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Criticizing the Critical

On the Kids Hair post, La – msviswan made this comment:

…it also seems black women with natural hair are putting emphasis on black women who prefer their hair straight as having some kind of self-hate. This insinuation (not saying by you) usually offends me.

Which dovetails nicely into a conversation started by Ren over at Feministe that BetaCandy summarizes thusly:

…how do you criticize insane beauty standards without criticizing the women who fit them, or work to? And is it ever appropriate to criticize women who engage in patriarchy-approved beauty rituals?

Which is part of the same problem, methinks.

It’s really easy for black women with natural hair to get on a high horse about it. To put down women who choose relaxers as somehow less ‘real’ or sellouts or shallow people who hate themselves. It’s a +10 attack spell against women who criticize us for having natural hair. Just last week my aunt said that I had hair “from the jungle” and she would just love it if I got it straightened again, because it would look better. When I asked her why in the world I would voluntarily burn the curls out of my hair and thus deny the natural beauty of myself, she rolled her eyes at me. Like that wasn’t a valid consideration at all.

And this is my family. I get it much worse from people who don’t even know me.

The thing is, women on both sides of the aisle give each other shit as part of a defense mechanism. If I choose to go natural and my friend chooses to go straight, we somehow feel our choices are only valid if we convince ourselves and others that the other choice is the wrong one. The truth is, neither choice is wrong as long as it’s a choice you made in your own best interest.

If you love the way your hair looks when it’s straight, then wear your hair straight. Especially if you’ve weighed the options. Maybe you like it straight because that’s the beauty standard you grew up with. Or maybe your face looks best when framed that way. I know mine looks best when framed in curls, which is natural for me. Dreds or braids would be natural, too. But I don’t think they’d look as good. Straight may look okay, but it requires more effort than I’m willing to put in. That’s my choice.

Black people need to stop giving people shit about their choices. If you feel a good friend or family member is choosing relaxer for a misguided reason, say so with love, not with judgment. Same with a natural style. But if you don’t know that person, keep your opinions to yourself unless asked!

14 comments to Criticizing the Critical

  • P6

    I assign you one standard issue round of applause. Carry on.

  • Thanks for the link. I’m still struggling with the questions, and your article gives me more to consider. ;)

    I have naturally curly hair (I’m white). I’m pretty sure the reason I get it straightened is that I have a small face and my curly hair gets BIG and tends to frizz and I never found a way to style it that looked good. I just love how I look with straightened hair.

    But… where are curly-haired white women on TV? They’re a tiny percentage. I can tell a whole lot of women on TV have natural waves that have been ironed out (almost completely). Maybe I inherited the idea that curly sucks. How can I possibly tell for sure that straight hair is truly my preference, or a preference that’s at least partly influenced by a media that strongly prefers straight hair?

    Which doesn’t even touch on the bullshit black women go through. I’ve lost the link, but some magazine recently reported that various natural black hairstyles were “political” and not right for the office. Geez. The closest I’ve come to that was in the 90′s when someone advised me “perms are SO not in anymore” and I had to tell them, “This isn’t a perm, fuckface.”

  • Lloyd Webber

    two comments in, and its already “All abouts the white wimmins – oh woes iz us- our hairz iz too curly.” As if that’s the same thing. It’s like there’s a script that all white women follow or something.

  • … dude, that’s not cool. BetaCandy is a regular poster here and an ally. I don’t see her comment as “it’s all about the white women”, particularly since *I* linked to *her* at the start of this post.

    In case it’s not obvious (and that would be my fault, if it isn’t), but this discussion is part of a larger concern over the way media and people (women, mostly) criticize style choices. Therefore, I don’t regard commentary about white curly hair to be so very wrong.

  • Lloyd Webber

    okay…you’re right. My bad

  • it’s okay. the actual yahoos make us all twitchy sometimes.

  • Lloyd Webber

    true that.

  • totally agree with you. do what’s best for yourself and stop passing judgment on the opposite side.

  • Diatryma

    I think some of the problem is that all women are told that their appearances matter– it’s difficult to say, “I am doing X,” without someone else hearing, “I am condemning Y.” It’s worse with the weight of racism and politics behind it; the only things I can think of that apply to most women rather than most black women is the mommy drive-by or debates on how to raise kids. It’s sad that appearance has been made to bear the same kinds of argument and defensiveness on both sides. I can understand mommy drive-bys and childrearing fights at least a little, but this… appearance should not be this big a deal, and it sucks that our society is such that it is.

    And ABW, I really love your hair.

  • Chase

    I love the level of comfort many women feel with the choices they have with their hair. I have the same love for the choices men have with theirs. For a long time, I looked at those choices from a financial perspective. “Natural is cheaper”, I’d always say.

    Whenever couples try to establish a budget, hair maintenance would be a largest expense for many Black couples, compared to White couples. Oddly, that seemed to only confirm my belief that, “Natural is cheaper” as if there wasn’t any other valid considerations.

  • I had honestly not thought of my dislike of my own curly hair in the larger context of our racist beauty standards. I brought it up not to call attention to myself but to reinforce how the bias against an entire race can be subtly bound up in a bias against a certain type of hair.

    Because I always thought of my straightening as a simply choice I made, I thought of black women’s straightening as a simply choice they made. But the difference is: if I go curly, I don’t get told my hair’s “from the jungle”. At worst, I might get told I’d look better with another style.

    In short, I’m just belatedly realizing how much shittier a choice it is for black women and Jewish women with very curly hair than it is for me. And that’s how institutionalized racism makes people like me into unconscious participants. :(

  • Tiffany in Houston

    I appreciate your follow up. I am a woman with relaxed hair who enjoys her relaxed hair and felt very uncomfortable with the way the tone of the comments were turning. I felt like it was an excuse for natural sistas to bash relaxed sistas. It’s all counterproductive.

  • Nadirah

    New to your blog Angry Black Woman and LOVING IT!

    My mother started relaxing my hair when I was a toddler (as soon as it started getting “hard” in her words).

    I cut all the relaxer out of my hair when I was 15 and then shaved my head again when I was 23 after spending a few months with my family in Mali, West Africa.

    This hair politics is some deep and serious shit! A couple fabulous diva friends and I just had a conversation about this. We were- a woman with natural hair, a woman with a fly ass weave and a woman with purple and blue braids. I’m less regimented about the natural vs relaxed issue. My issue was that, while I respect ANYONE who does what they do with confidence and self love, I find it personally difficult (read IMPOSSIBLE) to believe that any black woman can dye her hair blond and/or wear blue contacts without it being an expression of violence against herself and an act of self hate.

    Loving the discussion! Keep it coming

  • deatha

    I agree with betacandys analogy. Furthermore, as a natural black woman i do not believe in crapping on the women who choose to perm. Nor do I think its cool for them to crap on me because I choose not to.

    The real issue lies within our perception of ourselves which can be influenced by the media, streotypes and ideas of what is beautiful and what is not. When we first started the “konk” what was the purpose. When did our natural hair become simply, bbshots?

    And what of the emphasis on our “kitchen, God forbid, we were not able to get a touch up from the last perm we’ve had? My daughter’s gone natural Shes in High School and quite a young lady.
    She tells me of many commments from the other females who nearly berate her for not “getting her hair “done”. Excuse me, her hair is done..natural. SHe periodically gets the giggle behind her back and almost a look of disdain. Why?

    Since when did it become a crime to wear the way God gave it to me? The complication comes when women, who may have learned to accept being natural, have to explain and damn near defend why they are natural.

    The truth can sting a little because we have to examine why we started perming in the first place. Hell no it wasnt by choice. It was because the media, our boyfriends and our mothers told us that being straight was pretty and coiled nappy, natural hair was ugly.

    It has ONLY recently been this notion that women do it out of choice and not societal pressure. Even then I dare to say that somewhere in the back of our minds we still view the prettier image of ourselves as one with straight hair.
    Thanks but no thanks, I still struggle at times with beauty defined, especially in black women but my hair is no longer one of them. I no longer fear the rain or moisture or humidity (lol) nor do I care if it gets wet.

    And work really hard to stay away from the racist views from both black and white ppl who believe I cant be pretty if my hair’s not straight. FYI: I get as many cimpliments about my hair from whites as I do blacks. Yhat tells me that ppl learn to , over time accept you as you are and find the beauty in the natural you. Peace!

    P.S. I aint angry!