Hairstyles are a personal choice


By Ajia Meux

The Dallas Morning News

I have always struggled with my hair. And by struggle, I mean it struggled to grow. I swear, when I was 5, I couldn’t pull a ponytail together to save my life, so my mother put a thousand small ones all over my head. Because it was so kinky, she started perming it around age 8 to make it more manageable. I had my first weave at 13. It wasn’t until I turned 21 and became accepting of my hair type – thin, short and kinky – that I abandoned traditional ways of black styling and went natural. I had grown tired of spending hours in the beauty salon and throwing away money on useless products.

Since my transition from a perm to natural, I’ve become increasingly aware that my hair is a “thing.” It’s a real thing. Like, an issue. People write dissertations about it. Black women get fired for it. CNN does exposes about it. Across the board, there is a lack of understanding about, insensitivity toward and entitlement to black women’s hair.

In 2014, the Army approved a policy that restricted female soldiers from wearing most natural hair styles, including “twists, dreadlocks, Afros and braids,” forcing them to either cut these styles or wear wigs. After being heavily criticized for being discriminatory toward black women, the policy was later revised. People magazine sent out a tweet that suggested Olivia Pope of “Scandal” couldn’t be taken seriously while her hair was in a natural, curly style. “Olivia’s back to straight hair so you KNOW she means business. Scandal.” In 2014, In Touch weekly compared Beyonc ’s sister, Solange, to a dog by running a side-by-side picture of Solange next to a black yorkipoo.

In 2015, Clutch magazine wrote an article featuring six black women who were fired from their jobs because of their natural hair. The black women’s hair allegedly was considered too offensive, unattractive, unprofessional and ethnic.

Slavery

Kinky hair (or the less affectionate term “nappy”) has long since been associated with slavery and ugliness while straight, long hair has been associated with beauty and Eurocentrism. For years, black women have been forced to straighten their hair or wear wigs and weaves to be seen as attractive or beautiful. This forced assimilation has been supported and encouraged by members of the African-American community and deemed necessary for integration into mainstream society.

Intellectually, we know there is a spectrum of black hair, but only recently are we starting to see the full spectrum reflected back to us on television. In 2015, Maria Borges was the first Victoria Secret model to walk the runway with her natural hair. Viola Davis’ character on “How To Get Away With Murder” was the first black woman on mainstream television to go full-out kinky. In one episode, she is sitting on the floor with her wig off and her mother is greasing her scalp. That’s real black woman hair kind of stuff.

The trend toward natural hair is reflected in the change in product consumption.

The consumer research group Mintel reported that hair relaxer sales dropped from $206 million in 2008 to $152 million in 2013 (the most recent sales figure) while sales of products to maintain natural hair are on the rise, according to a study published by CNBC. These slumping sales are a reflection of changing attitudes about identity and acceptance, and black women should have the right to explore these issues without fear of societal rejection.

The transition from permed to natural is a deliberate choice and an emotional process. When a black woman embraces her natural features, she rejects the 400-year-old European standard of beauty set for her. When her choice to be herself becomes debatable by people in pop-culture circles who do not understand her plight, it’s an even greater slap in the face.

Leave her hair alone.

Ajia Meux is a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. She wrote this for the Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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