Curls, Color and Politics.

Author name
By: Edom Tilahun, Class of 2019

Curls, Color and Politics.

In recent years, more and more Black women are wearing their natural hair unapologetically; and it’s beyond beautiful.  After decades of straightening, chemically altering and manipulating our curls to fit a beauty standard that wasn’t ours, we have started to love and appreciate our curls, kinks and coils. Due to the positivity of this movement, many black women have also embraced their looks and learned to love themselves and recognize their beauty. There is more representation of Black women in media, and there are more cosmetic companies that cater to Black women. Due to the magnitude of this movement, Black women’s hair and appearance has become a highly politicized aspect of our lives.

One of these conversations is based on the professionalism (or lack thereof) of Black women’s hair. A little over a month ago, Lara Oddoffin had her job revoked because her braids were not “professional” enough. The company emailed her stating, “If you are unable to take them out I unfortunately won't be able to offer you any work.” Many other women have been criticized for sporting their natural curls and afros. How is the hair that grows out of my scalp not deemed acceptable? Why do I have to succumb to a white standard of beauty and professionalism to be accepted? Or even land a job? Why does my decision to wear my hair exactly the way it grows deemed “bold” or even considered a movement? Why does my hair somehow define me?

Despite the over politicized discussion of Black women’s hair, many people still embrace the natural hair movement. But, while there has been a lot of positive impact of the natural hair movement, we often fail to recognize the few failures of the movement.

Whether it is in media or on social network, whenever we’re appreciating and promoting the beauty of Black women, we tend to focus on women who are close in line with the white beauty standard. Women who have fairer skin, softer curls and thin figures are the ones most people think of when it comes to beauty in the Black community. We use Black celebrities to claim our celebration of Black beauty, when in reality, we somehow internalize and Idealize values for Eurocentric beauty standards even within our own community. Zola Ndlovy of perfectly puts it as, “In the economy that is black beauty, being light skinned is a social currency.” Or in this context, reflecting beauty standards that resemble white beauty standards is the social currency.

This is not even what is most problematic. The big issue is how we fail to see the diversity of our beauty. The fact that we differentiate between what constitutes an “acceptable” type of Black woman and what doesn’t, is a huge problem. The fact that we rarely see Black women who don’t have light skin, a thin figure, and “nice hair” just shows how narrow our society’s thinking is when it comes to the beauty of Black women.  Phrases like “…cute for a black girl,” or “…too black” emphasize the negative stigma that already exists in the politicized world of Black beauty, yet they’re things we continue to hear day to day.

The challenge is to recognize the diverseness of Black women, while redefining what beauty means, and shifting it away from internalized hatred for our own physical features; it is knowing that if we say “black is beautiful”, we truly do mean all of our blackness is beautiful, not just the parts that look “acceptable”. After all, beauty is not hair, or skin or figure. Beauty is knowing one’s identity and self worth. Whether it is your natural curls, your kinky fro, or your relaxed hair, what constitutes your beauty is so much more than just the surface.

-Edom Tilahun