A celeb hairstylist’s perspective on cultural appropriation in beauty

Ursula Stephen is the hairstylist behind some of Bebe Rexha, Rita Ora, Rihanna, Ciara, Serena Williams’ most iconic looks. But with high-profile women like these, controversy often follows, even when it comes to their hairstyles.

We talked to Ursula about her career, cultural appropriation in the beauty and fashion industries, and more. Check it out below and follow her here for some serious hair inspo!

How did you get into hairstyling? 

I honestly feel like hairstyling chose me at an early age. I never really knew what I wanted to be when I “grew up”. But doing hair brought me a level of happiness that nothing else did.

What’s one of the most challenging things about your job?

The most challenging thing about my job is delegating! When you’re a perfectionist and want to be involved in everything that represents you, it’s very hard to entrust the people that work for you to handle things.

What were your first reactions when people started calling out culturally appropriative hairstyles?

I was like, “Okay, this is old news.” It definitely isn’t something that’s new!

What are your thoughts on cultural appropriation?

I think if you’re going to wear a hairstyle that’s not the “norm” for your culture, just make sure that it’s done right! When it’s not done right, it comes off like you’re making a mockery of that culture.

When do you think it goes too far?

I think it goes too far when you try to rename something that’s already been done. When you don’t respect it and give credit where it’s due, that’s when it becomes a problem.

One of your clients, Iggy Azalea, is regularly called out for trying to capitalize on black culture. Have people ever taken issue with you for working with her? 

No, I haven’t received any backlash for working with Iggy.

Do you think that sometimes the debate about “who’s allowed to wear what style” divides hair stylists or women in general? 

I do think that the debate causes a divide and I honestly think it’s not fair. For example, you have a bunch of women on one hand screaming women empowerment, then you have others causing division over hairstyles. We’re all women and we should remember that. We all love to look good and experiment with different looks, whether it be hair or makeup. So why are we fighting about this?

What about when it comes to fashion choices? 

I don’t think fashion gets it as a bad as beauty. Lol.

You talked to Glamour and said “there’s no black or white hair, there’s just different types and textures,” can you expand on this? What are the types?

There’s straight, wavy, curly, kinky and coarse. It’s evident that certain races have a certain hair type. However, there are black people with straight or wavy hair. And there are white people with curly or coarse hair.  So at the end of the day, it’s not about skin color. It’s really about the hair texture and type.

Do you find that most hairstylists are only versed in particular types or ethnicities of hair? 

When you’re a hairstylist and have a knowledge of hair, you should be able to work with all hair types. But I do think there are stylists who are comfortable working with straight hair and others who are comfortable working with coarse hair.

Gimme More Beauty

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