resistance in Haiti, post-quake

From Ak:

I don’t have expertise or on-the-ground observations about the sexual violence or other conditions sisters are facing in Haiti’s post-quake tent cities. But some people do. Go to this site–please–to find out more.

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The cost of being a Strong Black Woman

Via my homie Carla Murphy, I came across this MS. interview with DePauw’s Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant, Ph.D., author of the new-ish book, Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman. The good doctor clarifies why the seemingly positive Strong Black Woman identity doesn’t serve us well:

A strong black woman is a woman who expresses a lot of fortitude, a deep wealth of caring and a lot of persistence—those can be seen as noble qualities. [But] they were used against us during slavery and I think they continued to be used against us by the white community and by black patriarchy. You can extort a lot of work from people who subscribe to the notion that they are strong and invulnerable. (Emphasis mine.)

What I love about this quote: She defines, in plain language, what the Strong Black Woman identity embodies. Then she places those positive, sensible and HUMAN traits within the perverse parameters of slavery, white supremacy (my term, not hers), and black patriarchy (her term, not mine; still sorting that out, will track back in another post). Good ish.

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