No matter how many cans of Pepsi she hands out, it seems Kendall Jenner cannot avoid controversy. The model attracts problematic photoshoots and campaigns like they’re candy. Vogue’s ‘60s-’70s Brock Collection photoshoot was no exception. Whereas last time the controversy came from the Pepsi campaign’s ignorance toward protests and movements such as Black Lives Matter, this time around the issue comes from another realm of ignorance about Black culture.
To get straight to the point, Kendall Jenner wore an afro in Vogue’s shoot while her counterpart, Imaan Hammam, a Black Muslim model who normally sports full, natural curly hair, had her hair straightened.
Vogue coordinated the looks of the models without significant reasoning. In fact, in an apology statement, the magazine claimed the images were “meant to be an update of the romantic Edwardian / Gibson Girl hair which suits the period feel of the Brock Collection, and also the big hair of the 60s and the early 70s, that puffed-out, teased-out look of those eras.” In an effort to represent an era, Vogue misrepresented a race. Magazines such as Vogue, with a large following, have a personal responsibility to help cultivate an industry of diversity, not stifle it.
To be clear, I am not Black or a person of color. I am commenting on Vogue’s spread and Jenner’s perpetual appropriation of Black culture from an outside perspective. And many members of the Black community have raised concerns about the campaign from an inside perspective. One girl, in an Instagram comment, stated that, “As a black teen growing up in America, this was absolutely hurtful to look at … because America poisoned black culture with the idea that we need relaxers and to be accepted our hair had to be straight.” But, others have claimed that the hairstyle is not even an afro to begin with. A woman on Instagram commented, “As someone with a serious Afro, I’m certainly not offended by this look.” The fault of the piece has nothing to do with whether or not Jenner is actually wearing an afro, but, rather, that it could be interpreted as one to begin with.
This isn’t the first time Jenner or Jenner’s family has been accused of disregarding Black culture. Kim Kardashian was accused of blackface in a beauty campaign in 2017 for her own line of makeup. The celebrity’s skin tone looked significantly darker than her own, and fans weren’t hesitant to call her out on it. The star later claimed to have learned from the mistake and indicated she would be consciously aware in the future. She should have shared this knowledge with her sister.
Additionally, Jenner’s fellow model in the spread, Hammam, wore straight hair. It was deeply striking that a person of color’s hair was straightened, whereas a white-passing individual had her hair styled to resemble an afro. Again, even though Vogue may not have intended for Jenner’s hair to be seen as an afro, it can easily be interpreted that way. And the fact that Jenner was posing with a Black woman whose natural curls were styled straight is tone deaf to the problematic history of a racist society trying to straighten and oppress Black individuals’ hair.
Vogue has resources to thousands of other models with the natural Afro look it was seeking. Instead of utilizing this faculty, it went for the Kendall Jenner cash grab. It seems like Jenner is being used as a pawn to pander to Kardashian fans. Vogue had an opportunity to make a statement and display women of color in a very captivating campaign but, instead, used a white scapegoat — something that it and so many magazines and ad-campaigns need to stop doing.
At least Vogue had the decency to issue an apology. Jenner has currently made no statement regarding the backlash of the ad. In the previous Pepsi debacle, Jenner cried about the situation during an episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” or “KUWTK,” and said she would do her best not to offend anybody in the future.
Specifically in the instance of Pepsi, she showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the severity of police brutality. A mistake of this magnitude should not only be followed by a genuine apology but also an active effort to learn more about the political issue. Instead, her “apology” on “KUWTK” was really just a way to show her disparity over her own celebrity status. Now that she has the opportunity to, once again, right her wrongs — borne from an ignorance of Black culture — Jenner sits in silence.
The Kardashian family has never been one to avoid drama and are generally very active on social media. Jenner needs to use her massive social media following to show that she understands where her actions were wrong and express genuine regret for offending the viewers of the spread. Jenner has an opportunity to really make a change with her platform and with her level of demand, yet the model still participates in problematic, socially unaware campaigns.
Jenner is arguably one of the most powerful women in the media, and it would do her well to separate herself from cultural scandals like this. She needs to make statements about the campaigns she participates in and respond to controversy thoughtfully. And she needs to step up as a leader in the fashion industry. The second Jenner starts to take responsibility and become a catalyst for change, the sooner the fashion industry will cultivate into an inclusive, diverse and socially aware community.
Samantha Banchik covers fashion. Contact her at [email protected].