Zendaya's red carpet hairstyle proponent for appreciation of all beauty

Vel Lewis

I did not watch the Oscars a few Sundays ago, but I did find myself scrolling through red carpet pictures, gazing at the glamor and lavishness of Hollywood’s best and finest stars. What really caught my eye were the number of black women on the red carpet wearing their natural hair or wearing protective hairstyles.

I saw Viola Davis from the hit show “How to Get Away with Murder” proudly flaunt her natural hair on the red carpet as well as Zendaya rock super-long dreadlocks that were not only classy, but beautiful.

Seeing the wonderful representations of black women flaunting their beautiful hairstyles was refreshing and inspiring to me. That is why hearing that others did not see this as positive struck a chord with me. Giuliana Rancic made offensive comments on the E! television show “Fashion Police” about Zendaya’s dreadlocked hair, stating, “I feel like she smells like patchouli oil … or maybe weed.”

How can you compare a hairstyle someone is wearing to their character, morals and beliefs?

Sure, there are certain widely-accepted negative connotations associated with certain hairstyles such as afros, dreadlocks, and the kinky, coily textures of some African-American and minority hair. These hairstyles have been called unprofessional, nappy and disgusting. But why is this? Why is the natural hair texture of some considered undesirable while others are considered beautiful?

Rancic’s comments were inappropriate, unwarranted and exactly why black women have struggled so hard to accept themselves fully.

These representations of black women accepting themselves and their hair not only serve as role models for young girls and women internally battling themselves for self acceptance but also allow for them to see the beauty in themselves. Comments such as Rancic’s have the potential to halt any gains made toward self-acceptance for many women.

What Zendaya did next to prevent this was extremely important. She stood up for her hairstyle and the beauty of African-American hair and women. In a tweet she said, “There is already harsh criticism of African-American hair in society without the help of ignorant people who choose to judge others based on the curl of their hair. My wearing locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of color that our hair is good enough.” If you have time, take a look at the response in its entirety.

Black women have always had pressures to conform to an unattainable beauty standard, a standard that tells us we are not considered equal to others. This can be easily observed at many retail stores that have segregated hair product aisles that label one section as “hair care” but label products for minorities as “ethnic hair care” further reinforcing separation in beauty.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We have all heard this, but why is it that we expect others to live up to the beauty standards that we create when everyone each holds their own set of values and beliefs. But for many women, what they consider beautiful unfortunately does not include themselves.

Many of us have even struggled with determining our own identity. When others consistently tell you that what you were born with is not considered beautiful, then you will do close to anything to become acceptable. Even if that means losing who you are in the process.

Growing up I had my fair share of harmful relaxers to get my hair straight, and I straightened my hair every day because I wanted to fit in with all of my friends. Through those years of masking the curls growing out of my head, I felt that I lost a sense of who I was because I was trying to fit a mold, a standard that was not me. Over the years of my natural hair journey, I have found that my friends still talk to me no matter what style my hair is in. It was actually me who did not accept my hair, who felt uncomfortable for fear of rejection by those around me, but really they were the ones who encouraged me.

The recent natural hair movement has given many women the confidence to put down the flat irons and stop the chemical straightening products and embrace the hair that they were born with. It is a beautiful thing, really.

I applaud Zendaya for taking a stand at another backhanded attempt to make members of our society feel inferior. Hair is hair. It comes in all textures, lengths and colors. This diversity does not mean that one hair type is better than another; they each have their own positives and negatives. Since Zendaya’s response, Rancic has apologized, but now we can openly discuss how standards of beauty affect and harm members of our society. May we all learn from this example and learn to embrace the diversity of beauty in our world. For true growth of a society cannot be achieved through the solemn tolerance of the majority, but the combined effort of all. 

Vel Lewis is a junior majoring in public relations and political science. Her column runs biweekly.