The latest Grazia UK cover features Lupita Nyong’o, but on Friday, November 10th, the Oscar-winning actress took to Instagram to reveal that the cover wasn’t what she thought it might be. While she was originally photographed with her natural, textured hair in a low and clearly visible ponytail, the cover displayed a photoshopped version, sans ponytail, and with a smoother texture.
In a lengthy caption, Nyong'o writes: “As I have made clear so often in the past with every fiber of my being, I embrace my natural heritage and despite having grown up thinking light skin and straight, silky hair were the standards of beauty, I now know that my dark skin and kinky, coily hair are beautiful too... I am disappointed that @graziauk invited me to be on their cover and then edited out and smoothed my hair to fit their notion of what beautiful hair looks like.” The caption continues to detail that she hadn’t been contacted by Grazia or consulted with regards to the editing process. She expresses that had she known of their plans, she would have been unable to “support or condone the omission of what is [her] native heritage.”
Just two weeks prior, Solange Knowles endured a similar experience. Her cover shoot for Britain’s Evening Standard Magazine was conducted with her hair styled in an elaborate, braided crown, but when the feature was published, the hairstyle was removed altogether. Her Instagrammed response was brief, but shared Nyong’o’s sentiment: #dtmh. This hashtag abbreviates the phrase “Don’t Touch My Hair,”and is also the name of one of the songs on Knowles’ new album, "A Seat at the Table."
Almost ironically, the interview Knowles conducted with the magazine details her value for braided hair, where she calls it an "act of beauty, an act of convenience and an act of tradition" — it is "its own art form." She describes salons as a place of refuge, a place where black women could progress through their individual hair journeys. To photoshop her braids out of her cover photo is to seemingly disregard her larger standpoint.
Both magazine platforms have released statements with regards to their editorial decisions. The journalist who conducted the ES interview, Angelica Jade, tweeted after its release, asking that her name be removed from the byline, as she claimed the editors of the magazine had distorted both her reporting and the overall presentation of the piece. Grazia claimed no knowledge of the photographer’s editing process, and of having never requested that her hair be retouched. They expressed regret over not having been aware of the alterations being made and claimed a want for accurate representations of diversity in their publications.
The messages that Knowles and Nyong’o put forth, and the editing that they encounter in these magazine publications are implicative of much larger issues that they both attempt to explain. In an interview last year with Saint Heron, Knowles described the song “Don’t Touch My Hair” with greater depth, providing that “the song is as much as what it feels like to have your whole identity challenged on a daily basis, although physically touching the hair is extremely problematic!” In her statement concerning Grazia, Nyong’o also stresses her personal need “to show other dark, kinky-haired people, and particularly our children, that they are beautiful just the way they are.”
The value they share of having natural hair represented in media is owed to the fact that historically, it is rarely represented. The Natural Hair Movement is a remarkably modern one. As women with public platforms, they demonstrate an understanding of their personal responsibility to use their platforms to encourage self-acceptance.