The Other Hair


It was India Arie who penned the words, I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within. The song and the message are very poignant and it allows women of color to consciously think about their attitude to hair and how we treat our hair. Additionally, it allows those of us who are thoughtful enough to look at how we view others based on what we determine to be beauty starting with their hair.

Through the years our hair has told the story of our history, it has gone from chunky plaits to using hot combs and relaxers, to the years of the Afro, to the ease of weaves, wigs and hair pieces and back to natural hair and sister locks. Believe it or not our hair makes a statement to the person’s around us. Why? Because it is the first thing that people see. We can’t escape it, that’s just the way it is and once we live with other human beings judgment will be passed on our outward appearance because that is what people see.

According to my grandmother, the concept of beauty among black people has changed drastically since her days. She bemoans the modern concept of wearing wigs and weaves and hairpieces belonging to animals and people of other races, and longs for the day when black people can understand their own hair and wear it with pride. Her issue is not with the fact that women relax, jherri curl or wear Afros and dreadlocks, her issue is with the prevalence of what she calls the ‘other’ hair.

She has reason for being dissatisfied with this practice and her concerns are not unfounded because everywhere you go these days, in the park, the supermarket, on television, in the clubs or church, you see black women and the majority of them wear some form of ‘otherness’ to their real hair. It is so prevalent now, that persons who understand their hair and cultivate it naturally are the exception to the norm. This should never be. In this the twenty-first century, black women who wear their real hair should not be the exception to the rule. Where did this prevalence of ‘otherness’ originate from anyway? When did we become so complacent that we can’t be bothered with the hair that God gave us to the point where we have closets dedicated to our weave and wig collections?

And even more troubling some of the black artistes and actresses who black people look up to are so conformed to the status quo that one popular person once said that she would never go in public without her weave.

But are we too judgmental? Does wearing the other hair mean we are self- haters or we don’t have black pride?  After taking up an informal poll on a university campus, the answers I received were varied and thought provoking. One student said she did not wear her own hair because she did not know how to take care of her real hair and she was too busy to learn. Another student said she was always wearing braids and now she has such severe traction alopecia that covering up her edges with wigs is her only alternative. She showed me the damage done to her hair side and it brought back memories of Naomi Campbell’s sparse hair side that was captured for the world to see. And finally, one student looked at me long and hard before replying, she laughed and said she looked prettier with her weave, previously boys would not look at her in class but now that she had a long Beyonce lace front wig she was the hottest girl around.

The stories continued and through it all, I came to the conclusion that there was a lot of love for the ‘other’ hair and little love for our own. Which is sad because we bandy the term around that black is beautiful but we really do not grasp the whole concept of beauty in black women if we are wearing the ‘other’ hair.

Author: Brenda Barrett

Brenda Barrett is an author and freelance writer. She has written for several websites, including her own- blackhair101 and fiwibooks, on topics ranging from healthy hair care maintenance, human resources, and publishing. She is an avid reader of fictional novels from all genres, a habit that she picked up from she was very young. This love of fiction spilled over into writing and she currently has several novels on the market.

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  1. I have worked in the fashion industry for more than 30 years. The vast
    and stunning beauty of black women have with much pain have been celebrated to the hilt and then dismissed..This atttitude in the United States is so very sad. I find it extremley hard to hear from the powers that be in this industry ‘the European standard of Beauty’ this mind set is only in the USA…not in Europe..Black women in all of their wonderful hues, hair texture etc are celebrated in Europe. The runways of Paris and Milan were overun with our black women from all over the globe…Guess who did not like this trend? and to a great degree suceeded in putting the brakes on this?..Those with the power in the fashion industry in the USA
    We must constantly reafirm to our daughters that hair is beautiful no matter what the texture and ‘you can do you for you’ You define how you want to exercise your own look.. Self awareness is very powerful…Conforming to a preconceived ideal of beauty is wrong..Set your own standards for yourself. Ms.Shanticka has it right on point.

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  2. We are too judgemental. I have spent the last 12 years of my daughters life ingraining the idea that her hair is beautiful no matter what. Now that she has taken on the idea, it is evident in her choice to rock a natural afro. My daughter is a BEAST! =D

    I still see the looks from black women and girls when we walk together while out and about. My hair is relaxed and midway down my back and hers is exactly the opposite. They wonder how I could let my daughters “head look like that” while mine is long and straight. My daughter and I both have a choice. I’m letting her exercise her own hair choice. Nothing wrong with that. It’s an extension of us both… not who we are.

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