THE BLOG

What's Hair Got To Do With It?

12/06/2017 12:00

What is it about hair? As a black woman with natural hair, I want to talk about hair, choice and diversity.

Hair is a very important part of a woman's identity. As long as it is on the head and not in areas where a woman is conscious about and feels that she has to pluck, shave or wax.

About 10 years ago I decided that I would no longer conform to sitting in a hair salon for most of the day, just to have my hair straightened. I no longer wanted to endure having my hair covered in chemicals.

A visit to a hair salon was a day out of my schedule. I often arrived in the morning with my daughter and left when it was dark. Black women take great pride in their hair and the hairstyles are often complex, which may account for the time spent in hair salons.

Although "natural" hairstyles are now more celebrated amongst black women, I remember when having chemically straightened hair was viewed as "conforming" and being related to "progression". Black women are human beings with goals to achieve, bills to pay and families to support like any other community.

I attracted a lot of attention then, because it was unusual to see a black woman without a weave or chemically straightened hair. I would receive compliments and questions such as "How do you manage it?" It was as if I had some alien growing out of my head. When I made the decision to go chemical free, it was a huge step for me and took a lot of courage.

I knew the people that commented meant well, but I also felt sad about the apparent fear of being chemical and weave free amongst many black women. White women also complemented my curly and slightly unruly styles.

It's strange the headlines that this can create when a woman chooses to leave her hair in a natural state. Whether it is on her head or elsewhere.

Hair styles and the condition of a woman's hair seems to be an obsession. We are obsessed with hair products, colours, hair trends, weaving, plaiting, cornrows, braids, locks, wrapping, long wigs, short wigs. The list goes on.

As a black woman, I grew up hearing about "good hair" and "bad hair". My understanding of having "good hair" was an association with "status" and "fitting in".

Black natural hair is fragile and needs gentle handling as there are so many textures. I have different types of hair on my head. It is straight in parts, curly in parts and has kinks, but I am happy with my hair.

This is who I am.

Some of us can remember Bo Derrick who braided her hair for the film "10". Members of the Black British community were grossly unhappy, as the style was known as the "Bo Derrick" and was spreading to mainstream hair salons and cat walks. Many years later, Kim Kardashian was pictured with her hair in braids and the style was known as "Kim Kardashian braids". Again, there was some dissatisfaction amongst the (now) young Black British community about the labelling of the style.

How strange life is! The stories are the same only the characters change.

However, on the positive side, this means that hair styles which are identified as "black" are moving into the mainstream. I have seen many white women with styles that I used to experiment with as a younger woman.

The afro now is very common. I remember going to school with an afro and being paraded in front of the students for having an inappropriate hair style. Even though it was fashionable then. The Head Teacher was afraid that I was becoming a "British Angela Davis". Angela Davis was a prominent member of the American Black Panther Party. Having an afro then was seen as a sign of "rebellion". I suppose it still is, there is a sense of "freedom and statement " in that style.

I understand that some hair styles including those of black origin are still questioned in certain environments for their appropriateness, whatever that means. However, diversity in fashion is happening albeit slowly.

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