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Teen Vogue Editor Responds to Controversy Over African Braids Article

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In the June/July issue of Teen Vogue, beauty editor Elaine Welteroth wrote about her experience getting Senegalese twists while traveling in Rwanda, the reaction of her friends in New York when she came home, and how inspired she was by Zendaya's comments about dreadlocks.

The choice of model to illustrate her story, however, sparked controversy. Both Buzzfeed and The Root report that the piece was met by anger on both Instagram and Twitter, with users calling out Teen Vogue for not featuring more women of color in an article about black women's hairstyles.

Now Welteroth's penned an essay called "Why This Teen Vogue Beauty Story Started an Important Conversation About Race," explaining why she picked mixed-race model Phillipa Steele to be featured in the story. She "strikes an uncanny resemblance to Zendaya, the story's hero," Welteroth writes. "The problem, though, is that some say the model doesn't look black enough."

She continues, writing: "I will be the first to say that the industry still has a long way to go in addressing the deep need for more affirming messages that reinforce the fact that she is beautiful and that she matters. As one of few black beauty editors, it is a responsibility that I do not take lightly." But Welteroth defends the story, saying that it opened up a dialogue:

I relate to and understand first-hand what it feels like to be overlooked, to be disregarded, to be made to feel as if my voice isn't important and my beauty isn't desirable...all because I am black. I also know what it feels like to be ridiculed and rejected because, as a mixed-race person, I am somehow not black enough.

Black comes in a myriad of colors and textures—all of them beautiful, all of them deserving of representation. In the telling of this particular story, which is my own personal story, it was important to me to include a model that is also mixed-race (she is Black and French). The model, like myself, the author of this piece, and Zendaya, the celebrity who inspired it, represents a broadening spectrum of what Black looks like. I can only hope that this story and the conversation it ignites can help shed light on the reality that race cannot be defined by just skin tone, eye color, or hair texture.