Enough about hair!

Filed under: Culture,Pop culture,Talk About Race |

With Chris Rock and his movie, Tyra Banks and her real hair reveal and “fake hair academy,” and Wendy Williams and her wigs, it seems that all anyone can talk about these days is hair. Don’t get me wrong, I am no stranger to having an hour long discussion about the virtues of one hair product over another, but when people I don’t know—particularly non-brown women or women with naturally stick straight hair—want to have discussions about what’s happening on my head or are trying to engage me in a way that makes it seem like they are all too familiar with the plight of the non-straight haired girl, I realize something has gone awry and I must embark on a mission to find out who to blame.



I get it, I have big hair, and sometimes that brings out the crazy in people. I’m OK with other Black women or women with super curly hair occasionally stopping to ask about what it is I do with my hair. I’m used to people talking to me with their gazes a little too high up for eye contact. I’ve even gotten adept at dodging the stray hand of the stranger who, for whatever reason, feels it’s OK reach out and touch my hair like I’m a resident of a petting zoo. But as I was recently being chased down by a renegade flatiron salesperson at the mall, because of course I should want to have my hair straightened by any means, I started thinking about all this talk of hair, usually as it pertains to Black women, and whether or not any value is coming from it.

In recent months, major magazines and newspapers such as Time and the New York Times have devoted a good amount of space to discussing Black women and hair. Talk shows are dedicating programming hours to it. Movie screens are being filled with it. Michelle Obama has been forced to embody it. But why is this suddenly such a trendy thing to discuss and who is getting anything from it? Clearly Black women know all about it. We never needed a Chris Rock to bring it to the big screen for us to know about the significance of hair. Tyra isn’t shining a light that’s illuminating anything different either. In popular culture, all this talk about hair seems to be a large, superficial sweep over issues with roots stretching back to slavery, yet you’d never know that if you’re only listening to segments featured on shows like Oprah’s. The stories in print sometimes try to go a bit more in depth, but there’s only so much space, what with limited word counts, one can give to a centuries old issue. So all  we are left with is a shell of a story that presumably gives non-Black and perhaps male audiences a glimpse of our issues while providing Black women very little to take away.

For me, one of the few byproducts of any interest is the discovery for other folks that non-Black women have hair issues too. Just ask Meghan McCain about her hair extensions. But seriously, did people really think all the non-Black Hollywood celebrities have been going from long hair to short and back to long and all have thick, luscious manes naturally? If that were the case, Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson wouldn’t have their very own hair extension lines. Even Oprah expressed her surprise over learning that very few of the White women she works with have their natural hair colors.

But is all that really the same? Deep-seated hair issues stemming from the institution of slavery that created persistent divisions, hair and skin color hierarchies that could often be traced back to the existence of rape, self-esteem issues, and skewed beauty standards just don’t seem the same as someone wanting to go from brunette to blond or choosing to clip in hair extensions to fit their mood…or outfit. Sure, we live in a society where long hair is valued over short and blond hair is preferable to brown, but those are all White standards of beauty that merely add to the beauty issues Black women are already dealing with. So it’s great that the supposed secret is out and everyone feels comfortable talking about Black women and hair and, in some instances, approaching us in odd forms of commiseration, but until something meaningful comes from these television shows, movies, and articles, all I have to say is enough about hair already.

Oh…yeah…and I totally blame Chris Rock this.


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Author: Angela Stanley (4 Articles)

3 Responses to Enough about hair!

  1. Nice piece Ms. Stanley. I have a cousin who has the same thoughts that you do on this subject. As a man, I’d have to say I never really give much thought to whether a woman’s hair is actually hers or not. But, I can see why this issue would spark a lot of debate amongst women. I hadn’t heard that white celebutante’s like Paris Hilton had their own hair extension lines. I’m not surprised though. You can just add that to a long list of things that have been copied from the black community. It would be a complement, except black folks are never given the credit they deserve for these things. As a matter of fact, a lot of these things are shunned until they are copied by whites. Take rock-n-roll and Elvis for instance. I haven’t researched this, but my guess is that a high number of his greatest hits were first written and performed by black artists and written off as race records. Then here comes Elvis, who steals the songs word for word, and all of the sudden they are timeless classics.

    December 1, 2009 at 1:00 pm

  2. I think the way the hair issues is being talked about is so trivial and surface that it’s basically meaningless.

    As for fake hair, I think women of other races have been wearing it for a while, especially celebs, but people just never thought about it because it’s assumed White women can grow long hair, have naturally straight hair, or have the type of hair others want to emulate so they shouldn’t have to wear anything fake. But on the flip side, people assume with Black women that we can’t grow long hair so we have to have weaves. Or on the deeper level, we’ve internalized so many beauty standards and self-esteem issues that some folks feel like they have to have weaves, relaxers, etc. because there something wrong with the hair that grows naturally from our scalps.

    Perhaps if these discussions dealt real issues, I’d be less tired of them.

    But I agree. Black women have certainly brought the wig/weave trend to the forefront and other women are following suit. I think there’s a lot of truth to things routinely being borrowed, and in the case of rock-n-roll, taken from Black folks. Although, I’m OK with somebody else taking over the fake hair phenomenon.

    Angela Stanley
    December 1, 2009 at 4:44 pm

  3. Real or fake isn’t what upset a lot of people about the Chris Rock doc. about black hair. I believe there is a bit of shame at how much we spend on fake hair and nails. We spend too much on “lookin the part” but not always enough on living the part.

    December 30, 2009 at 3:35 pm

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