One of the first characteristic that catches our eyes is the hair. As Dr. Maya Angelou says in “Good hair” movie, “hair is woman’s glory” (Stilson, Good Hair). It is so not only because it serves like a sign of attractive or unattractive appearance, but also because of its social, political and cultural meaning, especially when it comes to the relation with the group affiliation. The notion of “good hair” is exactly the thing that white women will never be able to understand completely, because for them it is their usual hair. The very phrase “good hair” is commonly used within the African-American community to give a general description of the hair of African-American representatives. In the words of Afro-American women, “good hair” is considered by them mostly as the one that resembles the non-Black people hair peculiarities – curly and straight. It is not a secret that hair and haircuts have always been the essential part of every self-respecting woman and despite all difficulties connected with time and money, in the words of most women, it is worth it. Since the very childhood, fathers say their daughters that they are the most beautiful, but even though they say it to them every single day, sometimes it is not good enough. What was Chris Rock’s surprise when his little daughter was upset by the idea that she does not possess the so-called “good hair”. It may seem a little bit funny, especially when a little girl makes such king of statement at her age. Nevertheless, it is unclear why most of Afro-American women in order to find their own identity provide a basis for a vast black hair care industry, having a strong belief that their curls are not “good”, whereas there are plenty of those who are against such behavior.
Why Are Black Women So Obsessed with Straightening Hair?
Why did it happen that admiring of this dense, thick and nappy hair long ago turned into considering it as a bizarre hairstyle? Back then, it was the ethos of the whole African culture, but in the course of the time there appeared a tendency of diverging from the Afro nappy hair to the practice of European and Asian straightening hair. The first reason for this was the mass media influence. The majority of beautiful women on billboards, in the magazines, TV and advertisement are straight haired, that is why the bearers of Afro and braided hair accepted such hair as the standard of beauty from the very childhood. The second major reason is that African Americans do not want to give chances of being discriminated while getting the job and in the social life, mainly because the employers recon that kinky hair looks non-professional. Even in the army, there is a Regulation 670-1 that prohibits many traditional hairstyles for afro-textured hair and limits hair bulk to two inches. The third reason has household character - natural hair is not so easy to groom in contrast to the straightened hair that is easy to maintain once it is done. One of the most significant reasons for this is that plenty of men, even African Americans, who also fall under the influence of beauty paragons from the magazine covers, think that nappy hair is unattractive. In such a way, the chances to find a date can dwindle for women who do not straighten their hair. This way or another, the very fact of women straightening their natural hair is an extraordinary phenomenon and the basis for it is defined by the social conditions and the peculiarities of the life mode in the 21st century.
Business out of Hair
The reality is that the sense of beauty in black women’s perception is created upon the European and Asian hair type. For a long time, black women have been considering straight silky hair as their image centerpieces. Nowadays hair is a big, tricky and expensive business and the sums of money spent to get the black women’s hair to bear a resemblance of the European hair can top thousands of dollars at a time. Afro-American women represent only 6-7% of the USA population. What is more interesting is that this 6-7% buy up to 80% of all hair products in the country, spending more money on these hair products and services than others (Thompson). That is 9 billion-a year market! Talking about hair changes, there exist two popular among Afro-American women alternatives. One option is a hair straightening by means of a relaxer and the other option is a weave (wig, sewn into the hair). Among the advantages of the first option, women distinguish silky appearance, easy maintenance and styling, flexibility of changing the hair style from simple to exquisite ones. Straighten hair pours oil on the waters and “relaxes” white people with whom the black women come into contact. Paul Moody has the same opinion, saying that if hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed, and if hair is nappy, they're not happy (Stilson, Good Hair). The age diversity of people resorting to relaxants is very wide. In “Good Hair” movie, the age of the youngest girl who first tried to have her hair relaxed is three years old, while the oldest is seventy. Another variant of hairstyle change is a weave. These extraneous coils of hair come in most cases from India, where hair business takes a specific form on a religious background. India can be called a world capital of hair export, where women cut their hair in a religious rite. Once cut, the religion takes backseat and million-dollar industry takes its place: after that hair is sold for profit. Hair dealers all over the world buy this hair and sell it to local dealers. After that, salons and hair vendors buy it from the local dealers and that is how the weaves fall into the hands of the most prospective customers - Afro-American women. The price of one weave can rise up to $4000 dollars and depends upon the length, color and hair thickness. Among the pros of weaves Afro-American women single out foremost experimenting with cut and color, functioning as a real hair, quick applying and removal and being sturdy at the same time.
Person’s identity is the alternate that everyone should make on their own, but it is rather disputable whether straightened hair was really the choice of the women or just a forced step. Since black hair care industries thrive on women’s affected idea that straight, wavy hair is “acceptable” in comparison to African American’s twirls and this point of view is shared by mass media and, moreover, such celebrities as Tyree, Naomi Campbell, Kerry Washington and others it is hard to resist it. There is no doubt that hair is an important part of every person’s image. However, there is no one but black women who care about it so much. For African Americans “hair is even more important that skin color and language” (Rosado 2004: 60). Predominantly, such treatment was stimulated by a number of historical reasons. In the past Africans have considered their hairstyles as symbol of specific marital or social status, religion or one’s origin, whereas in America black’s chevelure was always excepted as something bizarre and inappropriate, except for the middle of 1960th, when “Black is beautiful” movement was popular. During this period, “natural” hair was on the top. By “natural” hair that is in its natural condition was meant, in other words, Afro. But this period did not last long and soon a notion of “good” hair, considered to be straight, long, silky, flowing and healthy hair, appeared, as opposed to “bad” black hair, i.e. short, nappy, thick and tangled hair. For a long period of time it was a matter of racism and slavery, that African features, such as black skin and wooly hair were humbled by slave owners and the Afro-Americans appearance was regarded sexual more then beautiful. Through the long period of history, black women’s look suffered from the intolerant and even adverse attitude of white people that is why it is no wonder that the level of African Americans self-esteem was getting lower from century to century. That is why, the experiments African American women are doing with their hair can be looked at as an attempt of compensation by means of equalization in appearance. As a result, 70% in previous years and 60% in 2014 of the women had their hair straightened. Black women spend so much money and time taking care of their tress because they believe that it is an essential part of their identity, in contrast to other cultures where hair is much less or even out of the question about identity. As Professor Banks says in her book “Hair matters: Beauty, Power, and Black Women’s Consciousness”, “Hair can be a badge of cultural pride, as well as simply an indicator of style. Hair can be used as a medium to maintain the status quo or go against it” (Banks, 147).
The Other Side of the Coin
Despite the fact that African American women buy 80% of all hair products and the shows like “The Bronner Brothers Hair Show” aiming to promote Black hair industry gain popularity, there are still a lot of people who do not accept the pursuit of “good hair” for different reasons. One of their main points is that the usage of weaves, relaxers and resorting to hair straightening practically burn out the very identity of Afro-American women and their usage can affect life in unexpected ways – the weaves are extremely expensive and take too much time to fit and the relaxers burn the scalp and straightens the hair only permanently. The scientist, professor Berr, was shocked at the idea of putting it on someone’s head and demonstrated its dissolving and caustic capacities of one of the relaxer’s ingredients on aluminum can example. Moreover, what strikes most in the words of Dr. Willie Morrow, The Creator of California Curl is that black hair care industry is a chemical waste dump and no research was conducted on this matter in the USA. “While we have gone to the moon and walked on the moon, when our scientists have not even walked on a black woman’s head,” he says (Stilson, Good Hair). One of Chris Rock’s interviewers, Reverend Al Sharpton, the Dalai Lama of relaxer, believes that subsidizing of women’s costly weaves is stupid and says that he could assist with money for “education, children, mama”, but he would not “go to work and invest in your putting some hair on the back of your head that ain’t yours” (Stilson, Good Hair). African-American women are so concerned with their hair while in other countries, females can simply shave their hair as a part of religious ritual (as shown in “Good Hair” movie). Or another example: Masarad Daud, one of TED’s speakers, wears the burka, claiming that it is a part of her cultural context and nation’s heritage that gives her power to be who she is. Maybe, her rhetorical question “Should I wear something that honors my cultural heritage, or should I wear something that conforms to other people’s perspectives and expectations?” may be addressed to the representatives of Afro-American culture as well? (Daud, 2014) Apart from spending a lot of money and having an adverse effect on health and following the standards of beauty of other cultures instead of acceptance of own natural look, wearing wigs and weaves can be really uncomfortable. First of all it prevents you from different water activities, steam bath restricts you in relationships with men, and even rainy weather can turn out to be a real disaster. As a proof of this idea actor Tracie Thoms says: “Natural hair is a freedom” (Stilson, Good Hair).
Revaluation of Values
According to Nana Sidibe and her article “This Hair Trend is Snaking Up”, a tendency of African-American women leaving chemicals behind and accepting their natural hair and look is observed more frequently. The same can be observed in the field of relaxers sales, where the decline of sales comes closer to the 1990s mark, with the drop more than 34 % for the last six years. The author names the main reasons that acted as a fillip to Afro, i.e. worries about hair loss and hair breakage and health concerns about relaxers. Patricia Gainess, The Founder of Nappturality.com, the largest natural hair website on the net, also supports natural Afro-textured hair. She says that “Caucasian hair is a beautiful hair type in its own right, and our [African American] hair type should be recognized as beautiful in its own right too” (Thompson). Her claim is that the 3U myth that black hair is ugly, unmanageable and undesirable should, in fact, say that black hair is underestimated, undervalued and unloved (Thompson).
Imagine that there are thousands of black women who do not like how they look. They do not feel good when they leave the house with their own hair and this is a serious problem. But one should see a small distinction here, because the problem is not about whether a woman has a weave or straightened hair, the problem is about what makes this woman feel that she has to have a weave or a straightened hair. Perhaps, something should be done with our educational system. It is sad that other people’s opinions and mostly mass media have such vast effect on anxiety about their looks. Nevertheless, what is significant is to understand that it has nothing to do with black hair; it is all a question of self-perception.
Taking into account women’s sacrificing their health, spending much energy and enthusiasm on caring of their hair, it is ironically, but hard not to agree with Chris Rock that the thing every girl and woman should remember is that “the stuff on the top of their heads is nowhere near as important as the stuff inside their heads” (Stilson, Good Hair).