Why do I feel that so many Black women are encouraging their girls to think that silky European hair is better than their God-given frizz? I discussed this recently with a friend, and she said: “My hair is natural… under my wig…” A recent study revealed that 70% of Black women and 94% of White women in the US have a preference for straight hair!
I think these statistics need to change.
Afro hair has been overlooked, undervalued and excluded for centuries. In the 1940s, ‘good hair’ became a requirement for many African American women to attain employment or admittance into certain schools and social groups. Cicely Tyson was one of the first Black women to wear a braided hairstyle on national television in 1962. Up until this point, braids weren’t considered a ‘finished’ style. In 1971, Melba Tolliver, the first Black person ever to anchor a network news programme, was supposed to cover Tricia Nixon’s wedding at the White House. Tolliver changed her hair to natural. Previously, her hair had been straightened. She was told that she couldn’t appear live in the studio, unless she changed her hair back. She said in the New York Times: “They said I looked less attractive — less feminine. But it was their standard of femininity, not mine.”
Tolliver refused to straighten her hair and, finally, after public pressure, the station relented and permitted her to appear on air with her natural hair. It is now the 21st century. Surely we can all help to change outdated thinking by celebrating Afro hair together.
As Christians – men and women alike – we need to shun shallow Euro-centric beauty standards. I said women – and men.
Men can do a lot to encourage their daughters and their wives to embrace their natural hair. Every day my three-year-old gets dressed and goes straight to her Dad for affirmation. It’s not enough for me to tell her she’s beautiful, she wants to hear it from her Daddy. Men can speak strength and confidence into the women in their lives, especially their girls. Tell them that they are wonderfully and fearfully made, and that God has numbered every single tight Afro curl on their head. He knows the number of hairs on your £300 ‘real hair’ wig, too!
Men can encourage the women in their world to take the time needed to explore how to drop some heavy head-turning natural hairstyles. Now, I understand that we’re busy. Wigs are easy, convenient, and some of them are so good, they actually look like it’s your own hair! I have studied many women on the train in the mornings, trying to establish where the scalp connection is. But we are all worth the effort and the time.
For decades, Black women have had to put up with small-minded views of Afro hair being deemed as unattractive and unprofessional. We owe it to our daughters, especially, to reverse this narrative. No young girl should ever have to feel she has to relax or straighten her hair in order to get ahead professionally. We need to return to our roots – quite literally! – and the 30th anniversary of Black History Month is a good place to start.
What’s needed is some education and information. Men, women and girls need to see their natural beauty as a vital part of their identity. This is where World Afro Day comes in. Television producer, Michelle De Leon, has created this movement, because more understanding and education are needed when it comes to natural hair and all that it stands for. It holds together the many parts of who we are. From as far back as the Bible, we know that ‘a woman’s hair is her glory’. Although Black women are celebrating Afros, braids, cane rows and locks, young girls are still not seeing enough representation of women who look like this on television, in books or in advertisements.
No young girl picking up a magazine should feel pressurised to conform to what society and the Media dictate is beautiful.
You can find out more about World Afro Day, and sign up for blogs and information from founder, Michelle De Leon at http://www.worldafroday.com/.