On Sunday, real house-daughter turned supermodel Gigi Hadid ruffled feathers with an incendiary Instagram story. The since-deleted video, which features the face of Reebok deliberately squinting next to a Buddha-shaped cookie, transcended the quotidian cries of “she didn’t eat that” and drew allegations of Asian mockery and racism. Some social media critics argued that, as a religious symbol, the Buddha deserves respect in any and all incarnations—even if the Siddhartha in question is artificially sweetened. But the majority of criticism was aimed at Hadid’s problematic squint.
While Gigi is stuck in the social media doghouse, this relatively minor scandal is chock full of silver linings. First of all, it’s a huge boon for Instagram’s story feature. Move over, Snapchat—drunk celebrities doing dumb things are no longer exclusively your purview. Secondly, it allowed social media white knight Zayn Malik to rush to his girlfriend’s defense. When a Twitter user asked Malik, whose father is a Pakistani immigrant, “@zaynmalik being of Asian descent, how do you feel about your girlfriend making fun of Asian people?” The pop star gamely responded, “trust me.. she likes asians ;).” Whoever said chivalry is dead clearly isn’t spending enough time on former One Direction members’ Twitter timelines.
If anyone who has ever been enthralled by Zayn Malik’s cheekbones was magically cleansed of all racial prejudice, we would live in a far more tolerant world. But while being hot for Malik is certainly relatable, it doesn’t exactly excuse Gigi Hadid, whose rapid celebrity ascension has been accompanied by a bad case of the backlash bends. Hadid first came under fire in 2015 for ripping a page from the Kylie Jenner “black hair for white girls” playbook (patent still pending). In a cover shoot for Vogue Italia, the Palestinian-American model confusingly rocked an afro in every single shot. Between Hadid’s darker-than-usual tan and the wig-heavy wardrobe, it was clear where the magazine was drawing its inspiration from. What was less clear was why Vogue Italia didn’t just hire a black model to embody their afro mood board.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the last time that Gigi modeled cultural appropriation. During 2016 New York Fashion Week, Marc Jacobs employed a host of it girls to showcase his ’80s-inspired styles, topping off their looks with pastel dreadlocks he custom-ordered from Etsy. Gigi, her sister Bella Hadid, and Kendall Jenner were among the big names who flaunted the appropriative hairstyle. White girls wearing dreadlocks is one of this world’s most pervasive sartorial crimes. And while downward dogging next to one of these cultural criminals in a yoga class might be a rite of passage, watching them stomp down a big-name runway shouldn’t have to be.
The cooption is even more controversial when one considers the fact that employers can—and have—refused to hire people on account of their dreadlocks. The idea that black women can be legally discriminated against for their hairstyles, while models are praised for coopting those same looks on a runway, naturally rubs people the wrong way. Jacobs made the predictable backlash a whole lot worse for his team of 20-something glamazons when he clapped back with a super defensive, uninformed Instagram comment. Here’s a good social media rule of thumb: if you ever find yourself remarking that it’s “funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair,” take a step back, delete your comment, and throw your iPhone in the East River. Also, read a book.
Despite her tireless workout regimen, Hadid is easily winded whenever she attempts to navigate political and/or racial terrain. Last November, the social media star somehow made the American Music Awards scandalous. As part of her co-hosting duties, Hadid enthusiastically attempted to impersonate the future First Lady. Hadid’s not-half-bad Melania featured an over-the-top Eastern European accent and lips puckered into a “duck-face.” Unfortunately, her first ever foray into the world of comedy didn’t land Hadid an HBO special. Instead, she was accused of enacting an offensive and racist caricature, and had to release a public apology insisting that the bit was done “with no bad intent.”
Having grown up dodging the personality hurricanes that are the real housewives of Beverly Hills, Hadid clearly learned the hard way never to pick a side. Unfortunately, this has led to some pretty epic social media flip-flops. The 21-year-old publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton’s presidential run, and subsequently posted excerpts from the Secretary of State’s concession speech on her social media. So far, so cogent. Unfortunately, Hadid proceeded to Jekyll and Hyde her own politics, first urging the country give our new president-elect a chance, and then tweeting out a petition asking the electoral college to go rogue and instate Clinton instead. These two contradictory declarations came just one day apart.
This isn’t the first time Hadid has quickly stepped back from a statement. The model, whose father is Palestinian real estate developer Mohamed Hadid, once tweeted under the hashtag #FreeGaza, writing, “Not for religious or political reasons, but for integrity, dignity, and humanity.” Despite declaring herself “Half Palestinian & proud of it,” Hadid has subsequently tried to avoid overtly political statements.
As two famous young people from diverse backgrounds, Zayn Malik and Gigi Hadid would be perfect poster children for a variety of political causes. Fortunately for their careers—and unfortunately for any fans who like their cheekbones with a side of social conscience—Hadid and Malik appear to subscribe to the Taylor Swift school of sanitized politics. While Hadid has been vocal about her support for anti-Trump demonstrations, she’s restrained herself to girl power, peace on earth rhetoric.
Meanwhile Malik, despite being the victim of racist and Islamophobic social media attacks, won’t be leading a rally anytime soon. As someone who read every last word in Malik’s 2016 photo album/memoir, I can attest that the pop star is far more vocal about his workout regimen than he is about his mixed-race background or religious upbringing. In a 2015 Fader interview, Malik emphasized that, “I would never be trying to influence anything or try to stamp myself as a religious statement or portrayal of anything.” When pushed about why he isn’t politically outspoken, the pop star reiterated that, “I just don’t want to be influential in that sense.”
So while Gigi and Zayn certainly have a platform to promote social justice, we probably shouldn’t rely on these pretty millennials to fix our problems for us. We can, however, politely ask Hadid to refrain from snapping while under the influence.