Every woman has a story to tell when it comes to hair. Whether it’s the chemical burn of a relaxer to straighten your “bantu knots”, or a curling iron to style your long hair, or even chemicals used to process and change its colour, there is a certain level of pain and endurance associated with having socially acceptable hair, especially in the black community.Every woman has a story to tell when it comes to hair. Whether it’s the chemical burn of a relaxer to straighten your “bantu knots”, or a curling iron to style your long hair, or even chemicals used to process and change its colour, there is a certain level of pain and endurance associated with having socially acceptable hair, especially in the black community.
A look into the history of hair in the black community shows us that in the 15th century, hair was used to indicate a person’s self-worth, religion, or marital status. In colonised states such as South Africa, the “pencil test” was used as a means to segregate the seemingly Caucasian-looking black people from those considered as having “nappy” or “bantu” hair.
The ease at which a pencil put in your hair flows will either classify you as “more white” or “more black”. In other states such as the U.S, cornrows were plaited and used as maps to indicate escape routes for slaves.
Over the years, the hair industry has grown to be a billion dollar industry dominated by Asians. According to huffpost.com, the black hair care industry is at an estimated worth of $500 billion. Furthermore, black women have actively played a part in dismantling the social constructs around what beauty is, which were more European based in the past. The “creame relaxer” which is known to be made of a hazardous chemical known hydrogen peroxide, commonly used to give curly hair a straight texture, has seen a decline in purchases as more black women are embracing their own hair. According to Mintel, sales have declined to 26% due to the natural hair movement, and a target of a decline of 45% has been set by 2019 within the black community.
There is an unspoken divide amongst black women who choose to embrace their natural hair, versus those that prefer the flexibility a weave provides. Natural hair “sistas” are of the school of thought that emphasize the weaving system as perpetuating European standards when it comes to beauty as they entail “weaving” on straight hair from Caucasian individuals on a black woman. For women who prefer the flexibility a weave provides, their school of thought embraces owning one’s prerogative to exploring the variety that comes with having weaves and wigs.
Whichever way one chooses to look at the issue of hair, the bottom line remains- hair has a bearing on how women view themselves. Whether you choose to embrace your natural colour and bantu knots, or choose to put on a weave, there is room for every woman to exercise their prerogative.