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Frances Acquaah: Grazia editing out Nyong’o’s hair erases part of black culture
November 13, 2017
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The Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o has criticised Grazia UK for erasing her hair on the cover of their latest issue. Many think racism is no longer an issue in the UK but the final edit of the cover, which removes such a key part of Nyong’o’s identity, proves otherwise.

In a powerful message on Instagram, the “12 Years a Slave” actress posted an image of the magazine cover next to the untouched images to show how her hair was edited. Nyong’o said in the caption she was “disappointed” that they chose to smooth it out to “fit their notion of what beautiful hair looks like”.

It hasn’t even been a month since singer Solange Knowles called out the Evening Standard magazine, after they digitally removed her braids for their cover. It was particularly astonishing that the edit was given the green light, given that in the same interview Solange describes braiding as an “act of beauty, tradition and a form of art”.

Both women made reference to “Don’t Touch My Hair”, a song from Solange’s latest album, A Seat at the Table, in their criticism. Solange said the song describes “what it feels like to have your whole identity challenged on a daily basis”. It also describes having your hair physically touched by uninvited hands.

As it happens, just before I saw Nyong’o’s tweet, I saw someone tugging at my friend’s hair. It happens often and I assume ends the same way for most of us — that is, a rant in the group Whatsapp.

Instead of accepting full responsibility, Grazia released a statement yesterday that seemingly shifted the blame. It claimed: “at no point did Grazia make any editorial request to the photographer for Lupita Nyong’o’s hair to be altered on this week’s cover, nor did we alter it ourselves.”

So, who made the call? The lack of accountability and weak attempt at an apology did nothing but add insult to injury. In editing out features synonymous with blackness, Grazia is perpetuating white, Western ideals of beauty which cannot be met by women of colour.

Incidents such as these highlight the obvious lack of diversity of the teams behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera, and addressing this is the first step in preventing another similar gaffe.

Although it’s a lot more common now than when I was growing up, seeing a black woman on the cover of a mainstream magazine still excites me.

This month, many of my friends will buy their first copy of Vogue, a nod to its new black editor Edward Enninful who chose to feature British-Ghanaian model Adwoa Aboah for his first cover. It’s worth noting that up until 2015 no solo black model was featured on the cover of Vogue since Naomi Campbell in 2002. That represents 146 missed opportunities.

Instead of accepting full responsibility, Grazia released a statement yesterday that seemingly shifted the blame. It claimed: “at no point did Grazia make any editorial request to the photographer for Lupita Nyong’o’s hair to be altered on this week’s cover, nor did we alter it ourselves.”

So, who made the call? The lack of accountability and weak attempt at an apology did nothing but add insult to injury. In editing out features synonymous with blackness, Grazia is perpetuating white, Western ideals of beauty which cannot be met by women of colour.

Incidents such as these highlight the obvious lack of diversity of the teams behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera, and addressing this is the first step in preventing another similar gaffe.

The Independent

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