It’s a bit unsettling that Black women still make news for doing mundane things like wearing their natural hair to work. It’s also a bit unsettling that a company gets praised for putting a natural-haired model on the runway even though they’re the 21st (not the first, not the second but the 21st) clothing label to do so, if that. But yes, we all got excited when 23 year-old model Maria Borges hit the well-watched Victoria’s Secret catwalk in a teeny weeny afro (TWA). Meanwhile, during the Spring 2016 shows in NY, models with natural hair were spotted in at least 20 shows.
Well-watched is the operative phrase here. Consider the VS show the Superbowl of fashion. Each year the show is viewed by millions (although this year, at 6.6 million the broadcast saw a 30% decrease in ratings). Nevertheless, 6.6 million viewers is a lot more than the handful of people that sit in the audiences at designer label presentations.
Maria Borges’ VS moment is reminiscent of a part of Zora Neale Hurston’s poem, “How it Feels to be Colored Me”:
No one on earth ever had a greater chance for glory. The world to be won and nothing to be lost. It is thrilling to think–to know that for any act of mine, I shall get twice as much praise or twice as much blame. It is quite exciting to hold the center of the national stage, with the spectators not knowing whether to laugh or to weep.
The world praised Borges for what would normally be an unimpressive act. The hype around this ‘historical’ moment, as Borges herself tagged it on Instagram, speaks to the spaces that natural hair still needs a presence in, namely the workplace and on mainstream TV. Natural hair to a lot of people is still relatively niche, still relegated to the sidelines to the point where someone wearing it is newsworthy. But to get to the point where natural hair is no longer the reason a person is making history, we have these somewhat awkward historical moments that expose more women and decision-makers to a part of us that has for so long been hidden. Millions of people (our community included) need to be exposed to natural hair and not just once, several times because repetition of an image is how beauty standards get set and how something novel eventually becomes the norm.