Stereotypes of natural haired women

Since recent events have made me hyper aware of race and stereotypes, I’d figured I may as well discuss those issues as they relate to hair, since that is the main reason why I created this blog in the first place.

But first, here are some styles I’ve worn during the past week or so:

The first two pictures are a wash and go, the second two pictures are a flat twist out. I’ve been having a string of good hair days of late, so I’ve been fairly pleased.

As I’ve stated during the whole time I’ve had this blog, the way I’ve chosen to wear my hair is not the norm in the black community. Although more black women are ditching chemical straighteners and are choosing to go natural, we’re still a minority. Natural hair isn’t understood nor accepted by a number of blacks. Due to systemic racism and brainwashing, we are taught to believe that our curly and kinky hair are ugly and that straight hair is beautiful. The pressure to conform to this BS beauty standard can be so strong that women risk hair loss, burns and breathing problems just so they can fit in. From where I sit now, it’s pathetic, but at the same time it’s understandable given how heavily stratified race is in this society.

Here’s a breakdown of common stereotypes about natural hair and the women who wear it:

  • Natural hair is dirty. Because natural hair can have a rough, wiry appearance, some believe that naturals don’t wash their hair frequently. Speaking for myself and many other naturals that I’ve encountered through hair boards and in real life, that assumption is simply not the case. I often wash my hair twice a week, as do some other naturals. Some wash their hair every day. Naturals are advised that water is their friend and is the best moisturizer there is, so as a result, it leads many of them to wash their hair frequently. In contrast, many relaxed women are told that water is the devil because it dries out their hair and makes it frizzy, so they are advised not to wash it frequently. That’s right, I said it. When I was relaxed, I could go weeks without washing my hair in order to preserve a style, especially if it was initially done at a salon, because it would have been impossible for me to duplicate the style at home. Other formerly relaxed women on the hair boards have said the same thing. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some naturals who don’t wash frequently because they do exist, but in general, to say that our hair is dirty doesn’t have much basis in fact.
  • Natural hair is unmanageable. It’s only unmanageable if you handle it as you would straight hair. We naturals literally have to research how to handle our hair because many of us had mothers who had us use perms at an early age and as such, we never learned how to care for the hair texture we were born with. Which means never combing our hair while it’s dry. Which also means only using wide tooth combs and combing our hair when it’s wet or damp and full of conditioner. Any hair handling technique that is used for straight hair is death to curly and kinky hair.
  • All natural women are militant. The qualifying word all is particularly bothersome when it comes to discussing stereotypes because painting everyone with the same brush diminishes their humanity and uniqueness. As far as this stereotype goes, it has its roots in the 1960’s, when women went natural mainly to make a political statement. A lot of women today don’t decide to go natural to say “fuck you” to “The Man,” nor do they all wear dashikis, raise their hands in the black power salute nor shout “Black power!” and “Kill Whitey!” A lot of women decide to go natural for the same reasons I did-because they were sick of running from rain, humidity and pools, they were tired of caustic chemicals burning their scalps and they were tired of broken off hair. I personally am not a militant person, though some may disagree because of my posts about race the last few days. However, that still does not make me a militant person. I am not demanding that all white people be put to death since I have white friends. I’m merely discussing a topic that a number of people would rather avoid and I don’t feel that I can afford to run away from it. I don’t have the luxury of forgetting that I’m a black woman every day. So I have to deal with race because I’m directly affected by it.
  • All natural women are vegan/vegetarian. That qualifying word, “all,” again. There are some naturals that are vegan or vegetarian; however that does not describe yours truly. I do eat poultry and seafood the majority of the time, but I do enjoy a good burger every now and again. The idea that natural haired women are all Mother Earth types and health food nuts is interesting. Just because we’ve chosen not to put caustic chemicals in our hair doesn’t mean that we all extend that to the rest of our bodies.
  • Naturals don’t bathe or use deodorant. This one is hysterical. Refusing to use chemical straighteners doesn’t mean that we eschew all manner of personal hygiene nor does it mean that we need to go from one extreme to another. I’m not a fan of smelling other people’s funk, so I don’t feel the need to embrace mine.
  • Naturals only listen to neo-soul music (Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, India Arie, etc). The thought that all of us only listen to the music of other naturals like ourselves is hysterical. We listen to whatever music we like, just like anyone else. While I do listen to Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and India Arie and am a fan of all of them, I do like other people too. For instance, I’m a huge fan of Sade. Seeing her in concert last year was the ultimate experience for me. I also like Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Musiq and John Legend. Not to mention the old school, like Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin and Patti Labelle. I like hip hop. I like disco.  I like jazz. I even like (gasp!) some white artists like Sting and Adele. I just like music, period.
  • Naturals hate relaxed women. I can somewhat understand how this natural hair stereotype came about. You see, lurking in hair forums and out there on the streets, there are women who have made it their life’s mission to convert the world to natural, much like former smokers and alcoholics who make it their life’s work to denigrate smoking and drinking every chance they get.  Again, this isn’t all natural women. Just some. Personally, life is too short for me to denigrate the hairstyle choices of my friends and family. While I would be overjoyed if they gave up relaxers and other chemical straighteners, browbeating them into it wouldn’t work and may cause them to do the opposite, which is cling to the chemicals more tightly. They have to come to the light in their own time, like I did, if they ever do. Besides, generally, what other people do to their hair makes no nevermind to me. As naturals are a minority, we are bound to interact with relaxed women at some point during our everyday lives. Many of our mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends and co-workers are relaxed and to ignore them because they have yet to see the light is silly.

I must also add that the above listed beliefs are often held by people of color, not white people. I’ve found that a lot of whites really don’t care about our hair. Much of the negativity and disdain surrounding it comes from our own people. Whites have no monopoly when it comes to stereotyping and prejudice. Anybody of any stripe can harbor stereotypes about anything. The difference is how we choose to handle them.



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