Dr Zoe Williams opens up out about dealing with microaggressions in a new Instagram post

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Lauren Geall
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Dr Zoe Williams

The GP and television personality responded to comments made by Eamonn Holmes about her hair during Thursday’s episode of This Morning.

Dr Zoe Williams has spoken out about what it’s like to be on the receiving end of microaggressions after Eamonn Holmes was criticised for comments he made about her hair last week.

While Holmes was quick to apologise for his remarks – in which he said he compared Dr Williams’ afro hair to an alpaca and said he would like to “pet” her – the incident has triggered plenty of conversation online, with many Black and mixed-race women speaking out about their experiences with hair-related microaggressions in response. 

And now, in a new Instagram post, Dr Williams has shared her perspective, saying the interaction has “opened the door” to a conversation that “needs to be had”.  

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“I’m aware that [Holmes’] remarks, though meant without malice, have offended people,” she wrote. “And if that comment had been made to me by a stranger, then I too would likely have been offended. It was mis-judged and I think it’s fair to say that both Eamonn and I wish it hadn’t been said.”

Admitting that she had taken “a moment to reflect” before responding to the incident, Dr Williams said that, while she wasn’t OK with some of the more abusive comments Holmes has received, it was important to talk about what had happened.

“I’ve spent most of my life hearing comments about my hair from people who aren’t my friend, often combined with an attempt to touch my hair and it has a very different impact,” she explained. “After a lifetime of ‘laughing it off’ I am only just now learning to set boundaries for myself.” 

She continued: “These comments can be called microaggressions and I’m sure people watching who’ve had similar experiences reacted to yesterday’s comments just as if it had happened to them.”

Going on to explain that microaggressions are “normally subtle comments made towards minority ethnic or culturally marginalized groups that communicate derogatory, hostile or condescending opinions,” Dr Williams reflected on the actions she has taken in the past to avoid these kinds of interactions.

“I straightened my hair for years trying to fit in before deciding to wear my hair naturally,” she said. “But now my afro is a part of my identity and I’m proud to show it off.”

Wrapping up her statement, Dr Williams urged those worried about comments they might have made in the past to reflect on their behaviour and do better in the future.  

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“It’s OK to get it wrong, we all do – what comes after the mistake is what matters most,” she wrote. “If we care enough and are brave enough to do some deep, sometimes painful reflection and vow to make the necessary changes moving forwards then that is enough.

“Our society is in the process of change, much overdue change, for the better. It’s a shame we have to experience these extremely difficult and uncomfortable situations, but they are all part of the journey. Comments about a persons’ appearance, whether a reflection of race or otherwise are more subject to criticism than ever before, and there is no place for them in public forums.”

She concluded: “So, my ask would be that people are open to trying to understand where this upset comes from in order to make the necessary changes for future generations. And to those who were offended, my ask is not to take all of your frustrations out on one person who made a genuine mistake, but to use this example in a positive way to highlight and educate so that we can progress.” 

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.