By now, most of us in the beauty community have seen the Today show segment, “60-second Great Summer Hairstyles,” where Deepica Mutyala—whose “How to Cover Dark Under Eye Circles” YouTube video catapulted her into beauty-blogger stardom last year—attempted to show viewers how to do easy hairstyles for summer. Much to the show’s credit, the producers included three models of different ethnicities, but what happened to the Black model in the segment is proof that representation of diversity alone is simply not enough.
The how-to video took on a life of its own within hours and generated tens of thousands of views and shares online. Some viewers, particularly black women, were outraged and downright confused by Mutyala’s handling of model Malyia Mcnaughton’s hair. Within seconds of watching, I knew it was painfully clear she hadn’t had much experience styling textured, thick curls. If she did, she would have known that natural curls, once dry, should be handled with care or else they lose their shape and definition.
“The fact the segment has drawn a lot of criticism and attention reinforces that women of color feel underrepresented,” Mcnaughton told Allure. Many of the comments on Mutyala’s social media pages highlight that five minutes of research could have made for a completely different outcome. (She has since issued an apology via Twitter). Even more upsetting however is that this type of thing continues to happen to black women in the beauty industry. The needs of our skin and hair are often an afterthought.
For decades the beauty industry has been able to get by using a shortsighted definition of diversity—one that only accounts for representation. Traditionally it has been enough for brands to only represent black women in beauty campaigns or TV segments but today that definition of inclusion no longer cuts it. Ofunne Amaka, founder of Cocoa Swatches, an Instagram account and app that showcases the latest makeup on underrepresented complexions, believes “content and topic[s] should acknowledge the diversity in the room, not gloss over it.”
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Instead of approaching beauty from a colorblind vantage point, beauty brands should go a step further in addressing the needs and concerns of black women. Our hair and makeup looks are different and should therefore be communicated and treated as such. Diversity isn’t just a marketing strategy; it’s a holistic approach that includes authentically engaging with and understanding the needs of black women.
Amaka believes that, “true diversity would involve brands supporting the idea of diversity in every facet of their company: from their hiring practices, to their marketing efforts, to their product development, to their communications to their influencer relations.”
But for an industry that is still having so many important firsts (it was only a few years ago that Lupita Nyong’o became Lancôme’s first black spokesperson), embracing those details of diversity can seem far off.
So how do we get there?
It’s up to black women (as consumers) to help ensure that the industry continues to make strides in the right direction by adopting a more comprehensive definition of diversity. We have to continue to exercise our voice, both online and off, because if we don’t, as Mcnaughton reminds us, “there isn’t a reason to hire hosts or producers who can create content that reflect what the consumers want to see. We need to say what’s important and the industry will adjust accordingly.”
So it’s up to black women to continue demanding more from our favorite beauty brands and call them out when they make culturally-insensitive mistakes. And for those who have not updated their definition of diversity, rest assured there are thousands of women (and men) ready to make their misstep go viral.
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