Fans are flocking to support a Trinidadian “Caribbean’s Next Top Model” contestant whose experience on the show recently went viral after she was given an ultimatum. Gabriella Bernard was told she’d have to chemically straighten her natural hair or be sent home from the program.
A clip of the situation was posted on Facebook Thursday, Sept. 20 and led to an uproar from supporters.
“Please do not relax my hair,” Bernard pleads when it’s time for makeovers. “Because I had it relaxed for fifteen years and my brand is about embracing your natural beauty.”
She added that she was “OK” with getting a texturizer “as long as my natural curls stay intact.”
Still, she emphasized that her big, natural hair was her brand and she said she’d “rather leave today because I don’t do the chemicals than put the chemicals in my hair and stay.”
However, it seemed Bernard ultimately changed her mind, as a judge remarked that she’d be axed from the competition if she didn’t relax her hair. When it came time for judging, host and executive producer Wendy Fitzwilliam confronted Bernard about the situation. She asked Bernard to explain why she was “so unbelievably naughty and unprofessional.”
Bernard explained that she had been relaxed for over a decade but when she transitioned to being natural, she had more self-love.
“We live in a world where the media tells us that we need to have straight hair to be accepted,” Bernard says.
And while Fitzwilliam leveled with her to some extent, she said she was unprofessional in the way she handled her makeover.
“That’s the kind of thing in the real world that gets you dismissed immediately,” the former Miss Universe says. “So that can’t happen again, OK?”
Trinidad Express reported the episode in question was filmed in Jamaica last year and aired in February.
While speaking to the publication last Thursday, Bernard said that she didn’t stick to her guns because she weighed how far she’d made it in the competition.
“I had a conversation with myself and I said if I go home what am I going home to? Because I left my job to go on the show. I put in my application the Thursday and by the following Thursday I was flying out. I told myself that I had already reached this far and this was something that I wanted so much,” she said.
And while speaking to Loop, Bernard said she didn’t think she was unprofessional.
“Standing up for myself is not unprofessional,” she explained. “Saying that this is more than just my hair texture. This is a socio-political issue that we have dealt with in Trinidad, the Caribbean, the whole world for centuries. We’ve been told our hair is not good enough.”
She also made it clear she felt she was owed an apology.
“Initially I wanted her to apologize and admit that she was wrong about how she went about what she did. Because in retrospect, if she had really agreed with me as she said and given me a wig, both of us would have come out on top afterwards,” Bernard said. “But you wanted to make it seem as though you are the queen, the mother, and anything you say goes because you’re big, I’m small, you’re strong, I’m weak…even the way she spoke to me was very condescending.”
Ultimately, Bernard, who has since gone back to wearing her natural hair, won third in the spin-off of the Tyra Banks-produced and hosted “America’s Next Top Model.” She used her experience on CNTM to create the documentary, “Black Hair,” which was shown at the 2018 Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival.
But while Bernard has turned things in her favor, fans have been crying out against the way the show treated her.
Trinidadian political activist Pearce Robinson wrote in part on Facebook, “Wendy Fitzwilliam ought to be ashamed. What a foolish thing to say to Gabriela Bernard, who was absolutely correct about her identity. Wendy needs to check herself!!!”
And fans of the show have also chimed in.
“Wendy you have disappointed me. So you are saying that in the real world she must confirm to the white standard of beauty? Ok then. Steups.”
“They could have used a flat iron, that just wrong.”
“Unacceptable treatment. My heart breaks. Yes, models need to be willing to be blank canvases and altered as need be. If her hair needed to be straight for a shoot there is something called a flat iron or a wig. To have toxic chemicals damage your hair is unnecessary in this day and age.”
Still, some condemned Bernard for not sticking to her standards.
“I am not disappointed in Wendy at all…I am disappointed by that young lady…that she gave in and then allowed a poor example to young black women such as Wendy Fitzwilliam to tell her she is unprofessional because she wants to maintain her natural hair.”
“Sorry, but I would have left the show.”