On Sunday afternoon, Ms. Tina Lawson casually posted Beyoncé’s nearly waist length, thick natural ponytail on Instagram and blew up the Internet.
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What was a moment of pride for a typical, social media awkward Black mama, quickly shifted into a cultural debate over whether Bey’s tresses were really straight from the scalp. The incredulous camp came off as “haters,” doubting the ability of a Black woman to grow almost 14 inches of hair in just four years. On the other hand, the believers ushered in an even more problematic trope, that this amount of growth is possible if Black Women just simply “took care of their hair.”
Both sides of the argument illuminate the genetic and socio-economic bias that still plagues our communities when we discuss natural hair.
Beyoncé famously chopped her hair back in 2013 into a short coif while filming the “Pretty Hurts” video from her self-titled album. At the time, Beyoncé’s hair stylist Neal Farinah said of the brave move, “We were showing all of the trials and tribulations women have to go through, and showing the pressure it puts on women to look a certain way, because the myths about how a woman should look, they’re crazy.”
Sadly, the social media conversation surrounding Beyonce’s hair growth since her big chop would reinforce the pressure on Black women’s natural hair to “look a certain way.”
Black women are privy to the texture wars that thwarted the natural hair movement since it resurfaced back in the early 2000s. 3C, wavy, long hair became the gold standard of naturalistas, and its preference was evident in both YouTube views and advertising. And for the women whose hair grew out of their scalp a little kinkier or tightly coiled, the banner message was to manipulate and twist your hair as much as possible into an “acceptable” look.
Many 4cs, like myself, became exhausted with the product trials, heat abstinence, the endless tutorials and frankly, the lack of representation. And that deep sense of exhaustion wasn’t because we were lazy or just “didn’t find the right product.”
It’s because we were literally working against our DNA.
As #BeyonceHairGate believers took to social media to sound off on the scandal, the refrain was “if black women just take care of their hair, they would achieve this growth.” Which is completely false. That line of thinking echoes the pervasive stereotypes that diminish kinky-coifed naturals into unkept “bush babies.” Beyond a typical washing, moisturizing, conditioning and trim routine, there is nothing many Black women can do to force hair growth. The scarfing down of horse vitamin pills and the hours spent manipulating kinky hair into compliance does not necessarily yield longer hair.
The 6 inches of growth a year we are scientifically entitled to don’t always net out because of genetic factors.
Some women have genetically finer hair that is more prone to breakage, split ends and single strand knots. Some women may have thicker hair that grows out and not down. Some women have the thickest, largest Afro that appears thin once straightened. And without weekly trips to the hairdresser (which quickly add up and speak to the socio-economic disparity of hair care), a lot of women with breakage-prone hair opt for protective styling to protect their ends.
So yes, some Black women can grow long hair. Others choose not to. Even more find their hair working against them in the quest for inches. And that’s okay. The shame associated with not having long hair always tilts back to personal responsibility, when there are so many variables outside of our control that contribute to hair growth.
As we dismantle the hold that white supremacy has on the black community economically, politically and legally, it’s time we get their hands off our perceptions of our hair. We can celebrate Beyonce’s hair journey while acknowledging that she has a genetic predisposition to socially-acceptable natural hair.
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