Does the Hair Make the Woman or the Woman Make the Hair
New year, new me. Or, at least, that’s what adults say when it is time for a change. A healthier diet, weight loss and saving money rank among the top resolutions, it is all about making improvements in life.
But these upgrades change the identity and perception of black women.
In the African-American society specifically, a woman’s hair is often a reflection of her. For one, it is an easy way to describe someone, but it also shows their style.
Before flat irons were invented and perms became a trend, the hairstyles of a black woman would either tell about her age, wealth or family. Times have gone in a completely different direction now.
“For young black girls, hair is not just something to play with, it is something that is laden with messages, and it has the power to dictate how others treat you, and in turn, how you feel about yourself,” Cheryl Thompson said in Black Women and Identity: What’s hair got to do with it?
For most African-American women, straight or permed hair is considered more appealing than curly hair. This theory has been passed around for decades for women with curlier, thicker hair and is why women go for the flat-hair look. It has been drilled in black women’s minds that the more they favor a white woman, as far as hair, clothes and speech, the more opportunities they would be offered.
So why not pull out the heat and remove the bouncing bends from the hair, it is only going to completely change the curl pattern and the image of who an African-American woman is?
Acceptance should not be defined by the type of hair black women have. This shifts women’s views on hair from their origin to today’s societal standards. Women become lost in trying to create a certain look, rather than maintaining their natural textures.
“Liberated.” That’s how one woman described her feelings after beginning her natural hair journey. “I felt like I wasn’t married to a relaxer anymore,” she said.
Rather than copy what is perceived as normal, black women add a flair that was common in African cultures, prior to the 1400s. Twists, braids and locks were some of the usual styles among Africans. Hairstyles like these communicated messages ranging from religion to ethnicity, according to Natasha Patterson, who wrote A Beautiful Hair Affair.
These styles are used as a trick to preserve curl patterns and/or maintain hairdos today, which proves how significant heritage is in the African-American society.
Who knew women of African descent would continue the same customs over 500 years later in a new continent?
As unprocessed, natural hair peaks in trends today, African-American women are becoming the 21st century version of their ancestors. Ladies have proven that adding chemicals to your hair does not determine the advantages in life, but it does change your individuality.
“Slave owners often described the Africans’ hair as being ‘woolly,’ thus likening them to animals,” Patterson said. “After years of repression and constantly seeing those with ‘straight hair’ and ‘light skin’ afforded better opportunities, the slaves began to internalize these words. Ultimately, self-hatred began.”
From self-loathing, sprang the idea: Light is right. White and fairer- skinned women typically had more positive experiences in life and, as anyone would, black women wanted the same. Since their customs were stripped and hair was no longer a distinguishing characteristic, styles changed and women sought equality through their hair.
In the 1940s, psychologists Dr. Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted an experiment to see how black children viewed race, according to the National Park Service website.
The Clark Doll Test was used in the Brown vs. Board of Education case. In the study, the Clarks presented four dolls to children followed by a series of questions including: which doll is bad and which doll is good, which is pretty and which is ugly, and, which doll looks most like you?
The results revealed that most of the kids favored the white doll and “enforced segregation stamped African American children with a badge of inferiority that would last the rest of their lives,” according to the NPS.
African-American ladies transform their distinguishing characteristics into common styles because they have no choice. Many believe the only way to advance in a white-dominated society is to fall in line with everyone else, and even then, that may not be enough.
Until a woman changes her appearance, and understands the difference in how she is treated, she does not know the effect hair has on how she is viewed.