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 8, 2014 at 9:41am
Oh, there are many such shops, restaurants and other businesses, but selling black culture is different especially when it comes to hair. I seen white guys with dreads, but the number is small.
Comment by Luara on July 7, 2014 at 12:09pm

I've wondered sometimes, why not sell black culture to white people?  There are lots of Chinese and Korean and Japanese restaurants - you remember I asked earlier, how about African restaurants?  These do exist, but there aren't many of them.  There are probably actually a huge variety of African cuisines.  I saw an article in the Smithsonian mag today at the allergist's office, about Ghanaian cuisine and culture. 

There was a shop in Ithaca - not sure if it's still there - called "African Diaspora" or something like that.  It was full of Africana.    It was a pleasantly different experience, and the people there were very friendly.  Or sell dashikis or other clothing.  Are there interesting African clothing styles? 

What the heck, go ahead and commercialize black heritage, it could rake in the $$$.  The Asians have cheerfully commercialized their cuisine.  The Italians have inspired millions of pizza parties, enriching themselves thereby.  Why not take a hint from that?  Like, make it cool for everyone.  I've seen negative comments about white people who want to get cornrows or dreads - but why? 

There's an oppositional aspect to black culture that makes other people uneasy.  But if you can sell it, eventually there would be no need to oppose. 

Music has been commercialized and sold by black people.  But how about the rest of it? 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on July 7, 2014 at 7:52am
Absolutely. In the black doll- white doll test, when asked to choose on beauty,character(good or bad),best friend, etc. the black children in the test revealed a disturbing aspect of their still forming young lives. Some discount the test by assigning an overwhelming amount of positive attributes to the white dolls while equally apply negative aspects to the black dolls. To me it uncovers a reality in American life for black people overall. Even though hair was the subject, it is difficult to escape the societal impact of an underprivileged life, when people that look like you are far, few and in between when it comes to positions of public recognition, not withstanding performers athletes, which are one and the same. So, in too many obvious ways the "Stockholm Syndrome" has quietly remained hidden to many African Americans, so much so that many are unaware of their emulation of majority society. Is it bad? Is it good? I have no idea, but failure to recognize the goodness and quality of character in your own life leads to an unending chase to a goal that can never be achieved. It all starts with the self and that is for all. Until you recognize who and what you are, you can't begin to accept others except as enemies because if fear and misunderstanding of points of imitation disregarding the reality of foilbles in all people. To me, the "hair thing" goes a lot deeper than fashion. How much deeper? I won't speculate, butI welcome debate on the subject that is like peering into the looking in that it depends upon perspective.
Comment by Luara on July 6, 2014 at 4:28pm

Once I saw an anorexic woman wandering around the grocery store.  She wore very loose pants, but you could see as she walked that her legs were like sticks inside them. 

She was haunting the grocery store because of all the food in it, it seems :(

I can see how hair weaves would be disturbing to you in a somewhat similar way.  They don't endanger women's lives, but there's a similar sad message to be seen in them.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on July 6, 2014 at 3:26pm
For me, it isn't a deal breaker either way. I've been married 30 years and I've never had to deal with weaves. My wife has a perm and once wore an Afro. I didn't and don't mind. However, in my life I've had occasion to run my fingers through some hair on general principle. I was admiring a co-worker's hair and without her permission I tried to run my fingers through it and didn't come close to making it through. Of course, she slapped the crap out of me as I deserved. I had no excuse other than being a touchy freely kind of guy. I later found out that I had committed a major faux pas. I've run my fingers through Afros, naturals, perms, white, black, Asian, Mexican and mixed heritage hair, sometimes romantically but most of the time not. I don't know, but I've been told by women that I know that it is a major to try finger-running with a woman wearing a weave. Who knows? Since I'm not shopping I don't care. That said, if I had a requirement for a certain texture of hair, I'd date the women with the real thing, but I'm old and biased. So, who cares?
Comment by Luara on July 6, 2014 at 7:56am

Don, I agree with what you said.  But I would add:

- it seems to be (somewhat) OK for black people to have minimal-care hair - very short and natural.  They don't have to endanger their health or spend lots of money and time on their hair. 

- People make their own choices about what they do to their appearance. 

- Lots of other groups have appearance constraints that can damage their health, like women in general are damaged by the very thin ideal.  Cosmetic surgery is another choice people make, which rejects their natural appearance, and risks their health. 

Hair weaves might be more naturally, part of the women's issue of ALL the time and thought and energy that women spend on their appearance. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on July 6, 2014 at 7:38am
Any discussion of black hair is liable to be lengthy and contentious. There are naturalist who believe than anything less than the hair at birth to be true are the largest cog in the wheel on the natural side. On the othe end of the scale are the fashionistas who only see hair as a manipulative accessory. In between, there are variety of positions. As far as straightening black hair is concerned, researchers have traced hair straightened back to the early Egyptians where such hair styles only belonged to royalty. It was a symbol of wealth, power and holiness. It is in today's culture that hair is an issue. It is not unusual to see young girls 5 and older with weaves or permed hair. However, of the two the weave probably sends mixed messages. In many ways it says that "my own hair is unattractive and ugly." No one says it out loud, but the famous doll test reveals the underlying current of racial confusion and ideas of beauty, which is obviously European despite protests to the contrary. Many black women won't be seen in public without them. To me, that is not a fashion statement, but an admission that their natural hair is not good enough. I know that many would beg to differ, but that's the way I see it. Anyway, the debate wont
Comment by Michael Penn on July 3, 2014 at 2:19pm

If one can go by their eyes only I would assume that Kim is a black woman. It was my belief that black hair is what Don is discussing here, hence my comment about Kim. She's very professional and looks great. I would assume her hair is less than an inch long. Maybe a half inch. Some people look good with this style of hair and some do not.

Comment by Luara on July 3, 2014 at 10:08am

Where I live ther is a newsperson called Kim Hudson who has this type of hair.

Is she a white woman?  I think it looks fine on anyone.  It does help to have good bone structure if you have your hair very short :)

I love how I look right after haircuts, with my hair only about an inch long. 

Comment by Michael Penn on July 3, 2014 at 8:16am

Where I live ther is a newsperson called Kim Hudson who has this type of hair. She looks perfectly fine with it and she reports on the job events and is sometimes an anchor in the news room.



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