What’s “hair” got to do with it?

I grew up in a household…in a community…where straight hair was always valued and accepted. In my family I was frequently told I had “good hair” because even though it was curly, it wasn’t too curly or thick that a 40 minute session with the blow dryer couldn’t “fix.” I remember every Sunday night I would sit in front of the TV and my mom would spend that time straightening my hair—it was our weekly ritual. For other family members who had thicker hair and tighter curls that was more difficult to manage—they were always told that they had “bad hair” and that they needed to “fix” it.

I realized that even though my hair is not naturally straight or blonde, I was still privileged compared to some of my cousins and aunts. I was privileged not because I had “better” hair, but because my hair didn’t call negative attention…because I wasn’t policed 24/7 by friends and family about looking like a bruja (a witch)…because I didn’t have to think ‘what the hell am I going to do about my hair so that I won’t be criticized about it later at work or school?’…because all I had to do was pull it in a ponytail or bun and call it a day. Even with this kind of privilege, however, I still decided to straighten it because I was always told that it was “more” beautiful. I know, at least for myself, that when I try to change my hairs natural form it’s not entirely because I like my straight hair more…it’s because I’ve been told that it is. Today, I make a conscious effort to not straighten my hair as often as I have in the past, because I know when I do straighten my hair I am reproducing those same ideologies of beauty that revolve around whiteness. I really look up to women and men who have learned to embrace their hair after being told that it’s not the right length, the right texture, the right thickness, the right shine…that it not beautiful…when it is. I know some people may think that this is just hair, but to African descendants across the world, it’s a lot more than that. There is a history and a culture, there is pain and pride—and no one can take that away.


One thought on “What’s “hair” got to do with it?

  1. Hey Jennifer, I can definitely relate to what you mean be feeling privileged in the way that you won’t be judged negatively for your hair. I think in the grand scheme of things, you should do whatever makes you happy. Like you, my family holds the idea that straight hair is more beautiful and I had religiously straightened my hair throughout high school. It wasn’t until I realized how arbitrary it is for me to go through all this effort for something that people rarely pay notice to that I let my hair do its own thing. I also understand what you mean by an appreciation and admiration for people who embrace their hair because it is beautiful. Rather than striving to do whatever it takes to meet societal norms of beauty, we should learn to appreciate one another for the way they want to portray themselves.


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