Puerto Rican hairstylist Laura Om has appointed herself “la reina de los rizos” for years. She started the hashtag #MarantaPower on Instagram to reclaim a word often used to denigrate curly hair and she specializes in textured hair. Her San Juan salon, Om Studio, even includes “specialist in curls and color” on its Instagram bio. But on Tuesday, followers accused Om of cultural appropriation after the hairstylist showed off new crochet braids, which involves attaching synthetic hair extensions with a latch to cornrows.
Om posted a picture of her new braids on Instagram with the caption, “This will be me for a while.” She then thanked her stylist, Leidy Valencia, and promised to keep the style for “some time.” Although Om calls herself a “curl expert,” followers immediately pointed out that, as a white Puerto Rican, the hairstyle wasn’t meant for her, especially considering that some have accused her of telling Black women to get keratin treatments to soften their textures. Crochet braids are a protective hairstyle Black women use to take care of the ends of natural. They help to decrease tangling, shedding, and breakage.
“It’s important to check our own privilege,” one follower wrote. Others invited Om to sit down in person to discuss her decision. But Om, who’s worked as a hairstylist on the island for 16 years, fired back in a series of Instagram stories.
“Since I’m so fabulous and people love commenting on other people’s business, there’s always an idiot who thinks I should not be wearing braids because that’s for Black people,” Om said on her Instagram story. She suggested her braids didn’t make a political statement and instead served as part of her research into the “natural hair” community.” “I take my work very seriously,” she said.
Om explained she’s experimenting with the braids to provide another alternative for curly-haired women who don’t want to wear their short hair after the “big chop” – a term used to describe the haircut stylists use to get rid of chemically treated locks and transition to natural hair. “There are a lot of women who don’t do the big chop because they don’t want to have short curly hair,” Om explained.
Commenters didn’t buy her explanation, though, and pointed out that braids are used in a different context. Other critics slammed Om for profiting off Black culture in Puerto Rico instead of promoting Black creatives.
As she’s embroiled in controversy, plenty of Puerto Ricans have taken to Twitter to denounce her new hairstyle. Check out a few reactions below.