Oops: Black Hair Magazine Accidentally Puts Nonblack Woman on Its Cover

Jihan Forbes
Associate Editor
Yahoo Beauty

Black Hair magazine caught some ire from people on the Internet after accidentally putting a nonblack model on its cover. The magazine caters to black and mixed-race women in a world where many publications don’t, so it’s easy to see why some women were offended by the image.

The controversial <em>Black Hair</em> magazine. (Photo: Black Hair)
The controversial Black Hair magazine. (Photo: Black Hair)

One of the women troubled by the cover was the model herself, Emily Bador, who first drew attention to the cover by posting an apology for the mix-up to Instagram, according to BuzzFeed. Bador took to Instagram to express her outrage, saying that she didn’t know her likeness would be used for the cover and that she understands how problematic the photo is in this particular context.

“This shoot is from when I was around 15 and didn’t understand cultural appropriation or the impact it has on POC [people of color],” she wrote. “Growing up in a very very white city, I had no idea the struggles black women face and how often they were persecuted for their hair … I didn’t understand that shoots like this support the very Eurocentric beauty standard that the mainstream media focus on which reinforce the idea that black features are only OK on white women. I didn’t understand that as a white passing woman I’d be praised for this hair, but if I was a black woman I’d be persecuted.”

Bador, who, according to the Root, “identifies as white, English and Malaysian,” says the photo was “never intended to be on the cover of this magazine.” She also mentions that even though she understands the implications of black hair and appropriation in the media, she is still learning.

Commenters on Bador’s photos applauded her keen insight on the matter and that she took time to think critically about what it means in our society. “I’m just amazed and in awe how you realized this and acknowledged this, because so many models would not do this. I’m so proud to be a fan of you,” one person wrote. “You probably won’t see this, but as a black woman randomly coming across your apology … I want to say thank you for your words. At a time when everyone is so divided and mostly occupied with showing why they are right, you extended a heartfelt ‘sorry.’ For what it’s worth, I accept your apology. You are as beautiful on the inside as you are on the outside,” another said.

“The depth of your self-awareness, sensitivity and integrity are wonderful to witness, particularly in the world we live in, where black and POC women’s experiences and voices are played down, belittled and continuously silenced,” a commenter wrote.

Black Hair magazine editor Keysha Davis released a statement to magazine’s Facebook page saying they were not aware that the model wasn’t black or part black when the magazine decided to use the photo. “We often ask PR companies/salons to submit images for the magazine, specifically stating that models must be Black or mixed race. We can only take their word for it, and of course, try to use our own judgment,” according to the magazine. “At Black Hair we continuously strive to celebrate black women in all our beautiful variation of skin hues and hair textures. We are keenly aware of how black women are underrepresented in the mainstream media and the last thing we want to do is add to our erasure. In this ever-changing world, race will surely become even more fluid and no doubt conversations around Black identity will continue to change, and we definitely welcome the dialogue.”

The magazine’s apology was met with mixed reactions in the comments section. Some people still want Black Hair to pull the cover. “This is a huge slap in the face to the countless STRUGGLING black models in the industry. Even more so a slap in the face to your readers who pay a lot of money each publication to see hairstyles that represent THEM, being modelled by women who look like them,” one commenter wrote.

Still, others could see how the mistake was made, saying that Bador’s ambiguous features, plus the curly kinky wig could have easily tripped up some people. “The fact is the magazine made a mistake, they addressed it, which took some real guts. Short of doing a DNA test how were they supposed to know the model was not mixed/black,” another person offered. “I thought she was mixed race. (shrugs shoulders) Did anyone else notice? Did you alert the staff at Black Hair? The fact is the people behind the magazine work tirelessly to bring out a fantastic issue and with challenging resources. Don’t knock them because of one slip.”

Others appreciated the apology and Black Hair‘s commitment to catering to black women. “I’d like to publicly acknowledge how much I KNOW you and your team uplift and promote black women — of all shades and sizes. Knowing your ethics and your extensive work over the years, I know that this was a mistake and nothing else!! Unfortunately some black women will still be incandescent even after your heartfelt apology but most of us who pick up and read your magazine know how much you love ‘us’ and are passionate about giving us positive examples and reflections of ourselves.”

Davis herself took to Facebook to say how surprised she was to find out that the woman on the cover actually wasn’t black. “I feel awful because the magazine champions celebrating black beauty and I pride myself on that, so this is a faux pas of massive proportions. Moving forward I’m not sure how I can prevent this happening in the future, we’re certainly living in interesting times, I never thought I’d see the day when non-black models were made to look black, but from where I’m looking, that does seem to be the case.”

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