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.
Jasmine, a 31-year-old married mother of two, said that assumptions are definitely made whether people are conscious of them or not. “If a black woman wears her hair straight or wears a weave, some may think she is superficial or a snob. Some think when a black woman wears her hair this way she is more approachable (I have heard them from people of other races). On the flip side, I think black women who wear their hair natural are viewed as being strong, educated and able to solve everything with a homeopathic remedy.”
Renee, a 20-year biracial college student, doesn’t stereotype type black women based on hair unless they are wearing a radical style.
“Well, if I see a black woman with bright pink weave, then I automatically, like most people, think that she’s either uneducated or unemployed. If I see a black woman with a decent weave or natural hair, I don’t assume. If her hair is natural, I think, ‘Oh, cool, she’s in to that, but I don’t assume much.”
I wear my hair curly, flat ironed and weaved. One thing I have noticed is that when my hair is curly, more black women with natural hair speak to me. It’s like being apart of an exclusive, special sisterhood. When I see a black women with natural hair, there’s an instant camaraderie. When my hair is straight, more people, in general, from diverse backgrounds speak to me.
Maybe natural hair is just the latest and greatest trend. It makes me think of a Walmart commercial from 2010 that featured a young, black women with long straight hair (or weave) hawking some prepaid card. Next year, the same black woman was featured, but with her curly, natural hair. I have noticed more black women with natural hair featured in television and advertisements over the past three to four years.
Everyone has preconceived notions or make assumptions about people–consciously or subconsciously whether they are innocuous or positive. I do think that there is some validity to my opinion that assumptions are made about black women based on our hair probably more so than any other race. Do I think that is wrong? Not necessarily. I am just saying it does happen. Now, I wonder what my hair styles say about me?
Tonya B. Lewis is a journalist who has worked in radio, television and print journalism (newspaper and magazine). Throughout her exciting career, she has had the opportunity to interview some of Hollywood’s biggest stars such as Morgan Freeman, Bill Cosby and Jet Li. During a junket for the movie, “Unleashed,” she jokes that she was able to ask Morgan Freeman the best question in the room: “Can I take a picture with you?”
Tonya has worked as a reporter covering hard news such as politics, city and education for the Dallas Weekly and served as editor-at-large for Eclipse Magazine and Eclipse Scene. She also worked as a co-host and producer for “Junior’s Joint Radio Show” on KNON 89.3 FM with a former Dallas city councilman discussing issues concerning Dallas and the nation.
A graduate of the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord School of Journalism and a former exchange student at La Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara, her diverse background and experiences contributed to her starting her own freelance writing business called The Writer’s Circle. Tonya has also taught journalism as an adjunct faculty member at Baylor University. She will begin graduate school at Baylor University this fall.
Now, she focuses on her current position as assistant director of media communications at Baylor University. Prior to working at Baylor, she served as public information officer and spokesperson for the city of Duncanville, Texas.
- The hair debate must end (feministssa.com)
- The Darkest Sister (simplygrace00.wordpress.com)
- But Why Isn’t Her Hair Done? : The Politics of Natural Hair and Children (hollalujah.wordpress.com)
- Is It Okay for Strangers to Touch Your Natural Hair? (essence.com)
- 15 Celebs With Natural Hair (styleblazer.com)
- Common Myths About Natural Hair (haircoustics.com)
- I Love my Natural Hair (irevamped.wordpress.com)
- My Story: Why I Went Natural (iprefer2benatural.wordpress.com)
- Influential Woman | Isis Brantley (brownskinwomen.com)
- Don’t Touch My (Kinky, Curly, Natural) Hair! (karenthimo.wordpress.com)