The Olympics is way over now and all the Olympians are coming or already home. We all are extremely happy for those who have been successful. But it never fails that the wrong thing becomes the story. Yet perhaps in this instance, the wrong thing can help us think about some tangible issues that really do need to be addressed.
The gold medal winning gymnast Gabby Douglas…that's all I need to say. Y'all know exactly where I'm going. Why has her hair become the story? Why do women, black woman in particular, have to be judged by their hair? And not by others (who, by the way, actually really didn't care that much) but mainly by people of her same hue. Take note; this article came out this past friday…waaaay after the olympics were over and the "controversy" began.
"There's a debate,"[Patrice Grell Yursik (also known as Afrobella)] said, referring to African American women's choices to either "go natural" or get a weave. "I hate that it exists. I hate that we spend so much time policing other's choices."
Hair stylist Neal Farinah, represented by Balan Inc, has worked with a range of celebrities from Mary J. Blige to Beyoncé. For him, the choice to go natural or get a weave shouldn't be so ideological. "Hair is a woman's right," he said. "A woman has the right to express herself however she feels... She has the right to choose and be happy."
"The right to choose" is, of course, a loaded phrase when it comes to women's rights. Some would point out that we're just talking about hair here. But in many ways, criticism of appearance—whether in the case of Naomi Campbell going natural for a day at the beach or an Olympic gymnast rewarding herself with a luxurious salon trip after breaking world records—impedes that right. And in these two cases, it does so with racial implications.
I'm really tired of the "racial implications" of hair. I'm really tired of this story period. Our hair is a statement of who we are at a given moment. The loaded part is becoming stale. The reason this story and the discussion it helps raise is needed is because almost nobody really feels comfortable with the notion of black women just being who they are regardless of hair texture. If you have straight hair there are political implications to the straightness and God forbid if your true "kitchen" (as we say in the vernacular of black women's haircare) shows for a minute. There are even larger political implications for women with dreadlocks or afros like mine because we are readily caricatured as angela davis clones or vegans (gasp!), or as having a black power conspiracy theory agenda. These ridiculous stereotypes play to an actual fear or discomfort with black woman-ness. A fear that, truth be told, is held very much by black women themselves in many cases. America and the rest of the western world is slowly coming to grips with a popular female beauty aesthetic which is evolving to become inclusive beyond simply that of blond-hair-blue-eyed caucasians. And yet for so long have the old beauty standards ruled our consciousness that, even as we are deviating from them, I'd argue an existential angst has begun to come over us, no matter one's race. As this change gradually takes place, we as a society are working on understanding and assimilating its meaning. What is beautiful? What is stylish? What is professional? Why is natural hair on a black woman said to look informal or even unkept? Why do straight long extensions look formal, classy, together? Does it even matter?
I don't know the answer to these questions. I wear a fro. Maybe one of you has an answer, or even a theory. If you do…let me know so I can have a clue.
Please tell me: Do you think this story even matters? Why does this conversation come up over and over again in the media? Are black women's hair choices making people comfortable or uncomfortable?