Hair is an object meant to be styled and perfected. Even though many can not leave the house without it looking presentable, they believe that it is just hair. People believe that hair does not make one who they are and does not have any ties to self-understanding or self worth. Hairitage, a class I took in college about African American hair, showed me a different way of thinking.
At first I still had the notion that hair was only for vanity. After discussing important issues in the class, I realized that my hair took me on a journey through discovering my culture. Reading the stories and writings in Tenderheaded: A Comb-Bending Collection of Hair Stories helped further my understanding of the significance of African American hair and the way society has an effect of how African American women wear their hair. In a letter Madam C.J. Walker’s great-great granddaughter wrote to her deceased grandmother, she explains the social context of African American hair:
“But hair still is a very emotional, even political, issue in our community, loaded with centuries of complicated psychological and sociological, well, kinks and tangles. It’s often volatile enough to provoke a fight, a lawsuit, or feelings of shame. That lots of people still talk about “good hair” and “bad hair,” I think would make you unhappy,” (7).
This passage describes the disdain of African American hair in society. It is not considered beautiful and therefore, many women choose to straighten their hair as a means of fitting in or being accepted. In addition to being unaccepted by American society and counterparts, African American women are also ridiculed by their own culture and society. Some African Americans believe that when African Americans do not wear their hair natural, that they are conforming or ashamed of their roots and culture. All of this confusion around African American hair exemplifies the fact that hair is not just vanity, hair is socially intertwined in society.
Hair is more than what you are born with attached to you scalp. Hair is a barometer of self esteem and an illustrator of society’s influence on African American women and also society’s lack of appreciation of African American culture.Without any hair or kinky hair, African American women feel that they are not beautiful and the culture they come from is not worthy of appreciation. Because the “standard of beauty” is set to long, straight hair, which most Black women are not born with, African American women’s self-worth can be deteriorated and misguided. Since most of African culture is not incorporated into American society, it can be hard to realize that African culture is beautiful and acceptable. African American women have a long way to go to destroy stereotypes about their hair and appreciate the kinky texture of their hair. It is a sad, but true notion that African American women are not beautiful if their hair is natural.
“Welcome to My Happy Nappy Hair Care Affair.
Make yourself at home. Find a seat on a chair, on
The floor. Help yourself to whatever you brought
To ear. But don’t bother me because I’m getting my
My hair “did”. You best find someone to do yours…” (292).