In today’s episode of “Things Have Names,” we have Kim Kardashian West on her Snapchat unveiling her latest hairstyle, which she calls “Bo Derek” braids. Oh, and she’s like, “really into it.” Now, there’s no need to be a historian to know that small braided cornrows have been worn by women of color, in particular women of African descent, prior to Derek’s breakout role in the 1979 film 10 where she rocked the famous style. A simple Google search of African or African-American hairstyles will show you a number of looks that predate the 1979 flick.
For the record, Kardashian West’s hairstyle mirrors Fulani braids, a style that can be traced back to the Fulani ethnic group in West Africa. Holistic braid stylist and owner of Ancestral Strands salon Tamara Albertini schools us even further: “The ‘Fulani braids’ inspiration came from two ethnic African groups: the women of the Wodaabe tribe, a subgroup of the Fulani people, and several other tribes in Ethiopia/Eritrea who wear various Sheruba styles (‘braids’ in Amharic).”
The argument is bigger than who did it first, of course, because ultimately, cultures are influenced by one another. The argument here: Styles worn for decades, centuries, even millennia, by black women are not deemed beautiful until someone white or white-passing wears it. Shoot, I was born two years after Bo Derek drove white America wild with her (admittedly fuzzy) “cross-cultural craze,” and even years later in my childhood, the style was still the talk of the town. And we’re still talking about it today in 2018.
See, the biggest thing about this isn’t whether or not Kardashian West is “allowed” to wear cornrows. She’s free to style her hair in any way she so pleases. The real issue is the constant erasure of black women when it comes to beauty. When we wear braids, it’s enough to get us sent home from school or not considered for employment. Or we get called “ghetto” or “unkempt” for our hairstyles only for it later to be cherished and applauded when a white woman wears it. Our looks have constantly been mocked throughout history. We’ve been made to feel as if we have to conform to European standards of beauty in order to be deemed beautiful. Then the same group of people who mocked us start wearing the same styles we were shamed for — and now it’s “fashion.” It’s like constantly having your ideas shot down at work, and then someone comes along with your same ideas, gets called a genius, and has all sorts of money thrown at them for your innovative ideas.
Folks on the internet were quick to correct Kardashian West on the proper name of her hairstyle:
Of course, others see no issue with the reality TV star’s flagrant misnomer:
What makes this so irritating is the fact that Kardashian West, an internationally-known celebrity with so much influence in the beauty world, who has a multiracial family and claims inclusivity is “really important” to her, has a huge opportunity to enlighten the masses. But here she comes talking about some damn “Bo Derek” braids. Sigh. She has been in the center of countless cultural appropriation discussions, so she can’t feign ignorance on this one. No matter how you feel about Kardashian West wearing cornrows, at the very least, she should call them by their actual name, and not their whitewashed, watered-down alias.
In fact, Kardashian West’s braided hairstyle is very popular even now among black women. A quick Instagram hashtag search of #fulanibraids will show you that — and not a single image of Bo Derek.
Just call them cornrows and be done with it.
Check out these stories about CORNROWS:
Now, watch this video about popular black American hairstyles from the past century: