‘Dos and Don’ts

The summer of 2000 I went to my hairdresser and said, “I want you to cut all of this off,” pointing emphatically to my badly-damaged permed hair.  She asked me if I was sure and I told her I was–and off went four or five inches of angst onto her linoleum floor. What was left was less than an inch of cottony soft dark brown hair.

I was both relieved and scared. I didn’t even remember what my natural hair looked like and I’d never had my hair cut so short. That very day I went to the mall and bought a whole bunch of big hoop earrings so that I “wouldn’t look like a man or a lesbian,” as my mother suggested I would and as I secretly feared. Oh, the internalized patriarchy.

It didn’t take long, though, for me to enjoy waking up every day and looking cute, taking just a few minutes to get ready, and generally having healthy hair. The stylistic change also helped to bolster my already burgeoning crunkness around gender representation. After I got my mind (and my hair) right, I never looked back.

So, when I saw Viola Davis rocking a natural ‘do on the red carpet at the Oscars’ last week, I thought, “She looks great. And she’s working that dress out.” Now, I was still giving her the side eye about The Help and her conversation with Tavis Smiley, but I hoped the sister would get an Academy Award for her trouble.

 I was also pleasantly, but warily, surprised at the generally positive review of her ‘do in the mainstream media. Giuliana Rancic over on E! News positively gushed about Davis’ hair and I read more than a few articles praising Davis’ “bravery” for wearing her natural hair. Now, I know better than to think that the status quo regarding “good hair” had been changed overnight or anything, but I did appreciate the seemingly expanded range of what is being discussed as “beautiful.” That being said, it’s a hot mess when someone is considered brave for wearing their hair pretty much as it grows out of their head.

There’s always a hater though, isn’t there? So, after all of this gushing, television personality and self-declared wig connoisseur Wendy Williams went on record saying that Viola Davis’ look was not formal enough, in addition to some other disparaging remarks.

Really, Wendy?

Now, ain’t nobody really studying Wendy like that and I’m pretty sure Viola Davis isn’t crying into her soup about this either. However, just thinking about all the crap women of color, and black women in particular, get about our hair, Wendy gets the supreme side eye for this. The thing is, all that Wendy has said is what you hear in barber shops, beauty salons, and on the streets.  Her ill-informed opinion is, all too often, not the exception, but the rule.

When I googled "Viola Davis hair" this medley of wigged out hairstyles appeared under the label "Viola's Best Hair." I'm sort of digging numbers 2 and 9.

And before the chorus of “It’s just hair!” rings out, as Britni Danielle over at Clutch recently suggested, “For centuries, our bodies, our hair, and our being have been up for public discussion and display and we cannot deny the fact that sometimes hair is political.” Let’s not get it twisted.

Between the weather running amok, Republicans trying to get all up in folks’ vaginas, and other general shamtastery, we have big fish to fry. Still, that is not to say that the politics around hair don’t matter or can’t hurt. I know I’ve seen the pendulum swing in the other direction, with folks with naturals questioning the politics of progressive folk with straightened or chemically relaxed hair, wigs, and weaves.  Really? Does the revolution have a dress code? At the end of the day, the choices around hair and representations of feminine beauty are complicated–indeed, as complicated as the folks who rock the hairstyles. If we could remember that, along with remembering that folks just want respect, we can help shift the conversations at beauty salons, among our friends, and in our families. So, with the abundance of foolishness going on I just want to send out some love to sistas rocking wigs, weaves, blow outs, tiny afros, kinky twists, locs, baldies, and any other manifestation of crowning glory. With so much surveillance over bodies (and our minds), seemingly simple acts like confidently rocking a fro or skipping down the street in a lacefront take on all types of social significance.  I’m not suggesting that we forget that, but I am saying ‘do you, boo.


crunkadelic

22 thoughts on “‘Dos and Don’ts

  1. You must be reading my mind–that’s exactly where i was about to go with my next post. I barely recognized Viola, but I do know I liked it immediately. I’m working on the courage to embrace my new natural like that–maybe once I get my twists in, ’cause me and the ‘fro are at odds. It’s soft for the first time in my life, so that’s something. Anywho, once I wrap my thoughts together, I’ll probably tag you in.

  2. found it interesting that you noted how a racio-political rule, or code, was communicated through a seemingly benign statement of ‘formality’. through ‘code words’ and ‘tagging’ certain ideas are systematically promoted while others are suppressed. williams equates `formality’ or `acceptability’ with processed hair and wigs, and `unacceptability’ with ‘natural’ hair (or hair not styled to look european-asian). it’s is not so easy to separate politics from aesthetics. the people who try to do so, typically do so fro deceptive reasons.

    it made me think about the rhetorical question you posed: `Really? Does the revolution have a dress code?’ based on what you said about the willams-davis thing, it just might.

    people read your body before the listen to you usually. in most societies, what you wear (or don’t wear) is a statements on status, `preferences’ and allegiances. and, in many some cases, what people wear is regulated by `the state’. wendy williams fancying herself a tastemaker i guess, is serving a similar function.

    `code’ can mean ‘rule or law’ but it can also mean `pattern or sequence’ (e.g. genetic code). so is there (memetic) pattern or set of rules that would change the established order of things or communicate an intention to do so? i think most people in fashion would say yes. otherwise they probably wouldn’t be in fashion.

  3. Gotta love India Arie for being so body/hair positive! She puts these issues so eloquently into poetry.

    As a white woman, I’ve always felt bad about the negative messages put out about African/Black hair. Especially since I admire it so much – I’ve often felt jealous of black women’s hair because it “seems/seemed” to me that you can do so much more, have more options with black hair. I also longed for hair that could be done and left for more than a day (or two) at most before having to be washed and done again.

    It’s so exciting to see starts like Viola Davis go natural and rock their beautiful natural hair. Hopefully more folks will realize they don’t have to succumb to the beauty myth of straight, “under control” hair is what’s right, normal and acceptable.

  4. good post! i agree the issue is complex, but we can’t ignore the racist and sexist origins of the contradiction. if black women weren’t facing interlocking systems of oppression then relaxed, pressed, dyed, fried, blow dried, or natural, our hair would have little significance. after all, it’s hair! our obsession with something that would otherwise be mundane is symbolic of a deeper psychosis.

    check out my other thoughts here at my blog politics and fashion: http://wp.me/p25TUO-ER

  5. I was so proud to see Viola rock her natural do, as it brought up memories of when in 2000 I cut mine very short and wore it natural. Friends and coworker wondered when I would allow it to grow and get a perm. Others were, to my surprise, quite supportive and would tell me how much they liked it. Their comments were encouraging, but I already knew that I had found my natural look and intended to keep it.
    I can see the risk Viola took and applaud her for that, but ‘hair’ will always be an issue, in the Black community.

  6. Loved this post Crunk Feminist! As a woman who will rock a curly ‘fro and switch to relaxed hair whenever the mood sets, I don’t like being boxed in and feeling the change in looks or vibes I receive when I choose the former. Like I did something obviously “wrong” or the why would she choose that when she has such “good hair” glances :) Unfortunately, mainstream won’t fully accept our natural beauty until we come to grips with as a community (screw face at you Wendy). Thanks again for great read. There is a great documentary on the festival circuit right now called “Dark Girls” co-produced by Bill Duke. Don’t know if in your area but getting great reviews. I will be viewing this Saturday if I can make it out. Peace and Blessings, Thomasena

    • I would define “Coming to grips with it as a community” as the men in this community appreciating natural Black FEMALE beauty and transfering that onto Black women & girls. Unfortunately, I do not think that will ever happen, but I DO know that the fallout from that never happening is NOT the fault of Black women & girls.

  7. I’m not going to lie, I was delighted to see her rocking that style (and she wore it SO WELL) at the Oscars. I absolutely love short hair on women of all races, because I think it flatters so many people’s facial structure and eyes. Just compare the various looks Viola Davis is wearing on this page, personally I find it pretty obvious which ones show off her beautiful smile, cheekbones and brows the most. ;) And though I can appreciate a fancy wig, weave, or blow out, I feel the same as Colleen – from the outside looking in, I admire Black women who wear their hair natural.

  8. THIS
    “Really? Does the revolution have a dress code?” THANK.YOU.

    I have natural hair,if I want to wear it straight for a week, does that mean I’m self hating? Lol I have to be honest that when I “went natural” I was all “well those women with weaves and relaxed hair will come around and when they do I shall welcome them with open arms”. I mean I definitely made assumptions about people’s self-confidence based on what style of hair they had. Arrogrant? Yes. Judgemental? Yes. Completely out to lunch? Well I don’t know, because hair isn’t just hair. I might have been right in certain cases…right?

    My sister DOES NOT like the Type 4 hair, she likes my 4abcxyz coils, she’ll compliment me on styles, how great my hair looks… but but doesn’t want it for herself, she would rather have the loose waves or loose curls at the most. When she is done with braid extensions in a couple of months she wants her hair to be straight most of the time (but no relaxer because she doesn’t like the stinging!), so I’m looking around for a good flat iron and ways to keep hair straight despite sports practices 3x a week.

    It’s complicated for me:, I want her to be comfortable with what grows out of her head and see straightening as a style OPTION. Or maybe preferring straight hair doesn’t have to be an indication of self- hatred. I mean the girl can’t be bothered with detangling and the idea of doing anything but a ponytail makes her grimace. Is her preference just about convenience or the fact that all her close friends have hair that they can flip in the wind? I don’t know; complicated…

  9. Well done! For me this resonates with the fraught issue of women’s body hair. I think everyone should just do as they see fit without a ton of judgement either way. But women’s body hair has become incredibly taboo.

  10. Thanks for the post and your honesty. I love Viola, and how she used the politics of black woman’s hair (yes its political) to “redeem” herself in certain black womens eyes, and probably her own eyes. This is the type of political move I applaud, and Viola played it perfectly. She’s a smart super soul sister and that’s for sure.

    Black hair is highly political among ourselves. We know in our core being that the whole mess is patriarchal, but we own the mess now. We shape it and mold the politics of it. The issue of our hair forces us to question who we are and how we navigate in this oppressor society. Our hair is a measure to us of how closely we align to the oppressor morals – how we strike a balance that is suitable to get along in our own minds.

    For some, we arent able to abide straight hair in our minds, even if we straighten our hair. So when we see the beautiful nappy hair sisters, we are convicted in our hearts. We see ourselves as cowards, unable to be our true selves. For some of us we finally break down and BC. Then we go to BGLH for support. We grow to respect ourselves for “being who we are” and fall in love with our natural fluffy locks.

    For others, straight hair is no problem for us in our minds. Straight hair isnt who we are, its only what we do. We were never competing with white women when we straightened our hair. It was simply a part of our black culture. We get upset at the “arrogant” nappy hair politic that gets up in our faces, telling us that we are spiritually broken and trying to be white. We knew all along that WE ARE NOT OUR HAIR.

    Black women, we’ve been going through this hair politic for decades. Its not new in any respect. And our hair will always be political in an oppressor society. WE are political. That its political is not so much the issue, but on what side you fall and the reason is the issue.

    As the author said, Do you, boo. Figure it out. Take as long as you need. Navigate the thing. Find your groove. Deal with the opinions. Accept the praise. Reject the hate. We black women are not a monolith, and we are very opinionated. So there it is.

  11. Great post! It’s a shame that our hair is a political issue, but it is, and to ignore that is naive, so I thank you for addressing this. And I am so tired of people saying natural hair isn’t “formal enough” or isn’t professional. Ridiculous.

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  13. This was a fun read. I especially love your concluding sentence: “do you, boo.” This sentence resonates with me. I’ve judged and been judged when it comes to black women’s hair choices, and frankly judging is trite, distracting, and damn boring. I have been friends with the same three black/black-identified females since high school–21 yrs. I remember being in Atlanta with two of these friends more than a decade ago. One (S.) had joined the ranks of the Afrocentrists; she brought a comrade along on the trip. S. and A. were on a naturalist kick, and preached to me and T. for four days straight about buying into what they referred to as Western notions of beauty. T. and I wore our hair long and straight (still do). One of the Afrocentrists was severely critical, referring to us as “Western” blacks, as if somehow she’d magically escaped the “condition” of being born African-American. I looked at her African-inspired gear, thought about my historically-white college background, and almost bought her argument. This until T. “caught” her rolling her locks. T. took this as a sign that “Ms. Afrocentrist,” as she sardonically referred to A. was not as “pure” as she claimed. “I mean, what’s that about? Curling your locks? Please.” Aside from cracking me up (T is funny as h*ll), she did make me call to question A.’s criticism and self-presentation. But still I was forgiving of A., as she seemed to me to be a cool cat (when she wasn’t judging). I had been perming my hair since the age of thirteen, and liked the sleekness and ease of my relaxed, oil-sheened hair. Needless to say, T. and A. never quite hit it off. T. still gets her back up just thinking about that moment. Some fifteen yrs later, I see the moment as one in which we were all still in the process of forging an identity that we could live with as young black women.

    I love Viola’s natural. She looks good. I’m skeptical of Wendy overall. I’m still digging my processed hair, but I do worry about the chemicals. Perhaps as I continue to grow, to mature, to develop, I will “go natural,” but perhaps not. At 38 going on 39 (very soon), I recognize the wisdom in and necessity of “do you, boo.” Let’s all be a little kinder to each other, a little more understanding, and a little more willing to recognize and celebrate the differences that make us, dare I say, damn fly. I love this blog post. Well done.

  14. Viola looks beautiful with her natural hair.

    People need to check themselves with their criticism of natural hair sistas, seriously. They need to take their smart aleck comments and judgements to the MEN who started this crap with Black female hair in the first place.

    • I agree… I mean mainstream rap/hip hop has promoted an aesthetic that doesn’t respect traditional African features or any skin tone darker than ‘red bone’. Men who buy into it and perpetuate it should not ‘get off easy’.

      I also think it’s important to address the women. The ones with relaxer and weave who make me feel like less than for wearing what comes out of my head, and the ones who berate a woman for wearing her hair flat ironed…

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