Friday, June 13, 2008

Getting to the Root of it all: Black Women's Hair

by Camille Darby,

It's never been denied that women are granted one of the many gifts that augment physical beauty - our hair. Twist it, lock it, braid it, curl it, straighten it or simply let it free, the options are endless. Yet, no matter how we decide to define our own beauty, time and time again, our hair seems to be the medium by which others judge how we feel about ourselves and often times what we even believe.

My grandmother always reminds me that a woman's beauty lies within her hair. Now that I've experimented with various hairstyles throughout my twenty-odd years on earth, how exactly is that beauty defined? There are countless attributes, both inside and out that make us all beautiful - our hair may or may not be one of them. So perhaps her traditional ways play a role in her ideology about beauty. But beauty is multidimensional and as the overused but accurate quote states: "it's in the eye of the beholder."

As I try to get to the root of this I am immediately reminded of an encounter I had with a widely known female poet from Jamaica (I'll leave you to fill in all the blanks). Boasting a wild Afro, she sparked up a few conversations with each of my housemates when out of the blue, she boldly asked me if I am not uncomfortable with the rollers that sat on my head. "By uncomfortable, what do you mean?", I asked. And to no surprise she attempted to provide me with a history lesson about black hair and in her opinion, the automatic self-deprecation that is coupled with straightening one's hair. I was disappointed but not taken aback as I thought "Oh boy, here we go again…another blacker than thou discussion!"

Living amongst other black females, who all sported various "natural" hairstyles, my relaxed hair (and the rollers that curled it) stood as a beacon that shone a light on my ocean of supposed self-hate. "Why would you do that to yourself?" she inquired relentlessly. "Do what to myself," I immediately fired back, "do my hair?" It wasn't my posture or body language, which are normally good indicators of how one may feel about his or herself-it was my hair. What about my relaxed hair is powerful enough for anyone to make a judgment about what I believe or even assume that I automatically hate myself?

Needless to say our conversation did not end well. But later that night, I asked myself once more, "Why is it that our hair-one of our many physical characteristics-speak such high volumes about who we are and what we believe?" Now don't get me wrong, looks are often enough to trigger a red or green flag; but in this day and age when hairstyles do not necessarily signify a particular political or social view as they did from the 1920s to the 1970s, but instead exhibit versatility, personal taste and freedom, why must we continue this exhaustive conversation?

It is conversations like the one I experienced that reassure us that as humans we are constantly evolving. The changes that we commit to, whether spiritual, mental or physical exhibit our many dimensions that allow us to further define our inner and outer beauty.

Flowing dreadlocks, extraordinarily sculpted braids, loose twists, a shimmering baldhead, or even a weave longer than Naomi Campbell's illustrates that we, as women, have a plethora of choices. And though our hair (or lack thereof) helps in creating our physical beauty, one can only truly judge beauty by the knowledge way beneath the scalp and the love deep within our hearts.

Happy hairstyling!

About The Author: Camille Darby received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College with concentrations in Urban Studies and Creative Writing. She is the editor for two online newsletters, and is also a writer for both the stage and screen. Camille attends the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University where she is working
towards an MFA in Dramatic Writing.


Anonymous said...

Hi. I noticed that on your post for June 13, 2008, you used my photo for your article. That photo as well as all of my photos are copyright protected and cannot be used without asking for and receiving permission. Please remove the photo from your blog.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to getting more information about this topic, don't worry about negative opinions.