For as long as I can remember black people’s hair has always been seen as inferior, unprofessional and just not good enough, due to the texture and the age-old myth that it cannot grow long. However, for something to be deemed as inferior it first has to be labelled as inferior; those in high and important institutions tend to be the ones in control of assigning different things with labels and making them stick. In the western world, white people tend to be in charge of these institutions and therefore will enforce and dictate their standards which influence the worldview for many which then becomes ingrained into the population’s beliefs. With regards to how black people are viewed in society white people were able to dictate this with slavery which then produced Racism and discrimination. This caused everything that black people have to connote: poverty, ugliness and something of lesser value. As well as this it caused European features to be highly valued connote positive images such as beauty and wealth. Despite slavery being over – in most countries – its effects being racism and discrimination are still ever present which affect the people view black people and most importantly how black people view themselves.
As a Black woman growing up in the western society it is easy to unconsciously self-hate and de-value aspects of your race such your hair; especially when most of the women shown on tv and in magazines who are labelled as beautiful tend to have straight European hair. As these women have been depicted as being the most beautiful, we as black women look up to them due to this and aim to acquire such beauty by trying to emulate the looks of the white women. One way this is done is by having hair like them. This is usually done by perming or straightening natural hair or wearing straight weaves. If all black women were to do this, it will then cause the young generation of black girls to do the same thing in order to feel beautiful and to fit in with others. The problem now with this is that this portrays the view that a black woman can only be beautiful with white features leading many to feel insecure and uncomfortable in the skin that they are in. Wearing weaves is not a problem, it acts as a protective style and tends to be easier to manage, however, when you have to wear weave to feel good about yourself then that becomes a problem as it suggests that without it you do not feel beautiful or comfortable in your natural state. Which is what racism and discrimination have tried to enforce on us and as a collective we have to rise above it if we do not believe in our beauty if we do not accept love and appreciate ourselves no one will.
Black women are beautiful, and we do not need straight hair to feel that way, we are beautiful in our own skin and our own hair. The problem isn’t the fact that we have coily, curly or kinky hair but that we do not know how to look after our hair. As our hair is curly maintaining and looking after it will be different from the way straight hair is maintained.
Let’s go further.
The reason why it quite easy from European and Asian people’s hair to grow is because the natural oil that our scalp secretes (sebum) is free to travel down the strands of their hair as their hair texture is either straight or wavy, the sebum helps to keep the hair moisturised which is what is needed to grow and maintain hair, hence why most European or Asian people do not need to apply creams or oils to their hair. However, black people have curly hair which prevents the sebum from being able to travel down the hair strands so all the sebum accumulates at the scalp and because of this only the roots of the hair is moisturised causing the ends of the hair strands to be dry. This causes hair
strands to start breaking off; also, because the sebum is trapped at the scalp it doesn’t allow the scalp to breathe which also prevents hair growth. Therefore, if the hair strands are breaking off more than it is growing then maintaining length is not possible. Luckily now there is a lot of information on YouTube and blogs which help us to understand how to properly look after our hair.
So how do you grow black people’s hair you ask?
Firstly, it is important to know that what prevents length retention is lack of moisture, as our hair is so dry, we need to ensure that our hair remains well moisturised in order for our hair to be healthy and grow. Secondly, I would advise stopping perming and texturizing your hair, not because it is impossible to grow long hair through perms but simply because the chemicals in these products are extremely harmful to the scalp and even to your health. Thirdly, get familiar with your hair texture: are your hair strands loose waves or is the texture kinky; curlier hair tends to require more moisturising whilst looser curls require less. Furthermore, understand that initially, it will be hard to grasp how to look after your curly hair as you are not used to it so a lot of things that many YouTubers suggest may not work for you and that is fine. One size does not fit all, what will work for one person may not work for another it’s all about trial and error.
Written by Kimberley Nwaeze
Photos provided by Nicole Benewaah