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 Luara on July 3, 2014 at 6:56am

tell them not to be impressed by degrees unless they are in hard science

I don't call people "Dr." unless they are doctors - medical or animal doctors. 

That's because people with PhD's have appropriated the title of "Dr." for its prestige - but just having a PhD doesn't really mean anything.  So using the title for people who aren't doctors is a way of conceding to this arbitrary and unfair grabbing of prestige. 

Comment by Luara on July 3, 2014 at 6:51am

Can black people get by with simply cutting their hair very short, like 1/2" long?  Is this considered OK in good jobs? 

Perhaps in really high-powered jobs, a white woman still couldn't have her hair cut very short and be considered acceptable.  She might have to have it longer and processed somehow. 

Comment by Michael Penn on July 2, 2014 at 4:56pm

My wife once had an American hair stylist put chemicals on her hair to straighten it. The instructions said to leave it on for 20 minutes. The hair stylist left it on only for 15 minutes, she said, because she did not want to ruin my wife's hair. Ultimately, the hair straightening did not work. White American hair stylists do not know how to do black hair. We had no such problems in Kenya.

Comment by Luara on July 2, 2014 at 4:43pm

I never shaved any body hair after trying it as a teenager.  I liked the idea of hairy legs - like being a Faun with toes. 

I just tried lightening my hair, inspired by this discussion :)  It really looks nice.  I got some medium-blonde hair dye.  It didn't turn my dark brown hair blond, but it lightened it a bit, making my face look softer and less stark. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on July 2, 2014 at 8:57am
Not much. New chemicals that aren't so harsh are used. More botanicals, moisturizers and conditioners. Permed hair seems to have fallen out of favor for the hair weave. Of course, it's not like I'm hanging around where I can see them, but just walking in a store gives me the feeling that weaves have replaced the perm, at least among the younger generation. Strangely enough, I've seem many women that llook good in them. However, the ones that look that way always have some type of striking features that make them attractive. More than likely they would be attractive even if they were bald. Then there's the unnatural look of bonr strainght hair on a person with strong ethnic features, which makes it difficult not to look twice thinking, "something is wrong with this picture." Nevertheless, I have no hair and it is of no concern to me. Even when I had hair I didn't do much with it other than keep it combed and neat. After that every year that passed my hair became shorter and shorter until I started going bald. That was it. I couldn't do a comb-over. I'd rather be drawn a quartered rather than try the three-stran cover up. One last thing on the weave of which I have no first hand knowledge is that it is an exttreme no-no to place your handds on it or in it as men are want to do. I've been introduced to a termcalled "sleeping pretty," which is nearly not sleeping at all. I've heard that some women sleep with their head in one posion to keep from riuning their hair. I've even heard that some even sleep with their head off the bed and on a chair to avoid sleeping directly on it. I don't know how much truth there is in it, but even if one shred is true I am glad to be a man. I've heardd it said that it hurts to be beautiful. I wash, I shave, put a little skin conditioner on and that's it.
Comment by Luara on July 2, 2014 at 5:29am

Are the hair straighteners used nowadays a health risk?

Comment by Donald R Barbera on July 1, 2014 at 10:10pm
One the purposes of the dress code is conformity across the business. Clones. Black, white other, the purpose is to present one face to the public. We called it the uniform. Women were expected to wear suits and blouses with nylons. You can imagine the unspoken bias with hair. Of course, for black women the styles were limited. Either perms or weaves and wigs. Braids although tolerated do not strike aigh note. Short Afros are usually acceptable, but that also depends on what area of the country you work in and what type of company it is. For black men, the task is easier because most black men in that most wear their hair fairly short.
Comment by Luara on July 1, 2014 at 6:05pm

There are a lot of unfair social standards that aren't laws, but because there's money involved, they have a lot of the force of laws. 

The standards for male appearance are repressive.  The drabness of male clothing, for example.  A man can look like a penguin (black suit, white shirt) but for business, other options are limited.  If I were a guy, one thing I'd miss would be the option to decorate myself - wear purple, green, bright blue, a variety of hair styles ...  And any kind of personal alteration in a man - other than being circumcised - puts people on edge.  It seems like for business purposes the idea is to avoid anything controversial, to be bland and neutral so nobody is uncomfortable - and because race issues makes people uncomfortable, black people are expected to blend in by straightening their hair.

I was criticized at jobs sometimes, told to dress more femininely and to dress up more.  That was while I was working as a software engineer.  Not a job where you'd think women would be expected to wear nylons and all that, but apparently some people did expect it.  But I didn't dress up. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on July 1, 2014 at 5:36pm
I used to warn people about their hiring practices and tell them not to be impressed by degrees unless they are in hard science. To me all a degree says is that you're able to finish. Finishing is not difficult if you half a brain and just a smidgen of determination. My hiring was fairly easy because it was sales and even at the VP level all I ever wanted see was a W-2. That told me all I needed to know. I didn't care if they were assholes. As long as they could close the deal and not put the company's reputation at stake they were alright with me. I didn't even require everyone to come in. Of course, you better hit your number because I could help you find the way out just as easily as I let you in.

I was probably unfair when African Americans came in, especially if there would be more than me doing the interviewing. I would often survey the candidates from afar and if I saw someone that was not dressed appropriately, I'd call them aside and tell them so and what to do about it. That didn't mean I gave them the job, but it impress upon them how important appearances can be.

When I pierced my ear and put a small gold hoop in it, I caught all kind of grief that almost led to me being released until dropped a possible discrimination law suit in their lap. Said, roughly, my attorney made it clear that if women could wear pants and earrings the same treatment should be accorded men.
Comment by Luara on July 1, 2014 at 8:15am

getting the job is the point not making a statement.

Yes, I've been practical about that kind of thing too.  Jobs involve a good deal of pretending and appearance.  Academia, less so. 

But it becomes a genuine burden when the constraints on appearance damage someone's health or their finances. 

There's a huge appearance burden for women in general.  It's shocking to look at fashion magazines and see how emaciated the models are.  These magazines are promoting dangerous emaciation, and people hardly seem to notice.

And probably, a heavier woman will have a harder time getting a job in general than a lighter woman.  Probably slender up to the point of borderline anorexic-looking is an advantage.  That's a huge burden on women's psyches and probably their health too. 

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.

Foxy of you!  I'm sure people get away with a lot of housing discrimination. 


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