Black Hair

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Black hair styles have been for decades significantly controversial. If they were too cultural, they could be considered aggressively political, and if they didn't follow the latest trend, such as the Afro of the disco age, the bearer of a "normal" hairdo could be criticized by her peers for selling out.

Blacks and whites, and everyone else have recently been freed to do whatever they want. In the past controversial hairdos could get you thrown out of the debutante's ball; now women are under pressure to avoid allowing culture and the latest trends from making them look like second rate imitators.

In the fifties, European models created the poodle look, but when it was adopted by the strong comedic personality of a red-haired Lucille Ball, it became the look of the loudmouthed wife that Europeans could not tolerate and that made North American men shudder. It quickly became a style that represented something that you wanted to avoid.


Styles come and styles go, and you are free to borrow from whatever generation you want. You just have to be very careful, because some styles can be annoying. In one Jerry Seinfeld episode, Elaine and Jerry are immensely annoyed by the big-haired woman who has adopted a 1950s style. We don't want to look old-fashioned, we don't want to look like our grandmother but often, by the time we have worked-up the courage to follow a trend, the trend can have run its course. The look was briefly adopted by Whoopi Goldberg for her character in "Sister Act" and became an attractive and entertaining resurrection.

What is worse, is following a style that may simply not suit you.

The hair obsession by black women reflects a deep, compelling need by African-Americans to identify with and accept North American values and standards. The beauty-care industry has expertly cultured that compulsion with fantasies of social glamour and turned them into gigantic profits. Hair care product manufacturers have sold many black women on the idea that their hair is the path to self-worth, social success, and allure. (More than a hundred years ago, fortunes were built on the fantasy that African-American women wanted to look like white women and hair was the means to the end, which would ultimately achieve success and freedom for the bearer. Asian women had it twice as bad, because the beauty-care industry convinced them that they required not only the white American hair, but also the rounded eyes.

Current music artists have been able to crash all boundaries. The industry is populated with blonde African-Americans and bald African-Americans as well as white entertainers with dreadlocks. The secret to breaking free is to be noticed and to stand-out from the crowd, and if that means adopting what could be deemed extreme, all the better. Extremism has freed women from being required to follow any trend. At the same time, each individual, no matter what color, should for her own peace of mind select a style that is easy-to-maintain and suitable to her personality.

The hair care industry still slants many of its products (and its billion dollars in sales) to feeding the needs of its customers with shampoos and tints that are tailored to individual cultures, but for the most part, the products are able to cross all boundaries.

The black woman can choose whatever she wants and can sport her hair in whatever way pleases her, with little concern over what the ladies in her social group will say. If she wants to be different, so be it. It is just a question of what looks good on her. The moment you, cast aside the fact that you are not required to make a political or cultural statement, is the moment you have freed yourself. If you look good with straight hair, or blond hair, or a Marie Antoinette pompadour, wear it.

Styles will always come and go. True freedom is achieved by the savvy individual who knows what looks best on her.

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