The Raddest Spring Haircuts Not Coming Out Of L.A.

 

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.

One of the “rad” hairstyles from the article.

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.[1]  It must straddle a traditional model of women’s media with a modern political sensibility to stay relevant, and, of course, make money.

And another.

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.”[2]  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.”[3]  The question is raised, then, whether certain women of color could ever make this list of “rad” haircuts without drastically altering their natural hair.

Low maintenance AF!

 

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.”

 

Works Cited

[1] Susan Bordo, introduction to Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 1-18.

[2] Kobena Mercer, “Black Hair/Style Politics,” new formations 3, (Winter 1987): 34.

[3] 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).

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One thought on “The Raddest Spring Haircuts Not Coming Out Of L.A.

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  1. I was also quite fascinated by the mission statement of Refinery 29 that alalalo points out. The mission to help women, “pursue a more independent, stylish, and informed life” has a lot of implications about the values and representation of modern beauty culture. This statement advertises fashion as a key tool for American women’s’ identity formation. Refinery 29 seeks to link women’s fashion to traits such as “independence” and being “informed.” Dating back to the 1920s, Kathy Peiss notes that the cosmetics industry “promised personal transformation” with campaigns such as Armand’s “Find yourself” advertisements.[1] Here we see the same tactic. Refinery 29 relates how fashion affects a woman’s appearance, to her self-realization. The company promises their women customers that they can access desirable traits through their consumption.
    The mission statement reinforces alalalo’s idea that the company capitalizes on the promise of “social awareness,” social capital. The mission portrays fashion consumption as a path to an “informed life.” If a woman styles her hair in a certain way, the company promises that she will present as an informed individual and will gain benefits of that beauty capital in her community.
    The word “independence” is also striking. It connotes the relation of the beauty industry to neoliberal ideology and also American cultural values. The idea that fashion can transform a consumer into a unique individual follows the neoliberal discourse that consumers are free-floating individuals. By promoting “independence,” Refinery 29 works to detach itself and its consumers from the societal structures in which they are embedded. As alalalo reveals, the hair issue perpetuates racialized and gendered Western fashion norms. And in reality consumers each have different access to the styles the company promotes because of the structures that affect how identity is constructed and read within our society.
    Similarly the promise of beauty consumption as a path to “independence” plays into American values. “Independence” suggests the epitome of American freedom, to create oneself. Like pulling herself up by her bootstraps, a woman can shape her self and life how she wants through fashion, according to Refinery 29.

    [1] Kathy Peiss, Hope in a Jar, (Pennsylvania: First University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), 144.

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