Let’s Talk About Hair
Hey, hair is hair. It grows out of your head, and dresses your face. You don’t need hair to be beautiful, and your hair doesn’t need to define you… until it does.
We all suffer with a degree of dysmorphia at some point in our lives, but in my youth, this topic was nameless. It wasn’t even conceptualized enough to be considered a topic of discussion. Had I been introduced to the representation and transparency of today’s media, my life would be completely different.
There are distinctions between different hair types. There is straight hair, wavy hair and curly hair. Kinky hair. Protective hairstyles. These are viewed differently in society, and it is deeply rooted in racial bias and prejudice in America.
Black men and women more often than not, naturally have type 4 a-c hair types, and they differ greatly from any other hair type. It may come in spirals, coils, loops, zigzags, or other curves. This is why it tends to grow up rather than down (envision an Afro or a puff-like style). Curly/kinky/coily hair is usually a lot drier than straight or wavy hair types, and requires quite a bit of maintenance.
Black women in particular, often utilize forms of protective styling for an easy, low maintenance concept, to retain length and protect your hair from environmental stressors, or to simply switch up a hair-do!
Some examples can include:
Relaxer: a chemical process to permanently straighten hair.
Weave: extra hair extensions are braided into the real hair through cornrows or braids on the scalp with a needle and string for a more immersive sense of an extension.
Extensions: extra hair that doesn’t need to be woven into the hair like a weave, but rather with a specialty glue or braiding.
(and many more!)
Many of the most iconic black hairstyles can be found in drawings, engravings and hieroglyphs from Ancient Egypt, and wigs signified status and rank, and would often replace headdresses. Braids were used to signify marital status, age, religion, wealth, and rank within West African communities. Dreadlocks were first recorded in the Hindu Vedic scriptures. In its Indian origins, the “jaTaa”, which means “wearing twisted locks of hair,” was a hairstyle worn by many of the figures written about 2,500 years ago. Bantu universally translates to “people” among many African languages, and is used to categorize over 400 ethnic groups in Africa, so Bantu knots are worn continentally (Horne).
Curly hair has been such a heavily debated topic, but why? It’s often associated with unprofessionalism. The darker you are and the tighter your curl pattern, the more likely you are to be discriminated against for embracing the hair that grows naturally from your head! When did we begin viewing anyone’s natural hair as unprofessional, messy, nappy or unkempt?
To put a l o n g story short, as African-Americans endured the barbarity of slavery, hair styles had to be pragmatic and long-lasting. “Hair also played a role in the way enslaved workers were treated; if the texture and kink of one’s hair more closely resembled European hair, they would receive better treatment” (Horne). Black people were forced to submit to whiter, European standards of beauty. Those expectations were systematic and never shifted with the times.
According to Dove’s CROWN Research Study, Black women are 80% more likely to change their natural hair to meet social norms or expectations at work. Crazy to believe that someone with straight blue hair could receive a job offer over someone with an afro, or dreadlocks, isn’t it?
Some school districts have suspended students from classes, sporting events or academic congratulatory events for choosing to wear their naturally curly hair or a protective style. This has spread beyond business, environmental and societal norms. Some families of various racial and ethnic groups even denounce natural curl patterns!
The CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) is a law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination, which is the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles.
Only 7 states have passed the Crown Act: New York, California, Colorado, Maryland, Virginia. Washington and New Jersey.
I grew up in a pretty homogeneous suburban town in Massachusetts. I was one of the few Arab kids in the area, and I recognized my differences from the very beginning.
I used to have much longer, curly hair and despised it. I so desperately wanted it straight, just like my peers. I hated how puffy and thick my hair was. Before you moan and groan about how I’m fishing for compliments over here, I’m not. For many women, this has always been the norm. Could you blame me? No one in my immediate family has my hair type. Literally, just me. It challenged my mum, for sure, as she attempted to manage and control my curls. The girls in my school who did have naturally curly hair never wore it out, so I didn’t have a companion during my elementary school years to bond with about my hair.
I didn’t wear my hair out of a bun or braid from 5th grade until 10th grade. I did not let my hair out until my sophomore year of high school. I am serious. I loathed my hair. We reached a point where my mom discussed the option for me to relax my hair. She mentioned it only once, and explained the repercussions. I thought about it, then forgot the next day.
Fast forward a few years, and the natural hair movement came into fruition, encouraging women to conduct a “big chop” as they transition to their natural texture. I couldn’t imagine relaxing my hair now. My relationship with my hair could have changed drastically had my mom given up on my hair journey.
But that is just my story as a mixed Arab-American. I recognize my privilege being a white girl with curly hair. I have never worried about altering my curl pattern for a career opportunity. I may have received backhanded compliments, but I have never been criticized for wearing my hair out. In fact, I receive the most compliments on my hair.
Having naturally curly hair is freaking beautiful! It’s versatile, voluminous and fun. Women and men should feel empowered to style their hair anyway they choose because in case you didn’t know, your hairstyle doesn’t define your capabilities in the workplace, or your values, personality, etc.
Here are some of my stunning friends sporting their hair the way they choose, and sharing their own experiences with naturally curly hair!
“My experience with my natural hair has been an interesting journey. I have learned a lot and continue to learn as I get older. I realized my hair was different at a young age. The rest of my family doesn’t have curly hair so my mom and I learned a lot together. Growing up in the suburbs, natural hair wasn’t very trendy/ celebrated. I used to straighten my hair to try and fit in and just blend in. I was embarrassed that my hair was so big. People used to laugh at me and act like my hair was a science mystery. I have gotten questions from “Is that your real hair ?” and “What does your hair look like when it’s wet? And turns into that ( when it’s dry)?”.
Then, I got sick of waking up and wanting to change my hair. I wanted to appreciate it in its normal state. I started watching YouTube videos of other girls with curly hair ( shout-out to YouTube University!). I seriously learned so much from women on YouTube. My first inspos were ShamelssMaya and Sunkiss Alba. Luckily enough, they were both from NY and one of them went to a hair salon in Brooklyn. Although we have different curl patterns & hair textures, the principle was the same; To take care of your curls. Living only an hour out of the city, I was able to convince my mom to take me to get my hair cut at Salon 718 and that haircut really gave me the confidence I needed to continue on my curly hair journey. After going there, I felt empowered and embraced for having curly hair. I’ve been experimenting with different shampoos, conditioners, and styling products ever since. I love seeing other little girls with their natural hair and just telling them how beautiful their hair is because I don’t think they hear it enough! And it makes a difference.”
Here’s the deal; you have the right to wear your hair however you wish. Your natural hair, the way it naturally grows out of your head, or protective hairstyles, should never be deemed unprofessional or ugly. You aren’t any less black for choosing not to wear your hair natural, either.
If you want to be a true ally as an employer, do not discriminate based on someone’s hair. Educate yourself and pave the way for a more inclusive future. If you want to be a true ally as a peer, sign the petition to encourage your state legislators to pass the Crown Act. Ask questions if you’re interested; We love that you’re curious and everyone appreciates a compliment, but be conscientious of your wording and tone.
I hope this post provides some introductory insight into the curly hair community. Embrace all the ways humans can be expressive and unique, and demolish your own biases against what beautiful means to you.
Horne, Madison. “A Visual History of Iconic Black Hairstyles.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 28 Feb. 2018, www.history.com/news/black-hairstyles-visual-history-in-photos.