By Tonya B. Lewis
Natural hair for black women used to mean afro picks with fists, Angela Davis salutes and the Black Panther Party. Over time, natural hair gave way to the Jheri Curl, which always make me think of Eddie Murphy’s “Coming to America” (“Just let your soul glow!”), perms and relaxers. Then, wigs and weaves. When it comes to Black women and hair, we have tried just about everything. Or at least, I have!
All this transitioning from style to style had me thinking about black women and our hair and what it says about us. Do people infer personality, class, education and lifestyle by the way a black woman wears her hair? My answer: yes. But, I wondered am I right or off-base here.
I personally did a BC, or Big Chop, in 2005, while blasting India.Arie’s “I Am Not My Hair.” I was called “brave” and many commented on my apparent “confidence.” Overnight I was suddenly more confident, bold, “conscious” and stronger. I remember feeling puzzled because I only cut my hair because of damage from a relaxer. I wasn’t exposing any particular political beliefs or making any declarations or statements.
I did feel more confident for rockin’ a style that was different at the time. It was liberating. Then, I started flat ironing my hair. Eventually, I began to wear sew-in weaves. Then, I noticed a different attitude and response from other black women. And, I’m not alone.
Natasha, a friend from college, recounted how she was shopping with her mother who wears an afro. “We were approached by a women with natural hair who practically fawned over my mother’s hair. She dismissed me, and I felt invisible. It was disheartening. I wanted to say, “Hey, I’m natural, too! My hair is just straightened!”
I, too, when my hair has been straight have found myself offering up in conversation with natural haired women–“Hey, I’m natural, too!” so I could be included in the natural, kinky and curly club.
In search for more answers to my question about perceptions and black women’s hair, I went to one of the historical places in the black community where good discussion and discourse takes place–the barbershop! Oh, did the men have a thing or two to say about black women, hair and beauty. (Sidebar: According to the men, the most attractive or beautiful accessory a woman has is her confidence,which I will address in a subsequent post.)
Ed, a 35-year-old barber, supported his wife’s decision to go natural. He sees natural hair as trendy and more of a fashion statement than anything else.
“In 2013, nothing is shocking anymore. Everyone is going natural and some women are shaving their hair bald. Natural hair is just another trend that is popular again.”
Jackson, a 30-year-old Waco native, sees women with natural hair as confident, a sentiment that was echoed by the five men that I spoke to at the barbershop. He added that those with natural hair seem “outspoken, proud and don’t care about other’s opinion” and are “professional or educated.”
Natasha recently began wearing her natural hair curly. “If I had known the amount of attention I would have received from men by wearing my hair curly, I would have done it sooner!” She, too, has been labeled as more confident and does feel more confident wearing her natural hair.
Men seemed to be more preoccupied with how a woman looks with a particular hairstyle than the style itself. They saved most of their disdain for weave–bad weave that is. Lace front wigs, quick weaves or smelly weaves received definite “no’s” from the men. Long, straight and healthy hair seemed to be favorable. They liked her that was touchable soft and not too course or “nappy.”
I took my quest to Facebook as well, and my friends chimed in. (more…)