In case you were languishing for controversy, with all the fashion weeks passing with no known cultural appropriation scandal, no Blackface hitting stores, or campaigns with blatant racial undertones, today you’ll get your fill. H&M has been called on the carpet for an ad that has sparked a frenzy on social media.

This morning, celebrity hairstylist Vernon François posted a photo on Instagram from a recent H&M ad that includes a little Black girl with her natural hair pulled into an undone ponytail. Her hair and edges are uncombed, appearing that no one at the campaign shoot touched the girl’s 4C hair. To be clear, this girl has beautiful coils that should be celebrated, styled or unstyled, and when the photo posted we were unsure (as François admits) what the context was surrounding the shoot and how her hair came to be in this photo.

In his post about the ad he says “This post is just an assessment based on all my years of seeing situations like this happen time and time again. And it’s got to stop. This beautiful young girl’s #kinky hair appears to have had very little to no attention yet all of her counterparts have clearly sat in front of someone who was more than capable of styling other hair textures. My heart breaks imagining yet another girl from my community sitting in front of a mirror being ignored by the team around her, left to her own devices because someone didn’t know how to handle her texture.”

Looking around the H&M Kids site further we found several other photos of the same little girl in this same style. She also appears on their site in several other photos with her hair blown out in a natural Afro. It’s unclear whether or not she had a parent or guardian on set who made mention of her hair to their team at either shoot. ESSENCE reached out to H&M for comment, and the retail giant responded with the following statement:

We are aware of the comments regarding one of our models for H&M Kids. We truly believe that all kids should be allowed to be kids. The school aged kids who model for us come to the photo studio in the afternoon after school and we aim for a natural look which reflects that.

For those who work in the fashion and beauty industries it’s widely known that for a long time Black models and other Black talent have had to fend for themselves when it came to hairstyling, due to a lack of professionals on set capable of styling textured hair. It came down to a larger and troubling perception of Black hair that manifests itself in the ill treatment of Black hair. People like François have become so pivotal in the industry because they represent a hard stance in preventing these things from happening, allowing Black talent to feel just as confident and attended to as their non-Black counterparts on set.

In early 2018 H&M was called out for a controversial ad that involved a little Black boy in a sweatshirt that read “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.” H&M removed the image from all their channels, discontinued the sale of the shirt, and issued an apology saying that they would thoroughly investigate to prevent it from happening again. The brand has since also hired Ezinne Kwubiri, Head of Inclusion & Diversity. With more than a decade of experience in change management, she has been working hard to cultivate these conversations internally and incorporate diversity and inclusion as a tenet in the company’s pillars.

Black people are not a monolith and do not have homogenous experiences or points of view, so the conversation about this is multi-faceted. While some agree with François and are troubled by what the photos represent on a macro scale (as well as the affect that the photos might have on this little girl), some think that the photos simply represent her hair in its natural state and need not be scandalized.

This is all further proof that even though we’ve made some strides in the conversation around Black hair, we’ve got a long way to go in understanding all the nuances. This is why events like Curlfest, which is all about celebrating our crowns, are necessary. This is why communities like House Of Hair In Real Life have to keep championing for our manes. This is why enacting the CROWN Act in every state is ever-so important.

At the end of the day, there’s a beautiful Black girl at the center of this conversation who needs to know that she is remarkable, her hair is exquisite, and however represented it should be celebrated. It’s why we will continue to uplift and honor Black hair in all its majesty, and with the help of professionals like François, show anyone who’s doubtful, all the glorious things our Black hair can do.

UPDATE 12:18 am, 9/21: At around 6pm on Friday evening, H&M’s Head of Inclusion & Diversity, Ezinne Kwubiri, posted a response addressing the conversation on her personal Instagram page with #LetsTalk.

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#LetsTalk I’m the one on the left. The image on the right has sparked so much dialogue in the past several hours. Talking points that are centuries old and have been hashed and re-hashed at kitchen sinks, beauty shops, and front porches. A few points to make… I am both of these girls. In my hair’s most natural state, I look just like this. If I weren’t so fearful of society’s response, I would embrace and celebrate my hair the way it grows out of my scalp. The child models (there were several) used in this photoshoot embraced their natural, every day, carefree looks. Like everyday children always do. This young lady is likely still exploring her self-identity and her perception of beauty, and how those things might connect to her hair texture, skin tone, lips, brows, etc. I certainly was at her age. It’s important to keep this in mind when having these “internet” conversations as words are very powerful. They can uplift, and they can hurt. She should be afforded the same carefree joy and vulnerability as the other kid models. The adult brown skin girl that is me, wishes one day to have the same. Also, the presence of hair stylists on a wide variety of sets with the ability to work with a diverse pool of models with different hair textures is sorely lacking. I stand with these hair stylists that are using their platform to bring awareness to this gap & I am committed to continuing the conversation to promote diversity and change. Perception is a wide spectrum. Everyone should take responsibility for their own role in a creating & circulating their opinions based solely on their own biased experiences. Look within yourself & think of your contribution to this conversation. I know I am using my experiences as a tool to educating people that don’t look like me nor share my experiences. The work continues.

A post shared by Ezinne K. (Mrs. O) (@iamezi) on

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