of the very darkest color owing to the absence of or complete absorption of light; the opposite of white.
any of the fine threadlike strands growing from the skin of humans, mammals, and some other animals.
a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight.
The history of African American hair is that of a long one. Many young Black women can attest to sitting in a chair in the kitchen clinching, praying to not get burned, as their “kitchen” (what many Black women call the very back of their hair) was getting ready to be pressed by the hot comb. This can go back from generations to generations, ever since the “hot comb” surfaced in America during the 1900s. The “hot comb” was created and used to straighten curly, coarse, or “nappy” hair in attempts to make it look more “European”.
A lot of Black women can relate to sitting in between their mothers’ legs on wash day, getting their hair done or “did” as Black women often say. As the smell of blue hair grease mixed with barrettes and balls and other items stacked together in their hair box floated throughout the air; as mothers, grandmothers, or aunts informed you with a side eye to be still.
We can also all most likely relate to the narrative of having the thought of getting a perm to make our hair easier to manage, or looking throughout magazines, TV commercials, or different TV shows and not seeing many Black girls and women whose hair looked like ours in its natural state. I personally remember looking forward to getting my hair straightened in the same salon that my grandmother got hers straightened and curled in, during my later adolescent years of attending elementary school. By the time I entered high school, I absolutely hated my hair. I wanted to look like the women in music videos that aired on ‘BET’s 106 & Park’, or the beautiful Black actresses on the covers of Ebony and Essence magazines that I proudly collected throughout my teen years. I got my first weave (sew-in) in the beginning of my 9th grade year of high school and continued to wear weaves from that moment forward. Of course, at the time I did not know that, that was the starting point of something physiologically that would haunt me as a young Black woman for years to come. I wouldn’t want to leave the house if I didn’t have weave in. I didn’t feel beautiful enough with out weave. Fast forward to my senior year of high school, I decided to cut my hair off, to start wearing my natural hair out, but even in doing that I got a perm. I remember that day and not feeling as beautiful as I anticipated I would. The perm made my hair appear thinner. I wore that short-permed hair style to my senior year homecoming.
As I began to receive compliments as I rocked my short perm due, I gradually grew more confident in it. Throughout my freshman year of college during the year of 2015, I rocked my permed curly short pixie cut and loved it, receiving many compliments on a day to day basis. I remember one guy told me that “ I have good hair, it isn’t nappy, it’s curly you’re different” and at the time I did not know if I should take that as a compliment or not. I had to do a lot to my hair to have it look the way it did. It’s the same feeling as when a guy asks me if I’m mixed with anything with admiration in his eyes, as if being mixed or exotic would make me more beautiful as a woman.
Later throughout college I began to wear weaves again because deep down I still wrestled with this idea of beauty, even though I knew better. In reading literature such as ‘Angela Davis: An Autobiography ’ and admiring videos of her rocking her huge afro during the late 60s and throughout the 70s during my spare time. Or listening to Malcom X famous speech as he says, “Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair, and the color of your skin?” It was as if I knew better but due to fear, I couldn’t truly apply that logic to myself. Junior year of college during winter break I decided to cut most of my hair off to be natural. I was ready, and I was tired. I sat in front of the mirror in my mother’s house and dramatically played “I am not my hair” by India Arie as I clipped away. I had finally done the “the big chop”. I felt free and beautiful after doing so. That winter I invested in natural hair products and fabrics to create into head wraps. I was ready to come back to my university as a natural “radical” Black woman.
I still find myself throughout my natural hair journey going back to weaves and braids claiming that it is “just a protective style”, while wrestling with the fact that I am still hiding underneath those styles to feel beautiful. A few weeks ago, as I was suffering underneath my closure sew in as my scalp was itching, I decided to just take it down because I realized that I was hiding underneath my weave, once again to feel more confident, more woman, more worthy. In realizing this, I woke up about two weeks ago on a Saturday morning and decided to just take my weave out. I was surprised at how much my afro has grown since initially doing the “big chop. I am currently 8 months in with my natural hair journey and in December it will be a year of being completely natural.
One day as I was walking into the lobby of my dormitory I got a chance to witness this beautiful scenery of beautiful Black women at my HBCU (Wilberforce University) gathered around watching the newest film on Netflix ‘Nappily Ever After’ starring Sanaa Lathan, in seeing that, I instantly got the idea to interview different women from around Wilberforce University about their experiences with their hair as Black women, standards of beauty, etc. I figured we as young Black women in America could relate in one way or another when it comes to the “politics of Black hair”.
Taylor Belle: My hair symbolizes the way that I feel about myself, and the way that I want other people to perceive me. From natural hair to braids or weave. It sets a statement and a tone.
AS: Do you understand how systematically you may have been steered into believing what beauty means?
TB: Yes. I used to feel pressure to straighten my hair all the time. I really damaged my hair because I felt like I wasn’t pretty enough if it wasn’t curly or done, or if it was “nappy or unruly”.
AS: So, are you natural now?
TB: Yes. 12 years.
AS: How was it for you when you first went natural?
TB: It was hard, because I was transitioning from heat damaged permed hair, and I didn’t do the big chop, so when I would wear my hair natural someone would say “oh what’s up with your hair”? and it made me feel really insecure about myself because I felt like I looked a mess. Around like the third or fourth year it started to get easier and of course my curl pattern had changed. I understood how to take care of it and how to embrace my hair. I started to learn more about different African American women, and how hair was a big part of their lives. When I first learned about Angela Davis I didn’t know anything about her, I just knew that everyone used to call me her because my hair was “big”. I had to google her name, and once I did that I was like
“Wow, so she made a statement with her hair”. It embodied the movement that she was in. It was not only an accessory for her but it was a statement for anybody that meant power, or the fact that you can’t tell me anything about myself or hair or belittle me because it is this way.”
AS: Do you feel that we as Black women are represented enough within Media naturally?
TB: No. In most TV shows they have that one Black friend who is a hot mess. They are “ratchet” with really bad weaves or makeup that wasn’t intended for us. We are terribly represented. So when you have shows like Blackish that are coming out now and girls are able to see Black women with curly hair who are beautiful, and not have to worry about being “ratchet” or portrayed a certain way and think that we are that. They are going to see that we do have beautiful, smart, natural haired women. I think that we are getting there but it is just taking such a long time.
AS: So we know that white men, or “white America” gave us this idea of what beauty means, but do you think that Black men are starting to play a role in that, like by “oppressing” us as far as with the Black women’s hair experience ? I recently saw a viral tweet on twitter of a Black man snatching a Black woman’s wig off as an attempt to be funny, but I know that was humiliating for her.
TB: I do think that Black men play apart. I think that It comes from this fascination over mixed women, or exotic women. They have this very long beautiful fine hair, and those are the women that get idolized. Those women are seen as beautiful and sexy. Black women, we don’t have that fine silky straight hair naturally, it can’t always go into a messy bun, we can’t always look that way. I really think that it is becoming a transition for Black men as well to start to love Black women for who they are naturally and not expect them to keep up a certain standard. Its kind of like a cultural shock. I feel like it’s a transition as well that they have to go through.
AS: What would you tell your younger self about beauty?
I would tell my younger self to focus on loving me instead of focusing on what other people want me to be. I wouldn’t feel good if my nails weren’t done, and I was poor, so I couldn’t get that stuff done. I would have to do it myself. It was like a certain standard that I had to set to feel beautiful or accepted by other people.