Hair, there, everywhere
CONTEMPORARY IDEAS OF BLACK female beauty are relics of a colonial past, one scholar has argued.
And while notions have changed in recent generations, it continues to be perpetuated in Western societies and can be used to understand black female enhancement customs.
“Black women have not historically been seen as beautiful within the Western imagination, and greater onus [has been] put on them by the general society to conform to prove their beauty, value and sense of worth,” cultural studies lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Dr Aaron Kamugisha, said on Thursday in an interview.
“Women’s sense of worth in sexist societies has been linked to their physical appearance. Black women tend to do this more, but there is a historical reason and a historical weight behind . . . [it], whether they acknowledge this or not.”
The scholar, who focuses on race and Caribbean popular culture, explained that Western standards placed Whites at the top, followed by those with brown complexions and darker-skinned people at the bottom, adding: “This is something that is reproducing itself over and over again over time and space.
“One of the most powerful antidotes to that came with the black rights movement in the United States and throughout the rest of the world where it was said that black was beautiful and black hairstyles became into vogue. However, one of the things we also know is that when you have a decline of these radical movements, you often have, because of the persistence of these racial myths, a turning back of previous understandings.”
Kamugisha believed a black woman’s choice to wear extensions could not only be seen in black and white, stating that while it could be due to a buy-in to traditional notions of beauty, it can also be seen as a form of self-expression.
“There certainly are black women who have these hair extensions . . . and feel like they need to have these things to be beautiful, and that may be due to their own loathing, or their own experiences of race and racism within the same society. In fact, some people have different experiences in the same family,” he explained.
“[However], I do believe that some of it is simply self-fashioning and a way in which that woman wants to look beautiful.”
Some men may find black female beauty regimens “hard to understand” since men’s relationship with their bodies is very different, Kamugisha stated, “because men control far more of the power within the world”.
“[Men] don’t have to worry about the gaze on their body and the objectification that a lot of women feel when they are . . . called ‘ugly.’ To be called ugly does not just mean that someone does not desire you; it also means that you are worthless, unintelligent and have a view that cannot be taken seriously.”
In addition, the scholar noted that some women who assert that women who wear extensions are not comfortable with themselves or natural hair may be speaking from “privileged positions”.
“There are certain professions where it is easier [for women] to wear their hair in dreadlocks or to have twists while there are certain jobs where you know you cannot get the job if your hair is styled [in certain natural styles].
“People are sometimes making choices because of what they perceive as a corporate hairstyle. These things are constantly in flux and they are substantially better than 30 years ago for a number of different reasons. Certain conservative professions, the attitude of clients and the corporate culture within them make it more difficult to wear their hair in certain natural hairstyles,” the intellectual pointed out.