Black women and their relationship with their hair is one of the most talked about topics within our community today. There are countless conversations surrounding the hair strands on our head. Let me just mention a few: ‘How I finally fell in love with my natural hair,’ ‘Why I no longer relax my hair,’ and anything to do with ‘hair discrimination’ is right at the top of the list. Black women are embracing their hair whether it is natural or not, and they have begun to tell their stories in a way that puts them at the centre.
We are known for changing our hair day and night. One day we can decide to put on a wig, and then the next day we can decide to act in confidence and wear our natural hair out. It is our choice, and yet sometimes it is not an easy one to make because changing hairstyles can mean increased anxiety. Anxiety at what our White counterparts are going to say, anxiety at the whole office staring at us and whispering about how different we look. This is mainly due to the many stereotypes associated with ‘Black hair,’ and over the years they have gotten louder and louder.
Recently, the stereotype ‘Black women are bald underneath their wigs’ has made its way onto social media. I was just scrolling through the Twitter feed, looking for some entertainment and instead I found an uproar. A fellow Black female journalist, Habiba Katsha reposted a video of a Black woman explaining why she quit her job. She shared that it was because of the reaction from her White manager and colleagues, after wearing her natural hair to the office.
Entering a meeting, her manager began to question her about her hair, making comments like: ‘What’s that?’ ‘Where did you buy that from?’ ‘I know underneath your wigs you are bald.’ Hundreds of comments were flooded underneath the post by other Black women who experienced the same type of behavior. It was clear that little to nothing was done to help their wellbeing, as it was not considered a ‘big’ issue and it was just something they would have to deal with.
Is it any wonder that Black women feel anxious about their hair? The attitudes from our White counterparts and their lack of knowledge about our hair is why many Black women are choosing to stick to one, more acceptable hairstyle.
Kai Lutterodt, Editor-in-chief of My Soho Times and PR Consultant said: “As a young black woman working in the creative industry, I love expressing myself through my changing hairstyles. However, there is an anxiety that’s attached to it which is based on other people’s opinions or actions unfortunately. I have to deal with the ‘is that your real hair,’ ‘how do you wash your hair?’ and I currently have longer braids than my last so now the question is ‘how long is your real hair?’”
Natalie Robinson, Award winning Lifestyle Writer and Celebrity Stylist explained how sometimes we have to adapt to the industry/environment we place ourselves in. “When working in a corporate environment, you have to follow a particular dress code which is often pared down or understated; hence I would feel anxious about wearing my hair in a funky style,” said Natalie.
The question is: does the industry we work in contribute to the anxiety we feel?
On one hand working in the corporate world may mean the standards and expectations for Black women are greater. They may have to adjust their appearance because they feel like in the office their colleagues won't take too kindly to their more unique and bold hairstyles. Tamika Martin, PR Consultant has felt this way. “I once had to go into the office with a head wrap because I thought that my lace front I had made and installed looked appalling. You could see where the hairline had come away slightly from mine, and I just didn’t want the embarrassment of people being able to tell that I was wearing a wig.” On the other hand, the creative industry may allow Black women to be more expressive with their hairstyles.
Black women should be celebrated for their versatility not judged for it. We shouldn’t have to fight against the constant voices of those who know nothing about our hair. Unfortunately it is something we will continue to do because Black women should be allowed to define their own version of beautiful.
All three women I have talked to for this article aren’t going to stop being bold with their hairstyles. “I couldn’t change being able to express myself and creativity with my hairstyles and colours,” said Kai. “It is a cultural thing to experiment with hair. I will always try new styles, whether long, short, curly, coloured or braided,” said Tamika. “I always feel confident about a new hairstyle as I trust my hairstylist, and I am also very transparent about my requirements,” said Natalie.
Every Black woman, no matter what industry they belong to, should feel free to explore and wear their hair without others staring, touching and making side comments.
Written by Esther Okusaga