I recently saw “Good Hair,” Chris Rock’s documentary that sheds light on the “tress-ful,” and costly lengths certain women go through to get, well, “good” hair. Though Rock behaves in his usual comedic manner, he addresses a serious, hair-raising issue in the world of hair: black hair is bad hair.
Those with good hair are more liked, have more successful careers, have more confidence and even enjoy a greater level of intimacy with their significant other.
The documentary’s underlying message made me sick. Despite being friends with women with black hair as far back as I can remember, I had no idea this much time, energy and money went into their hair. And while I have my own trivial follicle problems, the reality of this situation is honestly heartbreaking.
The existence of said “good hair” in the black hair community is enough to support my claim. The term is referring to soft, manageable, blowing-in-the-wind, run-your-fingers-through kind of tresses. Black hair tends to be the polar opposite of that.
And what does that make “good hair’s” antonym? Bad hair, of course. And what does that make “bad hair’s” synonym? By the transitive property, that’s black hair (meaning, the characteristics associated with hair of African origin). It’s this simple fact that I find so disconcerting, that I had to write about it.
The term’s implications have a devastating toll on women starting at a young age. It’s because of “good hair,” combined with the subliminal persuasive nature of the media, that girls with black hair are mentally coerced into buying chemical relaxers and pricey weaves in hopes of attaining their desired hair. In fact, the idea for the documentary came from Rock’s young daughter who asked him why she doesn’t have “good hair.”
This concept spills into the issues surrounding race as well. Many of you may recall the doll experiments conducted by psychologists Kenneth Clark and Mamie Phipps Clark. The two presented African-American children with one white doll and one black doll.
The children were then asked to pick the doll they thought was nice, and an overwhelming majority chose the white doll. When asked which doll was bad, most chose the black doll. African-American children are not only programmed to think negatively of their natural hair, but the experiment’s results exposed the children’s internalized racism from the color of their skin.
Children grow into adults, but that doesn’t mean they grow out of the self-denial and self-loathing that’s subconsciously embedded within them. This was apparent when the controversy concerning Olympian Gabby Douglas’ hair virally erupted.
Douglas was sporting a relaxed, flat-ironed ‘do, and inevitably began sweating. The perspiration then started a process that I and plenty of girls worldwide know all too well: curling. People wasted no time in blasting the teenager’s hair on Twitter for looking unkempt and even “nappy.”
Is this really what our eyes are drawn to when someone accomplishes something so rare, especially at age 16? I personally didn’t even see anything wrong with her hair, and I can’t even fathom the unwelcomed feedback that would come about had Douglas worn her hair in its natural state. It’s very telling of the mentality certain women possess. The notion of “good hair” is so deeply ingrained in them, that winning a gold medal isn’t sufficient in hiding a few flyaways.
However, I do recognize that not all black-haired women share this sentiment. Many women alter their natural hair not necessarily in search of good hair, but for the variety instead. Junior Shanea Turner-Smith said she enjoys the versatility her hair has to offer.
“I love my hair and will wear it naturally from time to time, but I see no problem with getting it relaxed and straightened every so often, or putting in a new weave,” Turner-Smith said. “The options are endless, and I feel lucky because of it.”
Senior Jakozy Whitson said that she hasn’t chemically treated her hair in years.
“My hair has been in its natural state for awhile now, and I still use a lot of products to manage it, but it doesn’t bother me,” Whitson said.
As refreshing as is to hear St. Thomas women taking pride in their black hair, the truth still remains. With every day, more and more women are going through hundreds of dollars and spending hours on end trying to achieve good hair because they’re unhappy with their natural hair. The end result? An even more lost sense of self, plummeted self esteem, and false happiness.
And maybe I’m in no position to write about this, given that I don’t have the characteristic black hair. But after watching “Good Hair,” I have a firm stance on this hair debate. There’s no shame in hair experimentation, but be comfortable in your roots and embrace what you were born with. Don’t add your insecurities and stresses to your already beautiful tresses.
Geena Maharaj can be reached at email@example.com.