A nuanced conversation about the biases against natural hair

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/06/22/a-nuanced-conversation-about-t.html


In this Allure video, model/writer/activist Ebonee Davis and actors Zazie Beetz and Dascha Polanco discuss the cultural bias against natural hair and the way it’s affected them on both a personal and professional level. As the accompanying article explains:

For Allure’s April 2017 issue, 41 women of color were interviewed about how their appearance and how race played into their careers and experiences. Editor-in-chief Michelle Lee sat down with five women of color who come from various backgrounds in fashion, entertainment, and beauty, to talk about their experiences as women of color in their fields.

Conversations about race in beauty can very often veer towards shared experiences as to how one’s racial identity and appearance affects everything in their lives from how they are treated to the success of their careers. Hair has categorically been a hot topic especially when it comes to natural hair textures for WOC. When what grows out of your head becomes a topic of political and socio-political discussion, it can’t help but affect your sense of identity as well as a large part of the experience being a person of color.


Hum, I’m white and male and my natural hair is unmanageable when cut short. Perhaps I’m not getting the point

[hard to stick a snark thing in that; maybe if Ellen read it … er no…]

the dallas police department a few years ago banned cornrows and dredlocks that were otherwise within the length limits of their haircut code. for some reason the only people who ended up being disciplined for infractions were african-american officers. funny how that happens . . .


I remember growing up in Kansas in the 70s, and seeing so many girls at my school with braids & beads, and adult women rocking some awesome afros, but for some reason it all just seemed to go away in the eighties. I can’t even place where in the timeline it happened…


I feel for women who were told their natural bodies were unacceptable, but this video was really hard to watch and the article isn’t any better.

As an American, I can usually deal with American-centric points of view, but this… this was just too much even for me.

It was cringe-inducing to hear one model say that if you mixed the world’s population together you’d get brown people with curly hair in front of a Chinese-American interviewer then talk about white washing.

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Haven’t watched the vid yet as I’m still at work; but I have anecdotes for days about wearing my hair naturally… a state of personal acceptance that it took me a long time to get to, until I was well into my 20’s and living in the more open minded Bay Area.

Up until that point, I spent hours on end flat-ironing and curling my hair to achieve a ‘straighter’ look that was more “acceptable” peers and family.

Thank heaven, one day I finally woke up.


Natural hair is completely awesome, I love the way it kinks and curls.

I do have one longstanding question about Black hair that I’ve never gotten an answer to. A friend of mine in college once told me that she rarely if ever washes her hair, because “black hair dries out, gets brittle and breaks if it’s washed too much”; she used coconut oil instead. Is that true?

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I would live in hell if I was expected to keep my hair long, after a few inches it decides that from that point on it needs to suddenly get extremely wavey and then suddenly extremely curly giving this appearance that I made this bizarre hair style by choice. My mom has the same hair, as a senior citizen she relatively recently has figured out a bun, updo, or pony tail is basically her only options for natural, manageable hair.

She was a teen and in her early 20s in the 60s and 70s when the only acceptable hair where she lived was perfectly straight long blonde hair or perfectly manicured blonde hair of some sort and she spent untold hundreds of hours combating her natural hair. She has still not accepted but reached an age where the work is not worth it at all to her, but I think it was something she was bullied about and doesn’t want to say. It’s always been a sensitive topic my whole life.

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Om, is that your pic? :stuck_out_tongue:


Your fantastic hair slays me


If that is your hair/you… nooooice. My nieces hair is like that though I heard that it now is as short as mine and pink.

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Jesus woman, that’s glorious.


Beau-ti-ful! Full fucking stop. No one needs to qualify this shit or regulate this shit. You are a bad ass queen and let no one say other wise!


Well, any hair will dry out if you wash it too often for the same reason washing your hands too much can dry out the skin, the water and shampoo remove the oils that keep moisture in. Curly and/or kinky hair has more surface exposure to the air after it gets washed, so my guess is that it dries out even more readily. I have very long but very flat hair. When I decided to grow it out, I had to learn not to wash it every time I shower, and to condition every time I do wash it, because the long strands have more chance to break than when it was short.


Wow! Congrats. Hair that uncommonly glorious must take some work.


at its longest, before genetics took over and wiped out the hair on the top of my head, i could shampoo it and it would air dry into a pile of ringlets similar to that. these days i either put it back in a pony tail or wear it loose over my shoulders. the funny thing is that until i hit puberty my hair was straight but afterwards it became very curly.


I think that these video mixes two separate problems, actually. One is the bias against “natural hair”. Mind you, everybody suffers from that bias. I am male and white, people have a bias against my “natural hair”, because in my “natural” state, I look like Albert Einstein with a case of scabies.

Then, the other problem is that people, especially in the USA, have a bias against any feature of afro-americans. Which is not limited to hairstyles, I think. But I am not qualified to talk about that problem.


That is of course magnificent hair. But to keep the discussion on topic on “natural hair”, I find it amusing that you felt compelled to iron it flat while I know some women of european ancestry who feel equally compelled to ask their hairdresser to make their flat hair that curly.

The bias appears to be against “natural”, whatever the “natural state” may be.

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i’ve been watching this play out for most of my 56 years. it’s a loathsome tendency which i execrate whenever i have the chance.


Trevor Noah had an absolutely on point segment the other day about how people will bend over backwards and tie themselves in knots trying to deny the bald fact of racism in policing. I would argue white people (not all, but many and probably most) do the same for racism in general, though he made a good point that police have a special problem of denying it above and beyond the normal white denial. Anyway, the reason the problem isn’t getting fixed is because (most?) people won’t admit institutional racism exists in the first place.

I would argue that for black people and especially for black women, the problems are not separate, as the bias against natural hair becomes an excuse for a bias against black hair. Yes, you might face a bias against your hair, but it isn’t rooted in shaming your racial features.