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The Relationship Between Black Women and Straight Hair

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By Shatay Speights

 

Illustration by Artist Keturah Ariel

Over the past few years, women in the black community have been able to witness the natural hair movement take off in a major way. There is a wealth of inspiration and knowledge available for all to enjoy when it comes to styling natural hair, and this guarantees something for everyone. This movement has helped women to finally and truly be unapologetic about their hair.

Natural hair, for some time, was a touchy subject—one that many avoided talking about. It was viewed as nappy, unkempt and oftentimes was displayed as one dimensional. This fails to reflect its versatility and beauty. In order for black women to look polished or professional, straightened hair or extensions were the way to go. For special events and outings (graduations, weddings, church, birthdays, etc.), women and girls spent all day at the hairdresser or in the kitchen under the heat of a hot comb to smooth out the kinks and coils of their hair to unveil a fancy look.

I remember staring uneasily at the hot comb heating up over the stove or sitting in my aunt’s salon chair getting my hair molded into a style I had picked from a hair magazine. Whether you were at the salon, sitting between your mom’s legs or in a chair by the stove, hair appointments were scheduled around special occasions all because we wanted to pop out in our best look.

As black women, our hair is one of, if not the most, important things about our appearance. If nothing else is together, our hair has to be! It’s an extension of our personality and one of the first things people notice about us. Black women are naturally expressive, so why not use our hair to translate that to the world? Whether our hair was straightened or natural and no matter the style, we always wanted to look our best. After all, it’s like you emerge into a new woman after getting a new hairstyle.

I came across a tweet the other day where a mother was expressing her complicated relationship with braiding her daughter’s hair, mostly because she felt she was bad at it. However, even though she wasn’t that great at braiding, she would get past it because she didn’t want her daughter to look back at every milestone and important moment in her life and see straight hair. Seeing this honest exchange that followed between this mother and other black women interacting with the tweet made me think about how, for most black girls, big celebrations and important moments are paired with straight hair. It was almost like we perceived straightened hair to be synonymous with being prettier or fancier when the occasion called for a dressier look.

There’s so much beauty and versatility in natural hair such as twist outs, TWAs, afros, puffs, up-dos, bantu knots, and protective styles. With so much pride surrounding natural hair, it is vital to teach our daughters of the magnificence that is their black hair. It should be given the opportunity to shine on our special moments just like we do. We shouldn’t have to force ourselves to assimilate to any beauty standard that wasn’t meant for us. Straightened hair doesn’t mean better hair. Though more manageable, it shouldn’t come with the notion that it is prettier or stands as the pinnacle for looking acceptable or presentable. We should be teaching our young girls that straight hair isn’t the sole depiction of beauty and that their hair and every unique strand is their own personal definition of beautiful.

It’s so important that black women and girls take pride in their natural tresses, especially on the special occasions, so we can look back and see the variety of hairstyles that reflects the multifaceted people that we are!

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