An Open Candid Discussion about Natural Hair

Natural Hair in the black community has always been a highly contentious subject. For centuries it has been deemed “unattractive” or “too difficult to manage.” However, in the last decade, there has been a resurgence of interest in natural hair and how one should care for it. Nevertheless, attending a predominantly white institution (PWI) once again challenges the beauty ideals of black students, and they must once again find what that identity is. 

Below is an excerpt of an open, candid conversation with my friend Brielle-Ann Michel about what it is like to attend a PWI with natural hair. We share some of our struggles, insecurities, and hopes for progress. The suggestions and comments are solely our opinions and in no way should be construed as the general feeling of the black community on campus. 

Her Campus: Do you feel like you’re seen as “other” when wearing your natural hair? 

Tahjanee Givens: Well, speaking in general as someone who has worn head wraps around campus, it’s so weird because you don’t see anyone else doing it. It’s been a journey for me to get comfortable with wearing my head wrap around campus and to class because so often, professionalism is determined by people who don’t look like us. In high school, I never wore a head wrap, but now that I’m in college, I question, “Why should I let other people determine what looks professional?,” or “Why should I let other people tell me when it’s okay for me to wear a head wrap?” Traditionally speaking, head wraps and turbans were frequently worn by the black community, so why do we deem them as unsophisticated or ugly? 

Brielle-Ann Michel: That’s so true! When I saw you, I thought, “Oh, that’s cool that she has a head wrap.” I always wanted to try the style, but I kinda felt self-conscious or thought that it wouldn’t look right. Today I wore a head wrap for the first time on campus, and when I went to Benson Center, I could feel the people staring at me. I was wondering, “Is it out?” Or were they staring because they’ve never seen a black person with that type of style before? 

TG: Yeah, same! I get a lot of stares from black people here too. I think that beauty standards amongst the black community kinda glorifies things that may not necessarily be the best for our hair. So when it comes to things like head wraps, you don’t see a lot of black people around campus wearing things like that, although it is something I have gotten used to and wear all of the time. I really do it because wrapping my hair up and keeping it in a protective style (when ends are tucked away and hair is not frequently manipulated) is actually really good for my hair and has made it so much healthier. Maybe because some people may think it isn’t stylish enough? 

BM: I used to care so much about how I looked last semester or if my style was good enough, but now, I just go to my closet, pick out what I think looks nice, and then do my hair. The hardest part about going here with natural hair is that everyone always expects your hair to look perfect all the time. 

TG: You’re so right, but the thing is about natural hair is that it sometimes has a mind of its own. People expect natural hair to be perfectly slicked back, but black hair is literally just naturally big, poofy, and full of body. That’s something I used to hate about my hair and always tried to hide, but I’ve genuinely grown to love it. Letting my hair out and not constraining it is probably when I feel most beautiful. However, I don’t think a lot of people know how much work natural hair is. Like “No, I will not wear my hair in a twist out (a hairstyle that requires covering the head in twists and later undoing them) every day and spend 2-3 hours retwisting it each night.” When people make comments about how I should wear it out more often, they may not realize how insensitive and rude they are being.

BM: Exactly! I have work to do, I have to go to classes, I have other responsibilities. Washing my hair takes at least several hours. So when I want to wash it and then go out, the air dries my hair out, and then I have to stay and moisturize it at night, which takes a few hours on top of that. That’s why it’s 'Wash Day' and not 'Wash Hour'. I really do love my hair, but I don’t want it to be my whole life. 

[to be continued…]