Controversial topics never made me hide my pen or computer. In fact, the more contentious the subject, the more I am inclined to include it my repertoire of taboo themes. However, there are some areas I only touch only with thick kid gloves. In the black community, any discussion of skin and hair can be a highly inflammatory and emotional conversation. Therefore, this article is more of an exploratory venture rather than my usual editorializing.
A common complaint among black intelligentsia and some upper middle class African Americans is that any type attempt by blacks to achieve straight-hair and light skin is a sellout to European standards of beauty. On the other hand, as far as hair goes, many would say it is a fashion statement and a personal choice. Others would say that in today’s world it makes acceptance into the corporate and majority world easier. Or, is it caving into peer pressure even among adults?
Whatever the case, there is not a thing new in these arguments. The only thing that has changed is the timeframe. Wigs, weaves and extensions are very chic and sported by some of today’s fashion leaders both black and white. Interestingly, males wearing toupees and woven hair escape
such examination, but they are no different from women when comes to reasons. Nevertheless, many in the black community feel that any hair that is not a natural growth is acquiescing to European ideas of beauty.
The hair brouhaha has hung around for centuries when African hair picked up “nappy” as a condescending term. Since that time, all manner of hair straightening techniques including permanents, hot irons, chemicals relaxers for men (konk) and gherri curls surfaced to correct what many saw as a problem. As an aside, my great uncle, Morris Porter was a chemist and specialized in black hair care products. He was one of the developers of Glo-Mo-Glo, a pomade product commonly known as "hair grease" in the vernacular.
Who’s right and who’s wrong. It appears that there is no politically correct answer to the question, nevertheless, it remains an awkward subject. Like politics and religion, few blacks are willing to go “on record” or even enter a discussion on the subject. Nevertheless, it seems the black-white dichotomy still affects the African American community. As an example, even today there is loose talk of “good hair” and “bad hair” with “good hair” referring to hair that is preferable to anything but nappy. Kinky or nappy hair is not considered an advantage among many blacks especially when tied together with dark skin, which I will discuss in another post.
When I was kid, I remember going outside on Saturdays and smelling hair frying, which was a common way of referring to using a hot iron to straighten women’s hair. Men also straightened their hair with “konkeline” a vile mixture of lye and other noxious chemicals that was combed through the hair. The more the hair was combed the straighter it became. There were products like Ultra-Wave, Sulfa-8, Dixie Peach, Murray’s and Madame Walker’s hair pomade. Madame C. J. Walker was America’s first black female millionaire.
Whether any of the hair products make men or women more beautiful is open to debate, including weaves, extensions and wigs. The Late Malcolm X referred to the African American drive toward straight hair as “self-hatred,” but others say it is nothing more than fashion or keeping up with the times. Despite anyone’s thoughts, pro or con, on the subject more than likely the division will continue. However, there are health issues that should be considered when wearing weaves or extensions, which include, permanent loss of hair, infection, inflammation, receding hairlines and baldness.
Obviously, there is more to be considered here including self-worth, ideas of beauty, self-image and an entire package of psychological issues to examine. While white men and white women don’t face any of the psychological issues, they are just as susceptible to the same health concerns that come with wearing extensions and weaves. Just to mention a few celebrities paying the price for their “beauty aids” are bonafide beauties like Naomi Campbell, Victoria Beckham and Briteny Spears. All suffer from what is termed traction alopecia.
“Traction alopecia is caused when hair is pulled tightly for extended periods of time via a weave or hair extension.” This damage is usually permanent. Naomi Campbell has lost large portions of her hair because of traction alopecia. Beckham, Spears and Campbell can afford the best in hair care and scalp condition, yet, they have lost portions of their hair that won’t be coming back. Another reason for hair loss and infections comes from wear a weave or extensions too long.
That explanation brings us back to the original question—to weave or not to weave. Whether it is fashion, beauty of self-esteem the question of “why” can’t be avoided. Surely, the answer is complex and does not lend itself to easy answers. Nevertheless, the question remains. Why?