Perusing the internet for hair and makeup ideas is something I do often in my downtime. I visit the online counterparts to Allure, Marie Claire, or Teen Vogue—or, as I did this afternoon, I stop by Refinery29, a newer breed of online-only, women-focused media site helping its audience “pursue a more independent, stylish, and informed life.” Parsing the implications of that mission statement could be a topic for a whole other blog post—alas, not the one I’ll write today. Today, I clicked an article titled “The Raddest Spring Haircuts Coming Out of L.A. Right Now,” intending only to see what the sun-soaked ladies of southern California could do to inspire my next hairstyle.
Instead, I clicked through the slideshow and noticed some other things about these women and their hair. Firstly, of the 15 images, just four featured women immediately read as POC—the rest of the eleven were white or white-passing. Secondly, the women of color in those four images, while having the honor of making Refinery29’s list of “raddest” hairstyles, all had haircuts which nonetheless fit squarely into Eurocentric beauty norms: the black women’s hair was all in straightened styles, the Asian woman’s bleached a striking blonde.
Now, Refinery29 has a stake in making sure its listicles are as inclusive and empowering as possible, as a media company aiming to appeal to women who are “stylish, independent, and informed.” The site has skewed to the political left in recent months along with other, older women’s magazines, presumably in an attempt to keep up with the woman who is not only fashionable, but politically aware. Indeed, a certain brand of young, urban “political awareness,” aligned with beauty standards in this way, can be seen as a new sort of social capital, both for the individuals demonstrating it and the companies looking to capitalize on it. Refinery29, however much it aims to cater to and uplift women, to some extent must traffic in familiar cultural tropes—the “coolness” or “radness” traceable back to L.A.’s aura of glamour and romance, the need for hairstyle advice itself echoing ideologies that envision a woman’s appearance as reflective of and key to her class, ambitions, and politics. It must straddle a traditional model of women’s media with a modern political sensibility to stay relevant, and, of course, make money.
Ironically, here, for Refinery29, their depiction of women’s hair betrays how politically unaware they might really be. Mercer states that for black women especially, hair is “socialized…a medium of significant ‘statements’ about self and society and the codes of value that bind them, or don’t.” When Lexy Lebsack, the white, 20-something author of “The Raddest Haircuts” list chose to include black women only with relaxed hairstyles, or an Asian woman only with bleached hair, she’s using the social capital she claims as a white woman (and an authority on what’s “cool” in L.A.) to continue to exclude certain types of nonwhite beauty from a standard definition of “rad”—of cool, of beautiful. She plays into the same old exclusive “codes of value” Refinery29 claims to be trying to transgress. Meanwhile, the other white or white-passing women in the slideshow are “allowed” to wear their hair more naturally, remaining “cool” with a haircut that is nonetheless “low maintenance AF.” The question is raised, then, whether certain women of color could ever make this list of “rad” haircuts without drastically altering their natural hair.
This matters because women’s media, whether print or online, is still a powerful and influential source of beauty norms dictating the terms of social capital for women everywhere. A site that promotes itself as keeping women forward-thinking AND beautiful will not meaningfully succeed until it includes all women’s natural hairstyles within its spheres of “cool.”
 Susan Bordo, introduction to Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 1-18.
 Kobena Mercer, “Black Hair/Style Politics,” new formations 3, (Winter 1987): 34.
 Lebseck, Lexy. “The Raddest Spring Haircuts Coming Out of L.A. Right Now.” Refinery29. http://www.refinery29.com/2017/04/147042/la-spring-haircut-trends-2017#slide-1 (accessed April 13th, 2017).