Becky Who? FKA twigs’ controversial cover
FKA twigs is on the cover of the August issue of ELLE Magazine. I bought this issue a few days ago. I glanced at the cover, noticed it was twigs and bought it. Since there are so few women of colour on major magazine covers, I make it a point to put my money where my mouth is and pick up a copy when I see one. I completely forgot I owned this issue until Lainey sent me Melissa Harris-Perry’s response to ELLE’s cover.
When Melissa asked, “What Do You See When You Look at This Cover?” I took a closer look. Immediately, my eyes went to the subheading to the right of FKA twigs. It reads, “Becky Who? It’s Going To Be You With The Good Hair.” Here is where I use that buzzword everyone hates: problematic. This cover line is all kinds of problematic. Melissa Harris-Perry breaks down the racial history of “Becky” but if you want a refresher, here’s Duana’s take.
And MHP’s response is a fascinating glimpse at the behind-the-scenes process of ELLE magazine.
“Within the ELLE family, some folks looked at this image and saw "hell yes!" and some folks looked at it and saw "what the hell?"
This is why we need diversity in newsrooms. Some people might look at this cover and focus on twigs’ beauty, her uniquely placed nose ring or the unnecessary diary hanging off her belt. Others might see an offensive reference. Those “others” are probably black women but it’s not that simple. When MHP showed the cover to members of her family, the responses varied.
She writes that she decided to pull back the curtain on this cover “to disrupt the idea that all white people and all black people have the same responses to the images we encounter and that we can predict those responses outside of context and experience.” YES.
MHP describes opening the magazine to the ““guide to good hair” feature and finding an image of a blonde model. I did the same. When you turn the page, Beyonce and Rihanna are accounted for but still, ELLE’s idea of “good hair” does not feature diverse or natural black hair types and that does not sit well with me.
MHP’s niece says it best: “The words 'good hair' are black girl kryptonite."
After Lemonade, I saw numerous magazine slideshows like this one from Harper’s Bazaar titled “10 Beckys With Good Hair featuring “Beckys” like Rebecca Romijn and Rebecca Hall. You see what they did there? At the time, I tweeted, “Magazines, do better.”
ELLE put FKA twigs on their cover rocking a beautiful natural-looking hairstyle and yet, according to their feature, FKA doesn’t have good hair. In MHP’s response, she goes into the complex relationship many black women have with their hair. I’ve written about mine on this blog. MHP nails it with this line:
“If we allow our hair to simply grow out of our heads in its natural state, most people will assume that we are making a social and political statement.”
I wore my hair in a weave for about a decade before changing it a few months ago. Now, my hair is styled in a way that is categorized as “natural.” It wasn’t a political statement but that doesn’t stop people from asking me what I’m “trying to say” through my new hairstyle. Of course, our clothes, our makeup and our hair are methods of self-expression but for me, it’s exhausting to always have to think about the societal implications of my hair.
While I do think ELLE made a mistake including the “Becky” line on the cover, I love that they let Melissa Harris-Perry delve into a deep discussion about its meaning. With this, ELLE proved that it’s already on the way to doing better.
Now, can we get back to talking about how amazing/weird/cool/unreal FKA twigs looks?