Three Things That Will Help You Understand Natural Hair

Several months ago, a South African school found itself in the media for banning afros among its students. A few days ago, BBC released an article profiling several women who were told that they ought to wear weave to work to look more professional. This week, after suspending two black students with braids, a Massachusetts charter school abolished a long-standing rule that outlawed, among other hairstyles, braids, weaves, and hair “more than two inches in thickness or height.”

And, several weeks ago, Shea Moisture, a line of natural hair products marketed largely to black women, came under fire for featuring white women in an ad about hair hate.

I have had numerous conversations about hair in my lifetime. But the conversations surrounding these hair stories have often been a bit discouraging. I’ve had people ask me what’s so special about my natural hair? Why can’t I just wear it more conservatively? Why do we always have to talk about it? It’s just hair!

As I’ve contemplated these events, I’ve sat down to write this article many, many times. This is not a complete apologetic on black hair care. But I hope this is helpful in spurring on this continuing conversation. Here are three things to help you understand natural black hair.

It’s Different Because We’re Different

The reason why I get so many questions about my natural hair is that it is distinct from the societal norm, as well as the societal standard.

As a child, older relatives would talk about “good hair.” Good hair didn’t frizz up, and it wasn’t hard to pull a comb through. It was silky and not coarse. It was the opposite of my hair. Good hair was “white” hair, and my hair was only considered good if it stuck as close to that white standard as humanly possible.

Our culture made the decision long ago that certain types of hair are more acceptable than other types.Click To Tweet

When I first cut off the limp and lifeless remains of my heat-damaged hair, someone told me, “Oh, how sad! You had such beautiful hair for a black woman.”

My hair is “other” because I am “other.” And the way our culture views my hair is not the same.

Beauty Standards Are Not Culturally Neutral

“Black girls should tone down their afros at school because it’s distracting. They should braid their hair back so that they look more professional.” 

“Black women wear weaves so they can have long, flowing princess hair.”

Buried in all of these statements is the idea that a black woman’s natural hair is only acceptable insofar as it mimics the hair of the majority culture around them. But the acceptance of long, straight hair over a big, bountiful afro is not culturally neutral.

Yes, there are certain professional standards applied across the board for all ethnicities. Many industries don’t encourage men to grow beards. Many schools prohibit hair that is dyed unnatural colors. But having all men shave is not the same as having some women alter their hair to match others. Nor is banning a blue hair choice akin to banning the way a black woman’s natural hair grows out of her scalp.

Our culture made the decision long ago that certain types of hair are more acceptable than other types.

It’s Never Just Hair

Hair hate is part of the intricate story of what it means to be a black woman in America. It is tied to our history as women who are viewed as less than their white counterparts in every way. It is woven into the fabric of the way society tends to expect black women to conform to majority beauty standards.

Don’t miss this opportunity by shrugging your shoulders and saying, “It’s just hair.”Click To Tweet

As believers, we have the antidote to this foolishness: the unifying truth of the Gospel (Galatians 3:28). And yet, too often, when it comes to empathy, believers can be shockingly lacking. People who are commanded to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) can find hair struggles that they can’t relate to just a little too small a burden.

But that hair is connected to the head of women, many of whom are your sister’s in the Lord. And that image-bearer, whether in Christ or not, is told throughout her life that she must alter that image to be culturally acceptable.

Hair Matters

When I went natural almost two years ago, I realized just how much of my identity was tied up in my hair. I came to grips with the fact that I needed to redefine “good hair” in my vocabulary. The fact that this journey is unique to my ethnicity doesn’t undermine the struggles of other women; it just casts a spotlight on mine.

All kinds of women fall prey to the beauty standards of our culture. Shea Moisture wasn’t wrong about that. But not all women experience the sting of those beauty standards being closely related to attacks against their ethnicity. Not all women are minorities.

It’s not just hair — it’s so much more than that.Click To Tweet

Stories like this are not an opportunity to dismiss the unique concerns of black women. They are a chance to affirm their inherent worth as image-bearers. They’re a chance to say that whether a woman has long, silky hair or a big, beautiful afro, that she is worthy of dignity and respect. Her acceptance is based, not on how much she looks like majority culture, but on the fact that she’s made in the image of God.

Don’t miss this opportunity by shrugging your shoulders and saying, “It’s just hair.” It’s so much more than that.

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16 Responses

  1. Rayann Jones
    26 May 2017 at 8:41 am

    Thank you! As an adoptive mom of a biracial girl this is very helpful.

    • 31 May 2017 at 11:20 pm

      I’m glad it was helpful!! Godspeed as you learn how to wrestle that gorgeous hair of theirs. YouTube is my constant companion on wash days. =D

  2. Michaela
    26 May 2017 at 7:57 pm

    Hi Jasmine,
    I went natural almost five years ago now. Growing up I soon found out that I also didn’t have “good hair”, since it was the hardest to press in my family. I have now come to the place where I remind myself to thank God for my hair and the way He made it. Your post was encouraging because it’s nice to see another Christian woman who gets it. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • 31 May 2017 at 11:19 pm

      I’m so glad that you were encouraged, Michaela! I’m sure your hair is beautiful. 😉

  3. Patricia
    29 May 2017 at 9:21 am

    As a person exhausted w the sibling rivalries. This is it. Everything God made is good. If persons have a problem with how black hair is created they are coming against God themselves, because until He decides to change it, it is what it is. If He only wanted Europeans to exist He would have done that. Otherwise if you have a problem with African hair you have a problem with God. But ill have you know arguing with God rarely works out.

    • 31 May 2017 at 11:18 pm

      You said it, didn’t you?? =D

  4. Amy
    30 May 2017 at 12:07 pm

    I have some honest questions as a white woman. First thing I noticed throughout this post and the comments is the idea of “good hair”. Is it me or is this something that gets thrown around in black culture? Because I’ve never heard a white person say to me that blacks have bad hair.

    I have heard that black hair is different and has to be handled differently compared to straight hair. But so what, so does extremely curly white hair. It can’t be just brushed through and lets not talk about what humidity does to it. Those were the complaints of white friends with hard to manage non “princess” hair. And yes their moms would complain about their hair and I think it shamed them.

    Even white guys were made fun of. When little everyone would compliment curls on toddlers but as soon as the guys hit puberty then they did everything to keep their hair down. This was considered not easy hair to deal with.

    As for me personally I have super straight fine hair and plain brown. All my life my mom shamed me about my hair. She’d say in frustration, “Ugh your hair is stick straight, no curl or body”, “You don’t have geat hair, you need some body, lets perm it” or ” Ugh clips just slide right out”. Ove and over it was hammered that thick bodied hair either blonde or a pretty red or dark brown was desirable not limp fine hair like mine. It hurt deeply and to this day I don’t enjoy my hair.

    Even now with my daughter my mom will say how nice her hair is, thick not like mine or how pretty my son’s blonde hair is.

    So what was my response to all this growing up. I kept my hair short, very short. Which in turn caused white schoolmates to label me gay. Because in small town America if a girl has short hair she must be queer right? Never once did my black friends in high school or college think that. Nope only white folks did.

    Thankfully I’m married to a man who loves me in a pixie cut and I can relax a bit. Just let me say that I LOVE your hair!!! I’ve read your blog since your teens and have really enjoyed watching you come into your own. Love your style, the nose ring….you’re very beautiful. Natural black hair, whether it be my friend D’s afro, my husband’s friend M’s dreads or your awesome curls is beautiful. I don’t like all the chemical treatments I had at age 9 and I wouldn’t want that for anyone else.

    I say all this because black women aren’t the only ones labeled as having bad or good hair. Every culture has an ideal and those that don’t fit will be made to feel like an outcast. But if people are willing to say, no, I reject that ideal and forge a new way then change can happen!

    • 30 May 2017 at 7:45 pm

      Hi, Amy!

      Thanks for sharing, and for the kind words! =)

      As I said in my last section, everyone has hair struggles. But we can empathize with each other’s struggles without equivocating our struggles with theirs. Your experience as a white woman is very different than my experience as a black one -and that’s okay! Having a school or work policy against your hair type isn’t quite the same as being made fun of by other kids, or even hearing complaints from your mom. And though you might not have heard white people make comments about black hair, I’ve unfortunately heard them a lot; as well as a good dose of self-loathing from the black community, unfortunately.

      I’m sure you could write an entire article on your experience with certain beauty standards, and it would probably be really encouraging to people who related to you, and educational for people who don’t. That was my goal here.

      Thanks again!

  5. Amy
    31 May 2017 at 10:19 am

    You’re right that most businesses/schools don’t have policies against white hair (except Bob Jones Univ. Lol) but most don’t have policies against hair in general.

    What is wrong with natural black hair? What is wrong with braids, dreads and afros etc? If a company bans it then is it automatically racism…maybe. But I think it has more to do with corporate America from the 50’s. A world you and I never experienced but my folks did.

    Clean cut, male persona. That was the standard. Suits, no beards, no tattoos, only one set of ear piercings for women, no pants for women, hosiery required and that included no black natural hair. But it also meant no orthodox Jews, no “hippies” etc. All american look was required.

    My mom remembers how it was for women in the 60’s workplace when she worked for TX Instruments in Dallas. Very strict. My dad worked at Collins Radio in Dallas when Kennedy was shot and I’ve never seen him so clean cut in pictures. It’s what was required to get a job.

    Some companies held on to this. I worked for Dillards in college (late 90’s) and remember them having these old policies. Panty hose in August in Texas…not fun.

    It’s wasn’t racism it was how America was. Formal. We live in a very casual society today and thst includes apoearances. A company today would be an idiot to ban natural black hair. Can we say lawsuit?

    But Jasmine this isn’t the case anymore in most schools or businesses. Look at Starbucks, most retail places, computer firms like Google, college campuses even formal Fortune 500 companies like my husbands. He works in the aeronautical industry and his friend that works there has very long dreads.

    This is the same company that has a policy against profanity and casual dress. His friend can have long dreads but his other friend got hot and removed his button down and just wore his undershirt and was told to put his shirt back on.

    I live in a very rural part of TX. You say you live in small town, lol, well I live in a community of 200 aand have to drive 20 miles to reach town of 15k. Even there my friend D has a huge afro and works with no problem.

    Where are these businesses, colleges and other places that ban natural hair?

    I really want to know….not being snarky. I just can’t imagine this happening in urban Houston, Dallas, Minneapolis or Jacksonville. Especially with such diversity. I honestly believe that black culture pushes a lot of this and then a few stupid white folks say something that mirrors that and now our whole Ameican society gets labeled as racist.

    Please consider posting actual evidence of companies and schools banning this. Please hear me when I say that most whites (at least in my neck of the woods) don’t “hair hate”. Its not fair to lecture whites when there is no evidence of this.

    I will end with this , please hear my heart. Yes whites are the majority culture, yes whites dominate reformed circles so yes there was a majority standard that all were required to fit but that’s the way it is in every culture.

    America was founded by a lot of white guys. It’s not sinful it’s life. Every major culture, Asian, African European etc has it.

    I wouldn’t live in Japan, Ethiopia or Venezuela and be upset if they thought there women were the ideal standard. I’m really trying to understand why you are so upset and I can’t. My experience with hair issues isn’t less traumatic because I’m white. But that’s how it feels when you write. As though your experience is somehow deeper or richer in pain because of your race. This is where you lose me and I think other white folks.

    It’s so frustrating talking about race issues because it feels like there’s alot more giving than taking. I believe you are sincere in your posts but it often comes across as lecturing or scolding. No one wants to listen then.

    I still enjoy your posts and am glad you have come into your own with a strong voice. Don’t stop just realize that the last decade has wreaked havoc on race relations and most folks I know are tired of the politics, violence, and overall sense of unrest that seems to permeate our lives now. Most folks are decent and want to get along so please try to be patient when this rural Texan doesn’t get it.

  6. Amy
    31 May 2017 at 11:03 am

    Dear Jasmine,

    After looking at your comment again I wanted to ask something? Do you think my experience is only encouraging to people that are white, people who can relate? And do you think that my experience can educate people that are black because they can’t relate? That’s what I gathered from your comment but I’m hopeful I’m wrong.

    I want lie to you and you’ve probably have guessed I’m a straight shooter but your comment kinda stung. At least a part of it. My intention isn’t to educate you. You’re a very smart cookie and you don’t need me to help you understand. I wrote to encourage you that I too was told hurtful things and felt I never measured up.

    But if you feel that our skin color makes us unrelatable then how is that going to jive with God’s command that we encourage each other as believers?

    If a white woman feels that sharing a similar experience with you is pointless or only educational because your black and your black experiences are different then you might find that people pull away. They don’t share.

    Have you ever considered that you might be the safest person that white woman has to talk to? Then you say to her “well it’s not the same. Your white and I’m black” and then drop in the instituitional racism blurb.

    A lost opportunity Jasmine to be the light of Christ in someone’s life. People are hurting all around and most feel worthless as they walk through this life. The last thing we need is this wall of color between believers. Just think about it.

    • 31 May 2017 at 11:11 pm

      Hi, Amy,

      I’m sorry that my comment upset you. I tried my best to respond firmly, but without annoyance. So I will try again. Your comments have a lot of points, so I’m going to stick to addressing your overall tone.

      This article is about natural black hair. Your experience, while very valid, is not the topic of this article. This article is not about you. Nor is that an indictment of some sort on you or the hair on your head. =) When we have these conversations, it’s prudent to listen just as much as we speak; and the body of your comments has almost as many words as the article that you are responding to, not because you are engaging with what I have said, but because you are wanting to share your own experiences. I would not go to a blog about a Mexican-American’s unique culture and try to educate her; I would assume that she has a bit more insight into her experience than I do.

      I have called no one or their standards racist, sister. You will find that word nowhere in my article or here on my site. Nor have I scolded anyone in this article, or focused on white culture vs. black culture. There are black people who don’t like my hair, and they’re just as vocal as white folks who’ve felt the same way. The point of the article is: natural hair is stigmatized in our culture. We can encourage black women that they have beautiful hair and don’t have to look like everybody else in order to be beautiful. That’s it. There is no hidden agenda, no secret message, no coded language. Institutional racism blurb? Not present.

      You do not have to educate me on the fact that I’m a minority in this country. Believe me -I get it. 😉 And I won’t educate you on the privileges of being part of the majority. I am keenly aware that race relations have wreaked havoc on the church in the last decade. They’ve been part of my existence since I was born. I can’t choose to opt in and out of them because I can’t choose to opt in and out of my skin color. That’s not some ploy for sympathy -that’s just a fact.

      Interestingly enough, even in many African countries, “white” hair is the standard. When I visited my family in Zambia, I saw billboards for skin whitening cream, hair ravaged by waves and relaxers, and skin blotched by failed bleachings. So even in a country where black people are the majority, imperialism has brought with it the message that black is not beautiful. And that’s sad. And it’s different from you, your skin, and your experience. And that’s okay. It’s okay to listen to that and not inject yourself into the conversation. It’s okay that this particular post isn’t about you.

      I have grown up in majority-white circles my entire life. I am very familiar with what conversations across ethnic lines look like. And while I do want to make those conversations as hospitable as possible, I also want to be truthful and firm when necessary. If that causes someone to overlook our unity in Christ and run in the opposite direction because I have a different opinion than they do on this one topic, that’s sad. It’s also sad that you feel that “no one wants to listen” to what I have to say. But if just a couple of black women read and were encouraged, and if just a couple of white women read and saw new ways to love their black sisters in Christ, I’m happy about that!

      I think this particular conversation has probably run its course in the comment section (although I think it’s a good example of what I’m talking about in this article, for lookers-on), but feel free to email me with further comments. I’m happy to elaborate on anything that I’ve said -but I can’t promise not to write on this topic again. 😉

      Take care!

      Love,
      Jasmine

  7. Bethany
    1 June 2017 at 11:15 am

    I love the artistry of hair.
    I love natural hair, I love styled hair, I love blue hair (I usually have some blue in mine).
    Do you have thoughts on whether or not it is creepy to receive compliments from strangers (I’m a 34 yo woman fwiw)? I live in a diverse area and am always seeing gorgeous hair and am not sure whether it’s better to share the love with an honest, “wow, your hair is amazing!” or to not make anyone feel singled out/othered for their hair choices.

    • 1 June 2017 at 3:21 pm

      I love hair compliments! They’re always so encouraging, especially if I’ve recently received a rude comment about my hair (which happens too often).

      You’re so thoughtful. I bet everyone is a bit different in how they receive things, but it would put a pep in my step!

  8. Bethany McDonnell
    16 June 2017 at 9:37 am

    I love your hair! It is amazing how the Lord gave us all different hair textures and shades of skin…and so incredible how we can all have eyes, nose, mouth, ears…and yet, each person looks unique.

    • 17 June 2017 at 8:05 am

      Thank you so much! And, yes -God is so creative. I often think that looking at my son. =)

  9. Dawn Wilson
    6 July 2017 at 4:36 pm

    I’m new to reading your posts, and as I read through all the comments here, I sensed afresh the struggle we have to listen and understand when someone is different from us by God’s choosing. What so many are really doing is saying God made mistakes here and there, in one kind of person or another, in one appearance or another. There are difference because of choices, and that’s another issue. But when the differences come from the Creator Himself, we need to see each other through His eyes, not our multi-colored filters. Thank you, Jasmine, for your tender heart for the Lord and the wisdom you are pursuing as you study His Word. That indeed comes through your post in strength.