A modern-day conversation about cultural appropriation and the commodification of blackness is not complete without the mention of Kylie Jenner. As tgainezz extensively discussed in their “The Commodification of Blackness: The Rise Instagram “Baddie” and Kylie Jenner” post, from her acrylic nails to her lip fillers, Jenner and her “aesthetic” have only been able to achieve fame through the disenfranchisement of black women
and the commodification of the attributes they have been historically shamed for. It is this cultural appropriation and the frequent discussion around it when it comes to Jenner that made this recent celebrity news story so interesting to me: as reported on People, Hollywood Life, and Buzzfeed, among other sources, Kylie Jenner posted several Snapchats the other day showcasing her “natural hair.”
“Natural hair,” of course, also primarily has ties to the black community. Referring to hair that hasn’t been straightened or chemically treated, the idea of “natural hair” has little application to Jenner, both in that, as a white woman, she doesn’t have the hair texture people are referring to when they talk about natural hair, and in that she has no association with the politics surrounding natural hair. As Tanisha C. Ford describes it, historically, “wearing one’s hair natural was both a form of cultural self-expression and a way to abandon reliance upon hair products that
reinforced white hegemony” (47). Kylie Jenner’s “natural hair” has nothing to do with a rejection of white hegemony – it is part of white hegemony. It needs no hair products to reinforce white beauty standards – it does that all on its own.
Furthermore, the reason Jenner can even be mentioned by the media in the same breath as “natural hair” is her particular affinity for wigs. As
Hollywood Life describes it, “If you look up wig in the dictionary you will find a picture of one of Kylie Jenner’s fantastic purple or pink numbers no doubt.” Wigs, of course, are also also mostly tied to the black community. (Sidenote: out of curiosity, I looked up articles about Nicki Minaj, who is also known for her different-colored wigs. Words surrounding her wig choices tended to veer less toward “fantastic” and more towards “outrageous.”) While black women are shamed for “either wanting to wear a wig or wanting to wear their hair natural” (Ford 49), Kylie is praised for both. The articles mention Kylie’s “wisps” and her “cute natural hair, complete with baby hairs” (which, for the record, also also also have stylistic ties to the black and Latinx communities), in stark contrast to the way natural hair on black women has historically been seen as unfeminine (Ford 49). And so, as is its habit, white culture rewards Kylie Jenner, Queen of Wigs, holder of Adorable Baby Hairs, but makes no mention of the black bodies she has exploited to earn this praise.
Tanisha C. Ford, “Harlem’s ‘Natural Soul’: Selling Black Beauty to the Diaspora in the Early 1960s,” Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul, 2015.
Jillian Ruffo, “Kylie Jenner Shares a Rare Look at Her Natural Hair,” People Magazine, May 5, 2017, http://people.com/style/kylie-jenner-natural-hair-photos/
Jennifer Maas, “Kylie Jenner Ditches Wigs To Reveal Her Cute Natural Hair & Debuts Epic New Glam Room,” Hollywood Life, May 6, 2017, http://hollywoodlife.com/2017/05/06/kylie-jenner-normal-hair-no-wig-glam-room-pics/
Erin La Rosa, “Kylie Jenner Revealed Her Natural Hair And She Sure Looks Different,” Buzzfeed News, May 6, 2017, https://www.buzzfeed.com/erinlarosa/kylie-jenner-revealed-her-natural-hair-and-she-sure-looks?utm_term=.lxxYr5qQOl#.fm9bnWjKE0