What’s the obsession with black hair?

For many black women, asking them a question about their hair is similar to asking them whether or not they emptied their bowels before they left home – it’s something you just don’t do. But no matter what race we are, we all have hair, so what exactly has made black women and so many others obsessed with afro hair?

Black hair is extremely big business, with superstars like Beyoncé and Rihanna changing their hairstyles every few weeks, black girls like me can only aspire to one day reach such weave goals. It’s a well-known fact that black women aren’t the only ones that wear hair extensions, but we seem to be the only ones constantly reminded of the fact that we are wearing them (when we do).

Beyonce at the 2011 VMAs

Anything from chemically straightening hair to disguising its natural texture with weave, you name it, we’ve probably done it. The black hair market alone is worth a whopping $684 billion and growing and it’s no surprise too as many black women now commonly spend hundreds at a time on hair extensions every few months.

But, I’m convinced we’re not the only ones obsessed with our hair. When we look to the media industry we all – consciously or subconsciously – scrutinize black celebrities far more for their hair choices than their white counterparts. When Beyoncé made her first public appearance with a much shorter fringe than usual people all over the world were so quick to remind each other “It’s just a new wig”, which would never happen to Taylor Swift or Angelina Jolie.

From a very young age I noticed that straight, European style hair was glorified and preferred over curly, afro hair and if we needed any proof that this view is still very much in existence then we need look no further than the media industry. The treatment of Beyoncé’s daughter in comparison to Kim Kardashian’s shows us that even children aren’t off limits when it comes to cruel jibes about their natural hair.

Baby North West

With this kind of behaviour aimed at young children it’s no wonder so many young black girls grow up thinking they have the wrong kind of hair. Many young women (myself included) have had the unfortunate experience of having to perm their hair from a young age which then leads us to grow up believing that in order to be accepted, we must look like everyone else. How could we not be obsessed when we spend hours taming our natural hair just to prevent it looking unruly and messy.

Black hair’s biggest enemy is black women themselves as we are first to criticize each other when we spot the slightest thing out of place whether it’s visible hair wefts or edges that don’t quite match the hair texture. We are almost damned if we do and damned if we don’t as when we do opt for more ‘manageable’ straight styles, we are labelled as self-hating but if we choose to style our natural hair that too is frowned upon as it’s seen as disorganized and untidy.

So what is the motive behind our ever-changing hairstyles? Why, versatility darling. Protective styles (as touched on by WNOL last week) such as weave and braids are great ways to switch up your look whilst protecting your real hair. By drastically changing their hair every few months black women are able to effortlessly keep up with trends without any real commitment. Curly, coiled, thick natural hair is almost never seen or even thought of in the professional working environment as it just isn’t viewed as a ‘professional’ hairstyle. Well we can’t all be professional at all times and it is only hair after all so why not lighten up and go with the fro’.

Images courtesy of: Avery Scott, Beacon and Zennie Abraham

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