We’ve heard this term time and time again, growing up. The words “good hair” are thrown around without much thought. Women in the black community have always struggled with their hair and being accepted with it. Having naturally kinky and curly hair can be much of a struggle to manage, detangling and styling doesn’t come easily and there always seems to be something that is not going how it should. From birth, children of color are judged by their hair and its grade. As babies, adults comment on weather their hair is good or not praising them if it is and not showing as much love if it is not. According to Johnson, “Phrases like nappy-headed, tender-headed, and turn back aren’t so much taught … as they are absorbed into the lexicon of a young Black mind.” Black children are indirectly taught at an early age that their hair isn’t as nice as other races and it takes more effort like hot-combs, flat irons, and relaxers to get the ultimate look to be presentable. This leaves a distaste for natural hair for people of color (specifically black women) as they grow up. Black women feel that their hair always has to be done in some way because their hair is their pride and glory.
The question is: what constitutes as good hair? Some would say hair that is healthy and strong, some would say hair that grows long, but generally to the black community good hair is hair that is most easy to manage, hair that is looser in pattern and straighter in texture. This pressure to have “good hair” stems from societal pressures to match the European beauty standard. Since Europeans have been forced and programmed to be seen as the higher and ultimate being years and years ago, sadly people of color have done whatever they could to be like and match that set standard in order to have a better life and be perceived in a better light. The more white-passing you are the more attractive you are with more opportunity. This is an issue that is still present in today’s society all over the world. 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).”
Hair is more than just matter that grows out of the head, it is a way of status in the black community. If one’s hair is always styled to perfection they are on top of the game and naturally more popular. As Versey states, “Hairstyles are often perceived as facilitating messages to greater society. Women who feel certain hairstyles affirm their aesthetic value, self-worth, or central identity may be more reluctant to alter the style or state of their hair for any reason.” Chemically altered and relaxed, braided and aided with extensions are are just a few of the ways women change their hair in order to be more socially acceptable and secure in their appearance. A lot of women of color have low self-esteem because of the standard of hair in society and the extreme pressures to match it. For black women, one must constantly keep up with their hair and make sure it is done-up and looks nice or else they will be judged and even bullied often by other black women which is a form of respectability politics.
The constant need for styled hair can also be an issue financially and can reflect class as well. Along with the amount of effort it takes to have hair that is acceptable and deemed beautiful it takes money to buy various hair products which are expensive, purchase extensions, wigs and other hair aids and accessories and pay others to style the hair and keep up with heavy maintenance. According to Susan,” The Black hair care market is at least an $684 million industry.” This includes styling items like, combs and brushes, hair products like shampoo, conditioner and relaxers and synthetic and human hair used for wigs, weaves and extensions. These are all things women of color use to aid their appearance and to drain their pockets. Those who cannot afford to purchase hair goods and services are subject to negative judgement and discrimination because they are not able to make their hair look what its deemed acceptable and represent the standard of beauty.
Overall the problem is women of color are often negatively judged for their hair and seemingly they cannot win. Women with natural curly or kinky hair are judged that they are not presentable enough and don’t look good with the natural hair that grows out of their own head. This is not fair because one cannot control their DNA nor the hair that they were born with but only can try to change or alter it. On the other hand, when women of color wear wigs, weaves and other forms of extensions in their hair they are judged for wearing fake hair and not presenting their true selves often having to do the best they can to make their hair look real and constantly field questions about the origin of their hair. It is an all-around struggle for women of color to be socially accepted and to personally accept themselves when it comes to their hair, the issue is deeper that what most would think and continues to be a problem in the Black community.
Johnson, B. (2003). Good Hair. Transforming Anthropology, 11(2), 65-66.
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.
Susan, T. (2014, July 14). It’s Time: Black Women Need to Take Back the Hair Industry. Retrieved March 20, 2018, from http://www.ebony.com/style/black-women-need-to-take-back-the-hair-industry-887
Versey, H. (2014). Centering perspectives on Black women, hair politics, and physical activity. American Journal of Public Health, 104(5), 810-5.
Chris Rock’s film Good Hair
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.