We deserve to be styled by those who take the time to understand our hair textures, and the cultural significance our hair has.
From the moment I went Natural I knew that my hair wasn’t the right kind of “natural.” I started transitioning in 2007, except back then, Natural hair wasn’t popping as hard as it is now.
Black Girl Long Hair had just begun, YouTube bloggers had just gotten recording, and Andre Walker’s hair typing system was on repeat in nascent Natural hair forums. I read Hair Story, went to college with a relaxer and a hot comb, came back with a short-cropped fro. I had to do it in college because I—like many—was shunned.
It wasn’t until a few years had passed and I learned how to style my hair—I prefer the word style to “manage” for various reasons that I will touch on soon—that I started to question why so many of us had to sprint to the internet to gain knowledge about our coifs.
Natural, with a capital “N,” means us. “Manage” is the verb used to describe hair like mine. There are varying degrees of acceptability depending on who is asked. My sister, a Blaxican stylist, used to constantly express surprise at how “soft” my hair is, how fast or slow it grows, would it grow back at a normal rate if I cut it? These types of microaggressions from both Black/POC (due to internalized racism) and white stylists are why many Natural haired Black women avoid salons.
We get the side eyes, the comments, we get charged extra for both length and thickness. Our hair is called coarse, unmanageable, “rough,” or whatever other euphemisms people use to avoid the dreaded “nappy.” Stylists often are not taught how to do kinky-curly-coily hair in cosmetology schools–in many cases it is considered a speciality, an “extra.” Straight-wavy hair, color and cutting of those, they are always on the menu. But Natural hair is considered a condiment, something that is nice to have but isn’t necessarily a focal point for most people.
Only when Natural hair proved profitable did white stylists, photographers and editors truly begin paying attention. Even still there are missteps—our hair is edited or cropped (à la Solange in the Evening Standard ) for its outlandishness or extra-ness.
Indeed, historically our hair has both lost and gained a certain amount of symbolism as our ancestors were shuffled overseas to the New World. A quick Google trip will take you to slave catcher ads which describe Black hair as “wild,” “unruly, “wooly,” and “nappy.” Black men and boys are encouraged to keep their hair cropped or to have “waves” if they have any texture above Walker’s “3c.” Black women are encouraged to straighten their hair. Our hair must always be “styled,” but that word has taken on a much different meaning in racist America.
European standards of beauty are pushed upon us from a very young age—I had a relaxer by the time I was 8 and any other time my hair was pressed or braided.
Peep Kerry Washington in Allure magazine. Gorgeous, ethereal. This is how you style Natural hair. Her flyaways look natural, unlike J. Crew’s ill-thought out attempt at a low maintenance struggle bun. Kerry’s hair isn’t overdone. It looks soft and regal. This is a stylist who gets “Black” hair. These are the kinds of stylist we need to do non-straight hair. Usually we say “ethnic,” right? Because white people’s hair is… not ethnic? Only people of color receive the label of “ethnic” or “cultured” for our hair. White is the default in the beauty world, so they are not ethnic, they just are.
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As I have made clear so often in the past with every fiber of my being, I embrace my natural heritage and despite having grown up thinking light skin and straight, silky hair were the standards of beauty, I now know that my dark skin and kinky, coily hair are beautiful too. Being featured on the cover of a magazine fulfills me as it is an opportunity to show other dark, kinky-haired people, and particularly our children, that they are beautiful just the way they are. I am disappointed that @graziauk invited me to be on their cover and then edited out and smoothed my hair to fit their notion of what beautiful hair looks like. Had I been consulted, I would have explained that I cannot support or condone the omission of what is my native heritage with the intention that they appreciate that there is still a very long way to go to combat the unconscious prejudice against black women's complexion, hair style and texture. #dtmh
The same way white people are allowed to exist in the beauty world, the same way that their looks and hair are seen as effortless (in the good way)—that is the way that BIPOC hair needs to be seen. We deserve to be styled by those who take the time to understand our hair textures, and the cultural significance our hair has. We deserve to be able to go to photo shoots or salons without mastering anxiety over stylists sneaking relaxer into conditioner to “better” our texture, or chopping our hair off because they never took the time to learn about dry-cutting curly hair.
Representation doesn’t matter if it still paints BIPOC as harder to style or as if we should be thankful to even be included. We need more of us in these rooms who are knowledgeable about non-straight hair and Black and indigenous culture surrounding our hair and style, and have influence in the editing room.