Good hair. We’ve all heard the term. Chris Rock even made a documentary on it. In it, he researches the importance of hair to black American women, and how hair often comes to define femininity. His documentary, suggests that women of colour see hair as a marker for beauty. But what kind of hair is beautiful? And what does that say about the way we view beauty?
This weekend my mother and I were at the hospital visiting my brother and there were these two little coloured girls visiting a man in the bed alongside my brothers. These girls kept giving me weird looks throughout visiting hour, and at first I was not sure why, but eventually I realised they were looking at my curly hair. Their look conveyed confusion over why I would wear my hair in its natural state, as if it were something to be ashamed of. This attitude, I have come to notice, is acted out by many coloured women. The very fact that I am told, by women in my family, that I look so beautiful when I wear my hair straight, suggests to me that I do not look beautiful without straight hair. So why are coloured women so preoccupied with hair?
There have been many arguments that black women’s obsession with hair suggests an appeal to European standards of beauty, in which white women’s hair is marked as beautiful and black hair as messy, or inferior. Nadia Sanger, in her 2009 journal article “New Women, Old Messages? Constructions of femininities, race and hyper-sexualised bodies in selected South African magazines, 2003-2006” studies the manners in which magazines construct white and black women. What she finds is that women of all races are held to a white heteronormative yardstick of beauty. By this, she means that we measure beauty based on European norms. She notes how black women’s hair is considered unruly, and thus magazines targeted towards black women often contain advertisements for hair relaxers or straighteners. These advertisements call for the need to tame this wild hair so that is can be straight and attractive, like European hair.These advertisements suggest that black hair is not acceptable. Thus, black women, like those in Chris Rocks documentary, are accused of trying to achieve European beauty because they do not believe their natural beauty is not good enough.
What is even more frightening is that people are extending this judgment of good hair to children. The controversy surrounding Blue Ivy Carter’s hair has gone so far that there has been a change.org petition set up titled “Comb Her Hair” which so far has 5 758 online signatures. The comments section is rife with complaints that child abuse, and anger that Beyoncé constantly looks so amazing but she does not give any care to her daughter’s hair. This reaction to Blue Ivy’s hair suggests that her hair is not beautiful. But that is not true.
Every women’s hair is beautiful, be it straight, wavy or curly. Our issue in society is that we judge people against a particular yardstick of beauty that is impossible for everyone to achieve. This causes women in particular to become obsessed with our hair. But what we do with our hair is nobody else’s business. The fact that I wear my hair straight, or curly, if I put in extensions or dye my hair, it does not reduce my heritage as a coloured woman. Because my hair does not define me. I suggest every woman listen to “I am not by hair” by indie. arie and try not to feel like a strong, independent black woman. Finally, just embrace yourself and know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way you were born.