The Problem With This Magazine Calling Natural Hair “Nappy”

Photographed by Winnie Au.
Elle France published a headline recently that's rubbing a lot of people the wrong way. The title of the piece, "Nappy Hair: à vous les beaux cheveux afro naturels!" translates to: "Nappy Hair: your beautiful natural Afro hair!" The story itself aims to celebrate and embrace natural hair. And that's fine and dandy — except for the misinformed use of the word "nappy." In the video series Hair Tales, actress Kim Coles refers to "nappy" as "the other n-word," and you'd be hard-pressed to find a Black person who disagrees. Historically, the term has been used to refer to people with natural hair — and not in a positive manner. But, similar to the other offensive n-word, there have been efforts by the Black community to take back and reclaim the term. In that same vein, when you hear someone outside of the community use it, they're met with serious side-eye. Which is exactly what happened to Elle France this week.
Solange Knowles brought the side-eye when she tweeted: "Follow me on snapchat y'all, my name is Nappy and Snappy. See, Elle France thinks I'm nappy too ?," after seeing her picture tweeted with the article. Some people also took offense to Elle France's tweet promoting the story, which reads: "Comment avoir des #NappyHair." This roughly translates to, "How to have nappy hair" — a statement that seems to imply "nappy hair" is something you can acquire. While the article itself gives tips for embracing your natural hair, that tweet implies something else.
This isn't a French publication's first brush with controversy of this type (see here and here), but, as The Cut points out, this particular mishap may be mainly a result of being uninformed. The Cut chatted with French actress and beauty blogger Fatou N'Diaye, who claims that the word "nappy" has a different meaning in France. "The word 'nappy' in France is a contraction of the words 'natural' and 'happy,'" she explains. "I myself have used this term in 2006 and for at least three years. I stopped using the word when I was told [by an American] that [in the U.S.] they stopped using this word, because it's bad and people prefer the term 'natural.'" So while this could all just be a big misunderstanding, as The Cut notes, a simple Google search would've uncovered the word's complicated backstory. Some things may be lost in translation — but that doesn't make them okay.

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