For black women, talking about hair is nothing new. We have been talking about our hair since we were old enough to talk. It was one of the main conversations we had with our mothers whether they were telling us it was time to get a relaxer or cornrows. It is as much a cultural custom as it is practical. Our hair is different, and it requires a bit more attention. Now, talking about the hair of persons of color has become somewhat of a national conversation the natural hair movement shows that it is more than a trend and is here to stay.
There has been an ongoing debate in the black community for years about “good hair” vs “bad hair”. Good hair being characterized by straightness and lack of kinks while bad hair is characterized by being nappy, hard to comb through and unrelaxed. Now, with more celebrities of color and everyday people wearing natural styles, the conversation has escalated from outside of the community onto a national scale. For example, when Zendaya was criticized for wearing faux locs at the Oscars in 2015 by Juliana Rancic on the Fashion Police, that sparked a national conversation about the negative stigmas attached to dreadlocks. A 16-year-old girl in Florida was threatened with expulsion because she wore her natural hair to school.
Natural hair is becoming a bit more accepted as not just a trend but a general consensus amongst those in the black community to reject Eurocentric ideals of beauty that have been pushed on us by the mainstream media. However, natural hairstyles are still criticized as being distracting, unruly and unprofessional. I have been looking for a job for about two months. I have been unsuccessful until this point. I am a smart and educated woman who is more than capable of doing whatever job is thrown at me. I know that. Trying to convey that to an interviewer in 45 minutes or less gets a bit tricky, but I am getting better at it. During this job hunt I have thought of ways I could improve, little ways that I could tweak my answers or my overall presentation in order to give myself the best possible chance to get the job I want. One thing I never even considered was changing my hair.
I understand that often perception matters more than anything. People make quick judgments based on physical attributes such as skin color, clothing and how you wear your hair. They may clump you into a category before you even open your mouth. I have natural 4c hair, which is characteristically tightly coiled. Sometimes, I braid it or wear a protective style, but most of the time I wear it in an afro because I like to keep things simple. It never once crossed my mind that the reason I had not acquired a job could be because of the way I wear my hair until a few well-meaning family members pointed it out to me. Perhaps, I was a bit naïve and idealistic in my approach. I want to in stubborn millennial fashion proclaim that if a company will not hire me because of the way I wear my hair I do not want to work for that company. I want to live in a world where snap judgments and perceptions do not influence our final decisions so much. I also want to live in a world in which wearing my hair the way it grows out of my head is not seen as a rebellious act or outside of the norm. I want the world to be this way, but I understand that it is not. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be judged by my accomplishments and skills rather than my hair, but this conversation is just starting.
Our definition of beauty as a culture is shifting slowly. It no longer only includes the very Eurocentric ideals of fair skin, long flowing hair, flat stomachs and petite noses. However, those ideals are still heavily portrayed and praised by the mainstream media. Although natural hair is getting better press these days it is still seen by some as needing to be tamed or combed. It took me a while to reject those beauty ideals for myself because I did buy into them for a while. It is hard not to. Now, I wear my hair the way I do because I refuse to let anyone beside myself call the shots. I spent too much time worrying about whether I fit into some unrealistic and exclusionary mold. I decided to make my own mold and see myself as beautiful. I have observed so many other men and women of color doing this by wearing their hair exactly as they want to: straight or natural, clean cut or afro. It is up to us to decide. That is why it is a bit frustrating to have to concede my argument that although I wish idealistically for my hair not to matter it does in fact matter. Is wearing a natural hairstyle the only reason I do not have a job right now? Absolutely not. There are a bunch of factors that have contributed to this. I am well aware of that. However, it would be naïve of me to disregard the effects it has on how people perceive me whether I agree with those judgments or not, so if I have to play the game for a little bit in order to help accomplish my ultimate goal I am willing to do that. I will get freestyle braids, a style that is a little less “distracting”, I suppose in order to make sure interviewers are paying attention to the words coming out of my mouth and not my hair.
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