The Rise In Black Models Is Exposing Another Diversity Issue Backstage


Article by Refinery29

When hairstylists don't know how to work with natural hair,
everybody suffers.

When Ghanaian model Munira Zulka shows up to walk a runway, she comes prepared with her foundation, a hair brush, and some hair gel in her bag. Despite a team of hairstylists and makeup artists backstage, and three hours before the show to prep, Zulka says trusting her appearance to the pros backstage is always a risk.

“Usually they just tell you, ‘You’re good to go,’ but you just look at yourself and know your hair isn’t looking right,” says Zulka. "Because you are a Black model, they send you out looking like whatever. They really don’t care. I know if I don’t care for myself, then they are not going to do it.”

Model Munira Zulka (second from right) with her peers at the Mara Hoffman presentation

Model Munira Zulka (second from right) with her peers at the Mara Hoffman presentation

As more women of color walk in designer shows than ever before, the progress on the runway has exposed another diversity issue backstage: Most of the hair and makeup artists are white. And while it seems standard that all backstage pros (of any ethnicity) would be properly trained to work with a range of hair textures and skin tones, as Zulka knows, that’s not always the case.

People have heard the horror stories of artists not having the right foundation or concealer for a model backstage, and hair is where the education gap is especially evident. While there are typically one or two pros on each team who specialize in styling Afro textures, some models still have to sneak into the bathrooms to fix their own hair before hitting the catwalk.

In many cases, it’s not unusual for models with natural hair to be left completely untouched. And sometimes it plays into the designer’s vision — like at Mara Hoffman’s Spring/Summer 2019 show, where the hairstylists enhanced every model’s natural texture, whether it was straight, wavy, curly, kinky, or coily. But other times, it can feel like a cop-out or a diversity play, especially if every other white model is getting an elaborate updo or braid. “If there is a moment where they say, ‘Oh, we want to keep her who she is,’ then I accept it,” says Ethiopian model Lula Kenfe. “But if it’s, ‘Let’s do natural for her,’ sometimes I want the exact look that is happening, if it’s straight or a ponytail or whatever.”


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