Media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who has done more good in her lifetime than most, is on this month’s cover of “O” magazine with her head of thick and healthy hair in what looks to be a natural state. Her big hair takes up a good portion of the cover and inside, Oprah details all the various looks she’s worn over the years. Reaction to the cover has ranged from negative to positive with some commenter’s around the web questioning whether Oprah’s hair is permed or not. (She says on her website it’s not blow-dryed or straightened so you be the judge.) Others don’t see why people are making such a big deal over it.
With her huge national and international following, Oprah could be making a statement about the beauty of “natural” hair, but only to those who don’t already see it. But she’s not the only Black women whose hair has been talked about lately. Duriing Olympic Games coverage, there has also been a focus on black women’s hair. Two-time gold medalist Gabby Douglas, who made history as the first African-American to win the women’s all-around competition in gymnastics, was criticized by tsk-tsking black women who wondered why she didn’t slick her edges down better – maybe because excelling in her sport was her main focus? Track star Sanya Richards-Ross, who won gold in the 400 meters, was as dominant in that race as her two-tone blonde and black weave, leading a mainstream site to question whether her hair slowed her down.
Interestingly enough, Jamaican-born Ross’ parents both wear locs.
Music and TV stars Beyonce, Solange and Shaunie O’Neal have recently been photographed wearing micro-braids. When Solange took out her weave in favor of natural styles, she was featured on “Oprah” and got an endorsement deal from Carol’s Daughter. “Shameless” star Shanola Hampton is one of the only black women on TV who wears her hair ioc’ed (“Soul Food’s” Vanessa Williams was the only other one in recent memory.) With the notable exception of singers like Ledisi, Esperanza Spalding, Lalah Hathaway, Goapele and a few others, most black female celebrities are permed or weaved. What does that say about black women?
It says simply that we have a whole host of styling options that women of other backgrounds don’t. Yes, we do have a history of hair self-hatred; possibly based on the fact that in slavery we hardly had the array of styling products we have access to today. (Sarcasm intended.) Separated from our homeland and rituals of hair-braiding that still exist in Africa, we learned to hate our hair in its most natural state. The advent of weaves, wigs and relaxers became a styling option for some, a hair maintenance option for others and a way for a good amount of women to cover up what they were taught to believe was ugly.
When the Black Power movement of the 60’s encouraged African-Americans to embrace their own unique beauty and hair textures (as exemplified in this clip, featuring Black Panther leader Kathleen Cleaver Afros and braided styles became something to take pride in.
What’s happening today is similar as braids, Afros, twist-outs and locs are once again becoming popular and fashionable. One of the reasons could be the now infamous scene in Chris Rock’s 2009 documentary “Good Hair” that showed an aluminum soda can being destroyed by the chemicals in hair relaxer.
Black women can and should do whatever they want with their hair. Perm it, weave it, slice it, dice it, fry it, lye it, whip it, flip it, it’s all good.
Why do we keep talking about hair as though it has some deeper meaning other than a personal choice that works best for each individual woman? Hair is just something that grows on your body and out of the top of your head. A woman’s crowning glory for some, yes, which is why we are fortunate to have all the options we do. If you’re not suffering from alopecia – a condition that causes women and men to lose their hair – or baldness then consider yourself fortunate to be able to wear it how you want to. There’s a reason why there are 3 zillion ice cream flavors and nail polish colors. It’s because people like options. As black women, we’re fortunate to have them. Let’s embrace them and keep it moving.