Nara Smith’s braids are causing outrage on TikTok. Here’s why

By Abby Amoakuh

Published Apr 4, 2024 at 01:15 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

If you haven’t heard of Nara Smith before, it’s unlikely that you’ve been on TikTok in the last few months. The biracial model and influencer took the platform by storm with her cooking tutorials, designer clothing, and small glimpses into the life of a young wife and mother. However, most recently it wasn’t her elaborate recipes that made the rounds on social media but Smith’s hairstyle and the discovery that the model is—hold your breath—a Black woman. Here’s everything that went down.

On 23 March 2024, Smith uploaded a video in which she walked her followers through her hair wash routine, explaining how she properly conditions and treats her hair every two weeks.

“People seem to think that I hate my curly hair and that I want to be more white by doing this,” Smith noted in her voiceover, as she blew her hair out and tied it up in a ponytail. “I don’t. I used to have a lot of really bad eczema on my scalp, which caused me to lose a bunch of hair and constantly be flaky. So, in order for me to feel confident I decided to chop it all of and wear a style that covers the front of my hair, which is why I also haven’t gotten braids in almost two years now because my scalp wouldn’t have been able to handle it,” the creator continued.

@naraazizasmith

10 hours later 🫶🏽 #grwm #protectivestyles #fypシ #marriage #knotlessbraids #hair #eczema

♬ Solas X Interstellar - Gabriel Albuquerqüe

Smith went on to explain: “But now, being pregnant my eczema hasn’t flared up in almost nine months so I decided to get braids for this baby’s birth.”

A lot of Black women opt for protective styles during their last weeks of pregnancy to avoid having to do their hair while preparing for and giving birth.

However, the influencer getting knotless braids wasn’t as interesting as the responses she received online. Like most of Smith’s clips, this particular video received over 4 million views and much love from her followers.

Nevertheless, a lot of her predominately white audience members seemed to be a little confused about a couple of things. For one, why the influencer only washes her hair every two weeks. The comment section was so flooded with statements such as “Every two weeks?!?!” and “???” that her Black followers had to finally interject and clarify that curly and coarse hair don’t need to be washed as regularly as white hair.

Second of all, there was the question of where box braids come from. Because according to a lot of white women on TikTok, Smith invented them.

In a now-deleted video, content creator Isabelle Lux responded to Smith’s hairstylist’s video of her completed braids and branded the look “Nara Smith braids.”  The influencer expressed: “Did you guys see the vlog where Nara Smith got her entire hair braided? My entire dream since I was a little girl is to have my hair braided like this and I have not been able to do it. I don’t think you guys understand, I am obsessed. I think it’s the most beautiful hairstyle in the entire world.” Lux went on to say: “When I was younger on any kind of tropical vacation at the beach, the first stop was to get my hair braided. Obviously, it’s so beautiful, but it’s also so practical.”

Lux’s video understandably resulted in a lot of negative reactions, with multiple black content creators clarifying that box braids didn’t originate with Smith. Braids are braids and they are nothing new.

To give a quick history lesson: their origin can be traced back almost 5000 years in African culture to 3500 BC where they were very popular among women and used to identify tribe, age, wealth, marital status and religion. In the last few centuries, braids have become an inextricable part of Black culture amid the diaspora. They allowed Black women to reclaim their identity, express their heritage, and resist Eurocentric beauty standards.

@theresiamaroneyy

They’re beautiful on her but they’re just regular knotless braids 😭 #nara #narabraids #braids #knotlessbraids #blackgirlbraids #braid #controversy #fyp #longervideos #ranting

♬ original sound - theresiamaroneyy
@tiffanicvd

NARA SMITH BRAIDS… 👀🚶🏾‍♀️🚶🏾‍♀️🚶🏾‍♀️ #boxbraids #boxbraidshairstyles #hairstyles #curlyhair #beach #saltwater #curlyhaircare #braids #braiding #naturalhair

♬ original sound - tiffani 🧚🏾 | 4c natural hair
@notsofi

@Isabelle ⚡️ Lux hiiii reupload bc i didnt stitch this riiiiight OK ANYWAY #narasmith #boxbraids #hairstyle #hairtutorials #braids #fyp

♬ original sound - sofi

The conversation of whether white people should wear traditionally Black hairstyles has been long ongoing. Many argue that next to their cultural relevance, box braids and cornrows aren’t suited for caucasian hair due to the amount of pressure they apply, as well as the fact that they make regularly washing hair harder.

It’s a question that simply cannot be answered in one. However, whether or not “Nara Smith braids” exist can. They don’t. Just ask Black Twitter.

A lot of the backlash started to concentrate on Smith, with the idea that she was making Black hairstyles and visual features more palatable to a white audience.

@earth2mikala

i feel like she just want view fr

♬ original sound - Lexc

This doesn’t fully grasp the conversation though. Smith’s hairstyle and haircare routine were completely othered and exoticised by her mainly white audience. It signals that despite much of the criticism that the influencer has received for pretending to be white, she is still regularly read as Black or non-white.

Yet, she also has a Black audience that frequently questions and belittles that aspect of her identity on the basis that she has a white husband and blue-eyed children.

This highlights a very special kind of racism that a lot of mixed-raced individuals for centuries. They are frequently confronted with a lot of fear, confusion and suspicion for not being Black enough or trying to pass as white, with people being unsure where to place them in. That’s the reason why one part of Smith’s audience gets so upset about her straightening her hair, whereas another part is bewildered and confused when they learn that she only washes it twice a month and puts it in braids.

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