Why It’s Time To Retire The Habitual Shaming of Black Women’s Hair
When it comes to Black women and our hair, there seems to be a virus of hate that emanates from Black men in particular, who relish any opportunity to shame us for the feature that uniquely and controversially — separates us from non-Black women.
When comedian Chris Rock, released the film Good Hair, back in 2009, I wasn’t prepared to be woefully embarrassed by the laziness of the themes, that were presented with disingenuous plots — aimed at ridiculing the grooming preferences of women who are ceremoniously disrespected and misrepresented by the judging crowd — gawking with pleasure as we squirm.
The film also featured an array of of notable Black women, including actresses Nia Long, Meagan Good, and Kerry Washington, who all added nothing tangible to a conversation that should’ve been rooted in the systemized policing of our strands — that extends to disapproving family members, who plant the seed of their discontent early enough to seize our self-esteem.
Good Hair seems to be a blatant betrayal by a Black man with a massive platform, who used his influence to flare up the sensitivity nerves Black women like me, with hair textures that are considered “less than ideal,” harbor, due to the messaging of how we’re challenged with the thankless task of grooming ourselves — according to the viable standards that exclude our aesthetic.
Almost a decade later, and the shaming of Black women and their hair is still an active item on the list of Black men who resort to social media platforms to call us out for our apparent “lack of self love,” that’s apparently demonstrated by how much money we waste on “beauty products” compared to our non-Black counterparts, who are blessed with the very thing we’re desperate to manifest.
When it comes to my personal journey, there’s no doubt that I’ve accommodated the worst case scenario of bad hair days, that stem from the challenge of figuring out the best method of manipulation for the texture of hair that I’ve been assigned.
During childhood, I relied on my mother’s touch, which was often aggressive because that was the only way to tame a dramatic mane, that didn’t boast the “defined or loose curls” that make roots permeable and therefore more adaptable to styling gels.
“Wash day” was the absolute worst!
I had more hair than I could stand, and so it took longer to get the shampoo digested and my hair foamed, and of course by the time, wash and rinse was complete, both my mom and I were slobbery wet as if we’d been through a car wash with the windows down.
And then, it was on to the even more cumbersome duty of drying and styling, with hair pomades that had an industrial presentation, which only emphasized the fact that my hair was difficult enough to warrant potent solutions that were mysteriously undissolvable.
By the time boarding school became a reality, I was tossed into the formidable regimen of having to pair up with a willing student, who would agree to a partnership of braids and corn rows. The stringent rules didn’t permit students to attend morning assembly without neatly plaited styles, and if we failed to adhere to the rules, we suffered the public punishment of scissors being raked over the damning evidence of our disobedience.
It took awhile, but eventually, I was able to secure loyal braiding partners. But not before enduring the specific criticisms, that elaborate on how descriptions like, “tough,” “dry,” and “hard,” tend to stick in your consciousness in ways that leave you vulnerably apologetic for what is falsely deemed — a social flaw.
When you’re constantly pummeled with the same rhetoric from people who’ve experienced the storminess of what’s supposed to be your crowning glory, it takes a toll and motivates the need to make the necessary adjustments for the sake of beauty and acceptance.
I still recall my first relaxer at the age of seventeen, and how amazing it felt to be able to run my fingers through my fried-out mane. The wind blowing through, and the way each step allowed for movement, as well as the lightness of the huge black curls that glowed from the rays of the sun — all combined as a booster for a young woman who finally felt like she could rule the world.
As I settled into early adulthood, I was suddenly forced to re-evaluate my regimen, based on undefined preferences. Committing to monthly touchups was a pricey endeavor, but relying on chemical-free roots was also not an ideal option, since it demanded a level of care that I wasn’t comfortable tackling.
But once the early 2000’s arrived, and more than a decade before the “natural hair movement” gained traction — I managed to amass the discipline required to stop hiding under the veil of braids and perms. I decided to embrace my unruly mane with pride and gratitude.
My newly-minted disposition wasn’t a popular one. I battled intense pushback from family members and friends, who never let up when it came to convincing me that my love life would be energized by a swift visit to the salon for a much-needed press and curl.
There were subtle hints dropped by agents at staffing agencies, who all offered oodles of compliments about my “eclectic” appearance, but would then segue into how I had to curtail that energy when it came to the corporate environment. My larger-than-life Afro was quite impressive, but it would definitely stun potential employers away from my glowing credentials.
Despite the uneven and often times hostile reception to my embattled aesthetic, I never wavered in my quest to be accepted for who I was, without the false security of weaves or straighteners. And part of the process was trial and error, as I endured the frustration of wasting a shit load of money on hair products that weren’t formulated for my hair type.
From Miss Jessie’s to Hair Rules to Carol’s Daughter and all the others in-between, there is no shortage of suppliers that swear to have the winning potion for Black women, who are desperate for “shine” and “curly patterns,” that can only be revived with slathers of overly-expensive creams — sucking the life out of our tresses.
The truth is that once I understood what my strands represented without the dysfunction of trying to pattern them against textures, that are deemed socially admissible, that was when my truth became a lifesaver.
I stopped being a slave to trends, hair blogs, and all the other other conventions that make a thriving business out of maximizing the narrative of how natural hair still has to conform to the narrative of functionality and durability — that can’t and shouldn’t apply to every hair type.
The root of the matter always begins with how our “raggedy edges” reveal the misfortune of not being “mixed” or “exotic” enough to avoid the threat of sweating out the scoops of plastered gel.
And even as the natural hair movement continues to flourish with the support and publicity that didn’t greet my efforts years ago, there’s still the maddening mockery of doubters, who can’t contain their disdain for how Black women are ultimately enslaved by the obsession of what is essentially an accessory that should be allowed to evolve and thrive.
The vicious cycle of Black men condemning Black women for being arrestingly ashamed of the natural state of their hair in ways that propel us to spend an insane amount of dough to compensate, is complicated by the fucked up realization that these same dudes are the ones who flat out refuse to date the very women they laud for their “realness.”
Actor and singer Tyrese Gibson has gotten himself entangled in a hairy mess more times than he would like to count, for publicly rebuking Black women on social media, for the sin of masking their “naturalness” under the convenience of artificiality, that serves as trickery for men who “prefer” the “real thing.”
Interestingly enough, Gibson married a woman who fits the template that most Black men of a certain status typically gravitate to, which is the racially-ambiguous types, that are able to claim blackness with the authority of superior genes, that make them more palatable compared to “regular types.”
Truth be told, it’s not just Black men that are callously reckless with words and judgment, Black women are also quite disapproving when it comes to hairstyles that showcase thirsty strands, that aren’t gelled to perfection, or at very least “defined” enough to satisfy basic requirements.
Who can forget the intolerable reception that greeted Blue Ivy Carter, who was infamously harassed by online users to such a degree that her superstar mother was forced to formally address it in the hit single, Formation. It was heart-wrenching to witness the shaming of a child, based on the freedom of strands, that somehow didn’t meet the expectations of women, who are obviously hiding under a heap of insecurities.
And with the flexibility of ethnic-inspired hairstyles, that have been readily endorsed by trendsetting outlets, that only respond to culture vultures — poaching from the very population that has been traditionally devalued and uncredited for birthing trends that are exclusively devised for our usage — it’s even more infuriating to be viewed as pathetic followers as opposed to the more appropriate title of “influencers.”
This is why it’s time to retire the habitual shaming of Black women’s hair by men who enjoy torturing us with insults about our grooming practices, as a way of reducing us to non-contenders against our better equipped competitors.
It’s time for people to stop discussing matters they’re not familiar with, especially when the politics of hair and how Black girls and women are unfairly regulated based on a biased system, leaves us vulnerable to disciplinary actions that serve to stifle our mode of self-expression.
It’s time for Black women to reclaim the narrative of our lives, by discarding the chains that hold us down, with empty promises from suppliers who are only interested in demand and supply rather than hair care. Or hair stylists who are more committed to creating patterns, and have zero interest in longterm maintenance.
We spend the time and money, because of the responsibility that comes with possessing a grade of hair that doesn’t curl up with glee after a long hot shower or a quick dip in the pool. It’s a daunting situation to be faced with, when the overnight twists don’t unravel in the way that was meant to carry you through a high-powered meeting.
There’s nothing wrong with experiments gone bad because the practiced return to the drawing board of ideas ends up relaxing us into the personalized rhythm of expertise, that produces steadily beautiful results.
This exercise in disciplined patience is the very definition of self-love, and doesn’t at all expose the bondage of Black women who are supposedly trapped in an existence that leaves them searching for the acceptance they will never find.
Our uniqueness demands more than our counterparts have to expend because we care about retaining the traditions of ancestry, that are illustrated in the intricacy of styling, that can’t ever be matched with textures that weren’t made to be effortlessly manipulated into the shapes of storytelling and customs.
That’s why Indie.Arie wasn’t entirely truthful when she defiantly declared, I am Not My Hair — because her reasoning creates a distance between the masterpiece and its creator.
We are our hair, and it’s finally time to own it.