Model Maria Borges just reaffirmed the beauty of young black girls everywhere while sporting her cute and curly TWA (“teeny weeny afro”) for the 2015 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. The 23-year-old made history by bringing this natural look to the VS runway for the first time ever—and yeah, I don’t know how this hasn’t happened before either.
It was Borges’ third time gracing the VS runway with her mile-long legs and unbelievably unblemished chocolate complexion. But this time she decided it was time to take the liberty to implement some changes in the fashion industry. Borges spoke to Essence Magazine saying, “I told my agent I wanted to walk in the Victoria’s Secret show with my natural hair,” assuming the world-renowned brand would reject her proposal. They instead agreed, implementing a change in a catwalk that is dominantly occupied by perfectly-coiled, blonde beach waves that hover above 20-inch waists.
It is easy to feel as a black woman that unruly roots are neither sexy nor professional. In a realm where both are represented—recognizing high fashion lingerie as both a job and an explicitly sexual forum—it is not only reassuring but empowering to see a part of my natural self in her. The stigma of unprofessionalism and heightened sense of exoticism, in place of romanticism, projected onto non-manicured curls has alienated naturalist black women from both the workforce and the bedroom.
Personally, my natural hair, which tends to create a dark halo of curls around my head, was once filled with crippling self-doubt. Growing up in dominantly white neighborhoods and schools, this feeling cultivated in me early on. My disinterest in my (actually quite lovely) locks transcended beyond People Magazineand Disney television shows and filtered into my classrooms, as I’d stare at soft blonde strands that seemed to cascade down every girl’s back but mine. I was mesmerized by hair that matched socialites, beauty queens, and cover girls, and grew frustrated with how mine did not look the same. This was more than just recognizing my differences, but feeling the need to assimilate, to adhere to a “norm” that ostracized me from my peers.
On Everyday Feminism, an online magazine, Akilah S. Richards eloquently wrote, “As Black women in America, we’ve been taught that aspects of our physical self are unacceptable in their natural forms. As such, they should be relegated to the privacy of our bathrooms—or better yet, transformed into tamed, relaxed, and otherwise invisible alternatives.”
As much as I’ve learned to love my natural hair and the shea butter scent that smells every time I whip my head around, I sometimes still struggle with recognizing if I am relaxing my hair for me or for the conveniency of others. Whether that translates to straightening my hair for a photo shoot, an interview, or even a one-night stand. More often than not, either way I choose to wear my hair I find it crucial to recognize both ways as not only acceptable but beautiful. The more confidence I wear in my curls the more well-received they are.
The beauty standard that Hollywood follows is one that caters to white women. It is rare that black women in mass media are seen wearing natural hair styles, similar to that of Borges. It is even more rare that the mass media dotes on those who do. Borges should receive nothing but praise and admiration for taking such a noteworthy leap in an industry that usually does not yield to such an “atypical” style.
Borges, who previously cut her hair for a Givenchy fashion show, shed some advice toEssence readers, addressing her fellow naturalists and women in general, advising them to “be strong…if you say you’re beautiful without hair and makeup, then they will believe you. It’s about being confident and always being yourself.” Something I have personally harped on, and will continue to, is the importance of recognizing your self-worth, and realizing that a society that is ill-versed in appreciating the spectrum of beauty in women of different ethnicities, body types, and even hair texture is one that needs to be changed.