Hair is a subject that is very important to women and their self-esteem. The positive or negative view of one’s hair can greatly affect a woman, especially if she is of color. Hair, its length, texture and color, all effect how a person looks and how they will be perceived. Women of color specifically are affected by this because along with their skin color; their hair is not necessarily the most common and accepted by the vast majority.
- Hair and its dominating importance
- Black women’s struggle to match the standard
- Natural hair and its growing acceptance to women of color
- Acceptance of unapologetically black hair publicly and in an in professional environment (or lack thereof)
1. Hair is directly linked to beauty and its ambitious standards. A woman’s hair makes up who she is and can have a positive or negative effect on her image as a whole. There are multiple aspects to hair including color, length, thickness, texture and pattern. These aspects determine all types of various looks and styles a woman can wear and is a way she can re-invent herself. Women, especially women of color, can be creative with their hair and can switch it up to try different things. Although this is fun and has endless possibilities, women of color are policed more for how they look and present their hair.
2. Typically, the socially acceptable way of looking is to look as close to being Anglo-European as possible. All over the world people strive to achieve this through skin bleaching and hair straightening making those of color feel inferior. This is specifically important regarding hair because women of color are born with hair that isn’t as easy to manage and isn’t as straight as that of Europeans. According to Sims, “Historically, Black women’s choices about how to wear their hair has been informed by societal pressures to adopt Eurocentric standards of straight hair (Lester, 2000). However, in the United States during the 1960s, Afrocentric hair began to be positively associated with the quest for equal rights in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements (Kelley, 1997).” This is the time that the phrase “Black is beautiful” began to be used to distract negative stereotypes and views of black beauty. This was a positive message but as times persisted “By the 1970s the Afro had become largely masculinized in part because of its close association with the largely male, militant leadership of the Black Panthers (Kelley, 1997). Subsequently, there was a negative reaction to Black women wearing Afros. In particular, when worn by Black women, the Afro connoted a dominant woman who would engage in racial rebellion with employers and man-bashing to men.” (Sims) A lot of the treatments can be extremely harmful, unhealthy and damaging which shows a true testament of the lengths women of color go through in order to be defined as beautiful and fit the mold. Since youth, black women have gotten their hair relaxed going through terrible strain and pain including severe burns from the deeply harsh chemicals used to make the hair smooth and straight. “Hair relaxers can cause burns and lesions in the scalp, facilitating entry of hair relaxer constituents into the body.” (Wise, Palmer, Reich, Cozier &Rosenberg) Not only are relaxers dangerous to the scalp but they are also dangerous to hair as well. These chemicals may straighten the hair follicles, but they also weaken them and make the hair thinner as well. Many women of color go through this unhealthy practice just to feel more accepted by society.
3. For women of color, hair is a part of them. Hair is expression of who they are and how they want to be perceived as. As Rowe states,” Black hair has always been important to Black people for informing and shaping concepts of Black identity. It has often served as space for assimilation and measurement of proximity to whiteness for Black people. However, hair has also consistently been a space for creativity, autonomy and self-expression among Black people, particularly Black women.” Upon searching, “Natural Hair Loves,” “Amazing Natural Hair,” and “Natural Hair Spot” are just a few of the first names that pop up on Instagram when you type in the word “Natural” in the search bar. Women of color have begun a new wave recently of ditching the chemicals that alter their hair to make it straight and “socially acceptable” and have accepted the strands that naturally grow out of their heads and reclaimed its glory. This movement promotes self-love and acceptance and allows women of color to realize they do not have to change themselves in order to be considered beautiful. As stated by Rowe, “Women aren’t saying their motivation is to combat Eurocentric ideals of beauty. Rather this movement is characterized by self-discovery and health. But black hair and the black body generally have long been a site of political contest in American history and in the American imagination.”
4. Women of color experience intersectionality every day. Living with the obstacles of being black along with the obstacles of being a woman it can be hard for them to reach success because there’s so many odds against them along with pre-made judgements. According to Williams, “Despite the strides that have been made in America to improve things for women and people of color, the interwoven societal standards of beauty do not include African American women. This standard of beauty affects women in that no matter how intelligent they are, looks play an important part in their professional life.” Black women are expected to look a certain way in a professional setting and that is of typical European styled beauty standards. This includes straight hair that is long and one solid color. “Black women who choose to wear Eurocentric hair styles may be conforming to this standard of professionalism in an effort to be accepted in the workplace, thereby fulfilling the need to belong.”(Sims, Barclay, Kurt) Women have the choice to wear their hair however they want, the way that it is perceived however, is different, “when a Black woman chooses to wear an Afrocentric hairstyle she may be going against the norm revealing a marginal identity trait. This choice to go against the standard Eurocentric values may be thought of as an act of agency or dominance. The woman is not conforming to majority norms instead she is displaying a part of herself that is unique, fulfilling her need to feel distinct.” (Sims, Barclay, Kurt) When a woman of color exits these norms she is seen as a threat and someone who is not following the standard and is often criticized and told to tone it down and conform.
All in all, it is shown that women of color have a strong attachment to their hair. Not only does hair create identity but it also fosters a sense of pride and love. Although the public standard of beauty broadcasted by the media is closer to European likeness, women of color continue to be themselves and have emerged in a new recent wave of self-acceptance throwing away the forced ideas of beauty and constantly struggling to fight for acceptance in all communities and settings.
Sims, S., Romney, Charles W., Key, Barclay, & Senn, Kurt. (2016). It’s Growing on ’em: Black Hair’s Fight for Social Acceptance, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.
Opie, T., & Phillips, K. (2015). Hair penalties: The negative influence of Afrocentric hair on ratings of Black women’s dominance and professionalism. Frontiers In Psychology,6, 1311.
Thompson, C. (2009). BLACK WOMEN, BEAUTY, AND HAIR AS A MATTER OF BEING. Womens Studies-An Interdisciplinary Journal, 38(8), 831-856.
Swami, V., Furnham, A., & Joshi, K. (2008). The influence of skin tone, hair length, and hair colour on ratings of women’s physical attractiveness, health and fertility. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 49(5), 429-437.
Farley, Yasmine Osir. (2016). An Exploration of the Identity and Career Development of African American Women in Higher Education Leadership: Does Hair Style Make a Difference?, Educational Foundations & Leadership Theses & Dissertations.
Rowe, K., Troutman, Denise, & Williamson, Terrion. (2015). “I Love This Cotton Hair!”: Black Women, Natural Hair, and (re)constructions of Beauty, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.
Wise, L., Palmer, J., Reich, D., Cozier, Y., & Rosenberg, L. (2012). Hair Relaxer Use and Risk of Uterine Leiomyomata in African-American Women. American Journal of Epidemiology, 175(5), 432-440.
Marsh, R. (n.d.). Black Hair (Classical scores library, volume 3).
Odunsi, D., & Morris-Jones, R. (2012). Black hair treatments. British Journal Of Dermatology, 167, 54.
Tanus, A., Oliveira, C., Villarreal, D., Sanchez, F., & Dias, M. (2015). Black women’s hair: The main scalp dermatoses and aesthetic practices in women of African ethnicity. Anais Brasileiros De Dermatologia, 90(4), 450-65.
Anika Williams is a Communications major with a double minor in Marketing and Film. She is interested in film and advertising and hopes to pursue a career with those aspects in the near future. She is very involved on the campus of ODU serving in many roles. She is a Resident Assistant, a mentor, the Vice President of the organization SWL (Success Without Limitations) and also a conversation partner for international students. Additionally, she owns her own business, a hat brand based off of vision under the name NOISIA. She always has a vision and her goal in life is to pursue it, whatever it may be. Words to describe her would be a mentor, leader, organizer, visionary and entrepreneur.