To Weave or Not to Weave? That is the question.

Controversial topics never made me hide my pen or computer. In fact, the more contentious the subject, the more I am inclined to include it my repertoire of taboo themes. However, there are some areas I only touch only with thick kid gloves. In the black community, any discussion of skin and hair can be a highly inflammatory and emotional conversation. Therefore, this article is more of an exploratory venture rather than my usual editorializing.

A common complaint among black intelligentsia and some upper middle class African Americans is that any type attempt by blacks to achieve straight-hair and light skin is a sellout to European standards of beauty. On the other hand, as far as hair goes, many would say it is a fashion statement and a personal choice. Others would say that in today’s world it makes acceptance into the corporate and majority world easier. Or, is it caving into peer pressure even among adults?

Whatever the case, there is not a thing new in these arguments. The only thing that has changed is the timeframe. Wigs, weaves and extensions are very chic and sported by some of today’s fashion leaders both black and white. Interestingly, males wearing toupees and woven hair escape
such examination, but they are no different from women when comes to reasons. Nevertheless, many in the black community feel that any hair that is not a natural growth is acquiescing to European ideas of beauty.

The hair brouhaha has hung around for centuries when African hair picked up “nappy” as a condescending term. Since that time, all manner of hair straightening techniques including permanents, hot irons, chemicals relaxers for men (konk) and gherri curls surfaced to correct what many saw as a problem. As an aside, my great uncle, Morris Porter was a chemist and specialized in black hair care products. He was one of the developers of Glo-Mo-Glo, a pomade product commonly known as "hair grease" in the vernacular.

Who’s right and who’s wrong. It appears that there is no politically correct answer to the question, nevertheless, it remains an awkward subject. Like politics and religion, few blacks are willing to go “on record” or even enter a discussion on the subject. Nevertheless, it seems the black-white dichotomy still affects the African American community. As an example, even today there is loose talk of “good hair” and “bad hair” with “good hair” referring to hair that is preferable to anything but nappy. Kinky or nappy hair is not considered an advantage among many blacks especially when tied together with dark skin, which I will discuss in another post.

When I was kid, I remember going outside on Saturdays and smelling hair frying, which was a common way of referring to using a hot iron to straighten women’s hair. Men also straightened their hair with “konkeline” a vile mixture of lye and other noxious chemicals that was combed through the hair. The more the hair was combed the straighter it became. There were products like Ultra-Wave, Sulfa-8, Dixie Peach, Murray’s and Madame Walker’s hair pomade. Madame C. J. Walker was America’s first black female millionaire.

Whether any of the hair products make men or women more beautiful is open to debate, including weaves, extensions and wigs. The Late Malcolm X referred to the African American drive toward straight hair as “self-hatred,” but others say it is nothing more than fashion or keeping up with the times. Despite anyone’s thoughts, pro or con, on the subject more than likely the division will continue. However, there are health issues that should be considered when wearing weaves or extensions, which include, permanent loss of hair, infection, inflammation, receding hairlines and baldness.

Obviously, there is more to be considered here including self-worth, ideas of beauty, self-image and an entire package of psychological issues to examine. While white men and white women don’t face any of the psychological issues, they are just as susceptible to the same health concerns that come with wearing extensions and weaves. Just to mention a few celebrities paying the price for their “beauty aids” are bonafide beauties like Naomi Campbell, Victoria Beckham and Briteny Spears. All suffer from what is termed traction alopecia.

“Traction alopecia is caused when hair is pulled tightly for extended periods of time via a weave or hair extension.”[1] This damage is usually permanent. Naomi Campbell has lost large portions of her hair because of traction alopecia. Beckham, Spears and Campbell can afford the best in hair care and scalp condition, yet, they have lost portions of their hair that won’t be coming back.  Another reason for hair loss and infections comes from wear a weave or extensions too long.

That explanation brings us back to the original question—to weave or not to weave. Whether it is fashion, beauty of self-esteem the question of “why” can’t be avoided. Surely, the answer is complex and does not lend itself to easy answers. Nevertheless, the question remains. Why?

[1] Holly Warner, The Rise of Celebrity Hair Loss,

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Comment by Donald R Barbera on July 1, 2014 at 6:50am
Appearance of blacks has been documented by numerous lawsuits because of appearance. Recently, a black woman in DC was dismissed from job because cornrows. Of course, the employer found out how these things work and paid a bunch of money for being stupid as these cases hit the news regularly. I advise young black men and women preparing to enter the corporate world to use initials if they have uncommon or phonetic spelling commonly used names. Few blacks have such mentoring from a black man or women. We called it pulling your chain or letting you know the mentality of some hiring units. Strange spellings and unusual names while an individual and proud tradition, getting the job is the point not making a statement. I even advise white women to only use initials on their resume, it cuts the racism and sexism at the gate until they actually lay eyes on you. I've done it in the mortgage by letting a white person handle all the initial transactions and then I show up for the closing. Yes, Dorothy they will block you at the road and never let you get to the gate. Today, the. Amorites aren't that way, but it happens.How to Dress for Success" is still an important book. Dressing is not enough. Matching you patter to theirs is.
Comment by Luara on July 1, 2014 at 6:33am

I hadn't realized, but I guess Michelle Obama always straightens her hair.

So the question becomes:  why do black people do such things?  Is it personal choice or a requirement for a good job? 

There are lots of appearance requirements for a good job.  Most men will do better without a beard, I think.  So shaving every day becomes a requirement for a good job.  Having braids is looked down on, at least for white women.  Perhaps cornrows on black women are now OK in good jobs?  Cornrows are very nice-looking.  Long hair for men is looked down on. 

But when those appearance requirements come to damage people's health or take an unreasonable amount of their time or money, it becomes a more serious issue. 

Comment by Michael Penn on June 30, 2014 at 3:25pm

Luara, it means that for the occassion of the innagural ball that Michelle Obama chose to have straight hair.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on June 30, 2014 at 3:01pm
My personal tastes are fairly conservative in that area. I am not a fan. Of course, I don't like an abundance of makeup or perfume. I like fresh scrubbed. I like both long hair and short hair and in between. I know I will be shot in the ass for saying it, I think weaves in many ways say you don't think what you have is good enough. I know that there are a ton of people who would violently disagree. That's why I preface it by saying this is my idea. In many ways, I think to myself as a man,why bother with the fake stuff when the real deal is more available than at any other time in our racist history. I've dated in almost every ethnic group in the United States. Of course, I'd say my vote doesn't count because I just like striking women PERIOD. I would be the Captain Kirk of the dating world. When I was in my 30's I dated some women 15 and 20 years older. I don't like fake. However, as zone time fashion photographer if any model showed up y shoot without several wigs, pin ins and different colors, I would find a way to finish them early. Perhaps, my opinion is too nonspecific. I do not like weaves that are worn so constantly that I can smell them. I do not like cheap weaves. They look like bad toupees. I don't like weaves that aren't well maintained. That is what I should have said in the first place. I am of the opinion that if you're going to wear it, dammit, wear IT! Spend the money it takes to make it look like your own hair literally, not technically.
Comment by Luara on June 30, 2014 at 11:44am

I have my own thoughts on the subject, but I usually keep them to myself.

So what do you think, Don?  I took a look at some pictures of black women with hair weaves & extensions.  I find it somewhat unsettling and weird-looking myself.  Michelle Obama had straight hair for the 2008 Inauguration ball.  I wonder what it means that for a special occasion she would have straight hair. 

Comment by Luara on June 29, 2014 at 9:12am

I know that among many women, hair appearance is crucial, whereas men get away with nearly anything.

I tend to ignore my hair.  I've either had my hair very short, which gives me plenty of time between haircuts.  Or, for years I wore my hair in braids.  For me, that is about a kind of pride - a statement that it's my thoughts and my creations, not my physical appearance that's important. 

Comment by Luara on June 29, 2014 at 9:09am

I saw a Youtube video by a black woman about black people coloring their hair.  She said that a black person had posted about changing their hair color, and she was shocked at all the negativity this person received, both from black people and white people. 

She posted a short segment showing blond Melanesians, with African-looking facial feature and blond hair.  It was quite interesting to see, and their natural blond hair doesn't look strange as dyed-blond hair does.  Their natural blond not a bright blond. 

Did you look at the pictures I linked to, of black people with blue eyes?  I hadn't known there were such people.  I've seen black people with light-colored eyes, but hazel, not blue.  I thought those pictures very striking. 

People's esthetics are a separate matter from racial oppression.  When someone's esthetic choices have to carry a baggage like "lacking in black pride" or whatever, there's something really wrong.  There's a lot more to pride and self-acceptance than one's appearance.  One can't claim that Beyonce is lacking in self-esteem, because she straightens and lightens her hair. 

Straightening hair is more about race than is changing its color.  I can see how someone would want to lighten their hair for purely esthetic reasons. White women often lighten their hair too.  

Comment by Donald R Barbera on June 29, 2014 at 7:43am
Laura--you hit a lot of nails on the head. I know that among many women, hair appearance is crucial, whereas men get away with nearly anything. It is unfair. Still, when dealing with black hair and all of its connotations there is too much baggage from years of oppression to have a rational discussion of the subject outside of academia. I have my own thoughts on the subject, but I usually keep them to myself.
Comment by Donald R Barbera on June 29, 2014 at 7:37am
K. H. KY -- yes, there many people in the world with less than straight hair and often they are unfairly criticized and ridiculed because of it, which only speaks to others ignorance. Your comment made me think of Art Garfunkel of the hit duo, Simon and Garfunkel. Despite having tightly curly hair or even "nappy" hair, he never faced the psychological dissonance of selling out to achieve opportunity of remaining culturally true, but feeling the snub of white society. Of course those buying their hair don't escape the condescension as they are still viewed as blacks with black hair underneath the wigs, weaves and extensions. Most probably understand this, but there is a large group that have to believe no one notices and that it really their hair, which is technically correct. The list of things that are right with it and wrong with is book that I may write
Comment by Luara on June 29, 2014 at 4:57am

Yes, I know about how loaded hair and appearance are for black people.  This is understandable because of the messages black people get because of their appearance.  I think it's regrettable, though, because it's a way of conforming to external pressures.  If a black person wants to lighten their hair, they shouldn't have to deal with negative messages from other black people about it, as if they were expressing negative feelings about being black.  Lightening one's hair is a personal choice.  If it gets loaded with "you're a race traitor" messages, that's also a kind of oppression.  As a white person, I don't have to worry about that. I'm just a woman doing things to her hair.  

You are mostly talking about straightening frizzy hair.  I don't think straight hair is naturally preferable to frizzy hair, and there's no reason for someone not to color their frizz :)

I got curious about different hair colors on black folk and went looking online.  Some black women and even some black men change their hair color.  Light blonde mostly just looks strange, but dark blonde or a honey-brunette looks beautiful.  As in Beyonce.  Or some kind of red. 

There are actually black people - African-looking - who have naturally blonde hair.  Some Melanesian islanders.  I don't know if they're genetically related to African blacks. 

It got me thinking about my own hair.  I have dark brown hair.  I went blond for awhile many years ago.  It looked fine.  But I didn't like all the guys staring at me, and I didn't want to keep going back to get the roots redone. 

I wondered, why didn't I ever try lightening my hair, going dark blonde? 

I agree that if people spend a lot of time doing their hair, always messing with weaves or noxious chemicals and perhaps damaging their hair, it can be a negative thing. 

People's hair color and eye color evolved partly because of what was thought sexy.  So one's natural color has a long inheritance of being thought sexy. 


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