16th Apr2017

“This Here is Mine”

by admin

Black Women's Hair

For centuries, African women have practiced rituals of beautification and used protective styles to prevent breakage, dryness, and damage. These rituals become highly socialised in the present day and now black women all over the world use innovative technologies to protect and style their hair. Such methods include wigs, weaves and braiding, and chemical straightening to name a few. Many of these styles, such as relaxing (chemically straightening) hair and weaves, resulted from a necessity to assimilate into spaces in which ideals of beauty prioritized Euro-centricity.

However, as black women have begun to exercise autonomy in the styling of their hair, opting to either grow it out naturally or to use such protective styles, there has been an increase in criticism towards them for making them those decisions, sometimes from within black communities themselves.

A black woman may often find herself questioned about whether she is ashamed of ‘her blackness’, if she has a weave, or if her hair is relaxed (the same not being asked of white people who style their hair in styles historically and culturally pertinent to black communities). These women often have to deal with other black people assuming that they wear these specific styles because they would like to ‘be white’, or that they equate blackness with unattractiveness. Before debunking this incorrect and quite frankly, ludicrous, idea, it is important to understand that even women who have natural hair that hasn’t been exposed to chemicals or styled in a manner similar to pervasively Western ideals experience condemnation. They experience workplace discrimination from society at large, often having their natural hair deemed inappropriate for professional environments or intrinsically clumsy in appearance, as was the case with the events which led to the silent protests at Pretoria Girls’ High last year. Also, these criticisms have quite a bit of personal bearing on myself, as in the 8th grade, I recall being told that my natural hair resembled pubic hair, although the embarrassment I felt in that moment was one experience that I never internalised, much to that young man’s disappointment.

With these criticisms being the result of different actions on black women’s parts, it would seem that the problem lies in society’s preoccupation with regulating the actions of black women. It is ultimately for this reason that all matters regarding black women’s hair are inherently political – because if a woman’s appearance can be the cause of suspension at school, or the US military and it’s the cause of unsolicited assumptions about the maintenance and hygiene of our hair and even how competent we are at specific tasks, then it is an inescapable part of our identities as black women and it is a part worth reclaiming for ourselves.

We now find ourselves having to redefine what our choices in styling our hair mean. For black women with natural hair, it means rejecting century old definitions of black femininity which ultimately sought to demonize our natural beauty. For those who style their hair with weave, wigs, or have chosen to relax their hair it means being able to experiment with and take part in popular beauty trends that we often create all the while protecting their hair against damage while looking good. And for many, how we choose to style our hair is a matter of convenience and self-expression, as many do wear both natural hair as well as extensions and artificial hair and these choices may not be influenced by any particular political perspective. That is, until we are forced to answer questions and address assumptions which ultimately come down to people seeing no problem with dissecting black women’s decisions and appearances because our privacy and agency are ultimately not regarded as our own or valid, as a result.

In closing, our decisions regarding our hair and our bodies are ultimately summed up by the following statements: You are not entitled to touch our hair – so don’t. Avoid offering unsolicited opinions about our hair. Our hair is none of your business. Stop telling us that we hate ourselves because of how we choose to style our hair. And understand that “My body is not a democracy. It is an empire and I am its dictator. You do not get a vote.”






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