The photographer who recently airbrushed away Lupita Nyong’o’s natural curly hair has released a statement to HuffPost UK with his apologies.
A recent cover for British magazine Grazia features Nyong’o with a close-cropped cut, but the Kenyan-Mexican actress took to Instagram to display the original photo, which clearly shows she had a small ponytail of her naturally curly hair. Photographer An Le said he was made a “monumental mistake,” and was “deeply sorry” for his decision to alter the image.
He said, “I’ve had some time to reflect on my part in the incident involving Grazia and Ms. Nyong’o. I realize now what an incredibly monumental mistake I have made and I would like to take this time to apologize to Ms Nyong’o and everyone else that I did offend. Though it was not my intention to hurt anyone, I can see now that altering the image of her hair was an unbelievably damaging and hurtful act. As an immigrant myself, it is my duty to be an advocate for the representation of diversity of beauty in this industry. I will demonstrate this in my work even more going forward. My altering of her image was not born out of any hate but instead out of my own ignorance and insensitivity to the constant slighting of women of color throughout the different media platforms.”
He went on to say, “There is no excuse for my actions. I deeply regret the pain I’ve caused Ms Nyong’o, a woman I’ve admired for quite some time now. Again, I would like to say I’m deeply sorry to everyone I did offend. I want to thank Lupita for addressing this important issue.”
In her Instagram post, Nyong’o expressed that she was “disappointed” in Grazia after being invited to star on the cover, only to have her image edited to “fit their notion of what beautiful hair looks like.” She also highlighted that “there is still a very long way to go combat the unconscious prejudice against black women’s complexion, hair style and texture.” She finished her post with the #dtmh hashtag (“Don’t Touch My Hair”).
As I have made clear so often in the past with every fiber of my being, I embrace my natural heritage and despite having grown up thinking light skin and straight, silky hair were the standards of beauty, I now know that my dark skin and kinky, coily hair are beautiful too. Being featured on the cover of a magazine fulfills me as it is an opportunity to show other dark, kinky-haired people, and particularly our children, that they are beautiful just the way they are. I am disappointed that @graziauk invited me to be on their cover and then edited out and smoothed my hair to fit their notion of what beautiful hair looks like. Had I been consulted, I would have explained that I cannot support or condone the omission of what is my native heritage with the intention that they appreciate that there is still a very long way to go to combat the unconscious prejudice against black women’s complexion, hair style and texture. #dtmh
An Le, who is based in the US but is himself Vietnamese, seems pretty contrite to us. But this goes to show just how deeply ingrained Eurocentric beauty ideals are – even someone who doesn’t conform to them can help perpetuate the idea that there’s only one way to be beautiful.
And you would have thought after the Evening Standard magazine photoshopped out Solange’s braids — prompting a similar outcry (with Solange also taking to Instagram to call them out, also using the #dtmh hashtag) — those calling the editorial shots would be a little more sensitive to the messages they’re putting out there. Grazia did release a statement, but stopped short of a full apology for this particular incident.
Whoever’s ultimately responsible, we’re sure we can all agree that there’s no one way to be beautiful, desirable or presentable – and it’s time our magazine covers reflected that.