Does Wearing Natural Hair Really Require Boldness And Courage?

38 Comments
May 3, 2013 ‐ By Lauren Carter
LA Times Magazine

LA Times Magazine

In a recent interview, Oscar-nominated actress Viola Davis said the public’s reaction to her natural hair had been “huge.”

“I think people admire the boldness of it, and the courage of it,” she told interviewer Kam Williams. “For me, personally, it represents my coming into who I am, not apologizing for it and being comfortable with the way I look. I have been amazed by the testimonies … especially from women of color who have thanked me for it.”

While I too commend Davis for going natural in Hollywood, it struck me as incredibly sad that wearing hair in its natural God-given, or universe-given, or whatever you believe in-given state, would be considered an act of bravery in our day and age, while having long, flowing tresses that were purchased at the beauty shop is the new norm.

It’s true that going natural has become more embraced over the years, but it still represents a rejection of cultural messaging that tells us that silky, straight, and smooth is the standard we should all aspire to. The backlash against natural hair in the corporate world has been well-documented, and the resistance has come from some unlikely sources as well; in 2012, for example, historically black college Hampton University banned MBA students from wearing cornrows and dreadlocks.

The connotations associated with natural hair are often negative and involve terms like “militant,” “wild” and “untamed” – sometimes perpetuated by people wearing natural hair themselves.

Meanwhile, relatives in other cities tell me that weaves and wigs are so common that black hair in its natural state often draws looks of shock and surprise, and it seems that every black female on Reality TV sports a weave that grows longer, fuller and more ridiculous with each episode – think Shay from Love and Hip Hop Atlanta. While reality TV is admittedly exaggerated and sensational, its physical portrayal of black women is troubling because it implies a standard of beauty that requires us to purchase our hair rather than grow it.

While I respect everyone’s decision to wear their hair as they wish, it’s disturbing to see that European standards of beauty have become so deeply engrained in our collective psyche that going natural is considered daring while sporting weaves and wigs is, in many circles, expected.

True, natural hair does not necessarily represent self-love, and wearing a weave is not necessarily a sign of self-loathing. There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to a hairstyle; it’s up to each individual to decide what works for them.

But when so many black women – especially those in the limelight — opt for a hairstyle that is as far removed from their natural state as possible, I have to wonder if they are making conscious decisions based on personal preference, or succumbing to societal pressure and conforming to “white is right” standards that border on cultural brainwashing. As Gen. George S. Patton once said, “If everybody’s thinking alike, somebody isn’t thinking.”

Viola Davis, like so many other black women who choose to embrace their natural beauty, is proof that rocking a natural ‘do can be fierce, fabulous and fun. And if she later chooses to forego the natural look because another style better suits her mood, more power to her. As black women, we have many choices available to us when it comes to hairstyles, and we should feel comfortable exploring them all. The fact that so many of us covet what is not ours and reject what is, while accepting our true selves seemingly requires boldness and courage, suggests that we are clinging to a value system that does not value us.

Do you think wearing natural hair requires courage? Sound off in the comments.

Lauren Carter is a Boston-based writer and editor covering music, pop culture and race. Connect with her on Twitter @ByLaurenCarter or visit her blog at www.bylaurencarter.com.

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  • Breanna Colbert

    First off I feel I should disclose that I am, indeed, a white girl. That being said, I’m sure there are going to be some people who wonder what my concern with this topic is. It goes without saying that as a white girl I can have only a very limited understanding of what black women must go through with their hair and the social pressures faced to have it worn one way or another. What I, and women of every race, do know about, however, is the pressure we all face to reach basically impossible standards of beauty. The thing that bothers me the most about this is that there are individuals who are getting rich off of telling each and every one of us that we aren’t good enough the way we were born-that there is something innately wrong with our god-given bodies.

    Obviously I have seen women who look absolutely gorgeous with natural hair, wigs, weaves, braids, dreads, and even shaved heads. I personally find natural hair or shaved heads to be particularly beautiful-unfortunately for me I’ve never seen a white woman who could pull off the shaved head look, but that’s beside the point.

    It is very, very rare that I see a woman under 80 wearing natural hair in the area where I live. God knows how much money I’ve spent in my short 24 years on makeup, flat irons for my already straight hair (all the other teenagers were doing it!) so I don’t want to come off as judgmental about any of this.

    While I fully support women who style their clothes, do their makeup, or wear their hair in whatever way makes them feel beautiful, because feeling beautiful is really empowering, it really bothers me that ANY woman chooses one style over another because they have been told to by a society that doesn’t value their natural beauty-that they’re inherently not “good enough” unless they match some constructed ideal. It makes me even more sad that black women have been told they need to look like white women to be beautiful. I am here to tell you that I have seen many black women with natural hair and thought “I wish I looked like her! She is so beautiful.” And I am definitely not alone.

  • BlueCornMoon

    This whole commentary is a sad reflection on how we’ve let our culture go to pot when it comes to passing on racial pride in our looks,esp our hair. Back in the 60s & 70s when I first went natural, some of these same things were being said about the courage to go natural, what older people would say,natural vs straightened,etc . The issue was seemingly resolved into fantastic hair pride back then & many people grew big afros & used Afro Sheen products . Even the curly headed white kids grew afros.I wore a HUGE afro back then,too; wore one for about 13 years, then went to curly perms because it made my hair easier to manage, made it look like it had looser curls & was thus easier to detangle. I never wanted straight hair. No plethora of natural hair products then like there is now. If there had been, I wouldn’t have gone to the curly perm. But all that hair pride from back then wasn’t passed on to the next generation so we’re still having these same silly, picky arguments about our hair. JUST WEAR YOUR HAIR THE WAY YOU WANT TO,PEOPLE !! Someone posted on facebook that “the worst prison to be locked in is the prison of WHAT PEOPLE WILL SAY!

  • CurlyGirly

    No courage is needed to wear your natural hair. The idea is pretty silly.

  • Allyce

    I love my short natural. Black women I don’t even know have been so encouraging during the process of growing out my relaxer and making the big chop. It takes courage not to slap some creamy crack in your head in order to appear “beautiful or professional.” Now, I wake up and I’m pleased with what I see. No more fussing about lengthy hair appointments or concern about the rain. I feel truly beautiful.

  • Pingback: We Are Not Our Hair, So Why Make Natural Hair So Complicated and So Expensive? | GaptoothDiva()

  • more

    women with loser curl pattern have a tendency to oversimplify hair!! It’s not easy at al it takes time !! AND FRANKLY NOT EVERONE hair responds the same

  • Mica

    I agree with this so much. why is it a brave thing to have your hair natural, it’s us it’s NORMAL!

  • http://www.astridanaturals.com/ Maia@AstridaNaturals

    Why is it bold to be who I am? Hot pink hair is bold. Just letting it be in its natural state is not. I feel really strongly that this emphasis on natural hair being bold is not good for anyone. It marginalizes all of us whether you choose natural or straight. It’s unfortunate that our hair style choices are so deeply analyzed when they really don’t mean much.

  • KinsaKay

    Yes i believe wearing natural hair does require boldness and courage simply because it’s not the Norm for 2013 . Everyone wears weave now. I’m natural and have faced ridicule for sure but as a young lady of color. That would come even with weave in my head. Yes being natural requires boldness , but in turn creates confidence. If we were meant to have hella straight hair , that’s what God would’ve given us .

  • Flowers

    Preach it! Well written Ms.Lauren Carter!!!!!!

  • MissRealuminatti

    My new weave looks great!!!!

  • Britt

    Yes, wearing my hair in its natural state required a lot of courage. Being myself and not conforming to anyone’s standard of beauty but my own required just as much. Just be…the people who don’t have the courage to be themselves are usually the same people who will hate you for it.

  • 2Ja2

    I don’t think it takes anymore bravery than being black in America. I am natural and only get hassled by other black women who think my hair makes a statement about how they should feel about their own hair. Miss me with the comments about not putting a comb through it because most natural hair is soft and fragile. My transition to natural is my own journey, so stop coming up to me at Targe’t to explain why you can’t and how my hair is different than yours; duh…different people usually have different everything including hair.

  • Pingback: Does wearing natural hair really require boldness and courage? (via Madame Noire) | Lauren Carter()

  • scandalous7

    what kind of question is that, YES! I just did the big chop and I am horrified. Put that mess in braids immediately and Idk what to do now. I guess Im gunna have to consult you tube.

  • MOMO

    let me tell you something- i went natural 16 years ago – and natural was not popular- there were no natural products- i wore a twa and all my friends and family thought i lost it and told me to get a perm- fast forward years later- every body is natural- its easier now because of the products and the hype but when i did it= i had people say u got a good sense of style but i hate your hair and these are black women- so this may be the reason i’m a product junkie- i’m stocking up on natural products before everyone goes back to the old standby perms

  • Chey

    Nowadays, yes.

  • Candacey Doris

    It is daring to some. I went to my brother’s pinning ceremony today, rocking my new fro. I got some looks but the most surprising thing is when my mother saw me. She was shocked i came out like that. Really shocked.

  • Reese

    Personally, seeing a woman rocking her natural hair isn’t shocking to me and depending on your attitude towards your natural hair yes it can be bold and courageous. But if you’ve accepted your natural hair then no it isn’t bold or courage, you are just being who you were born to be.

  • IllyPhilly

    So we’re back on this topic? Next week’s topic: Something about dating a white guy then after that:Celebrities mixed with something.

  • Rashida

    I just don’t want to deal with my natural hair. But I do not begrudge anyone wearing their natural hair.

  • Lauren S. Clark

    Interesting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wanda-Leverette/1101695192 Wanda Leverette

    I am so happy to see this open dialogue about Black women and hair! When I’m out and about I’ve noticed more and more women wearing weaves and wigs…young women covering up their own hair with purchased tresses. I’ve had women stare at my hair because I wear my own hair. I grew up with the philosophy “your hair is your crowning glory” and it was about taking care of your own hair. I cringe when I see little girls with add on hair, because we are teaching them from an early age that 1. something is “wrong” with their natural hair
    2. Buying it is better than growing. I let the perm grow out of my hair 10 years ago. I found products that help keep my hair healthy, like olive oil and a flat iron. I always keep a good cut because a really good cut feels really good. Black women have different textures of hair that needs different products and different care, find what works for you. Wear a style that flatters your face and works for your hair, it may not be what’s popular but it’s you….uniquely you.

  • IJS

    For a lot of black women of course it requires courage, bravery or a certain IDGAF attitude. The source of the problem is a combination of those that look like us with self hate issues, in addition to those that don’t look like us running this media machine or on a day to questioning our hair like your some display of a foreign object at a museum. The problem more so lies with ni66az (not black people). Now that natural is more prevalent, ni66az are the ones scrutinizing about curl type, good hair/ bad hair, long hair/ short (hair… it’s sad. I’m so sick of every aspect of this color complex bs ni66az have going on

  • rainydaze80

    This is a tough question, but it just really depends on your upbringing I think. I just made the decision to try going natural (4 months now without the perm) and I’m actually excited about doing the big chop! One year ago, I would have laughed if you suggested I go natural. From an early age, it was drummed into my mind that my nappy hair needed to be “controlled” and relaxed. So every 4-6 weeks, it was time to get my hair relaxed and pray my scalp didn’t burn. I was never one to do the weaves and wigs, because my real hair was good enough for me. But I moved to a different country and started going to school and soon I just didn’t have time to do relaxers. Once my new growth started showing and I started experimenting with different hairstyles and maintenance routines, I discovered that managing my nappy hair was easier than I thought. I just had to discover it for myself. It’s funny how I had to move to Europe to discover the beauty in my natural hair, but everyone’s experience is different.

  • MM82

    It may be considered bold in the corporate world but as far as everyday life no. Women change their hairstyles constantly so anytime you switch it up your being daring whether your rocking it natural or permed.

  • YaY!

    Like other commenters, my comfort with my natural hair in public varies. On a sunny saturday afternoon in the spring, on my way to a lunch date you can’t tell me my shiny, bouncy tight coils ain’t where it’s at. On a Monday morning in my predominately white, semi-conservative office, I am REALLY not there for the random exclamations in the hall (albeit positive) or the random meet ups at my at my desk for the Q&A by too comfortable colleagues, identifying my twist-out as an afro. So, I keep my hair tied down or under a wig most of the work week. It’s convenient too. The truth is natural hair wearers often find themselves discussing their hair to the ignorant. Sometimes it feels like you’re explaining yourself. I don’t care to do that. It’s MY hair.

  • Chassie

    Interesting read. IMO, what really takes courage is going out in a blonde lace front or an itty bitty, perm wrecked pigtail. I see no reason why there should be so much expectation and anxiety projected on a girl wearing her natural hair. The people who need the analysis are the ones obsessed with analyzing her.

    • Kenedy

      Agreed! That does take some courage! I tried wearing a lacefront wig once, I couldn’t even walk out the house with it, just couldn’t, It felt so unreal, I was so conscious about it, & that damn hairline, big ups to people who don’t give a hoot & wear fake hair like its nothing

      • Chassie

        So true. Sometimes I’m watching Youtube and there’s some girl trying to convince me to buy her lion’s mane of an invisible hairline/lace front she’s dyed half magenta, half squash colored. But shoot, can’t tell them nothing and I don’t plan to, if they like it, go on with their bad selves.

    • http://www.facebook.com/yvonne.watkins.39 Yvonne Watkins

      Yeah, a ponytail were there is more rubber band than hair!

  • pickneychile

    Not for me. I’ve been natural my whole life. But I could see how it would for someone who just jumped on the bandwagon.

  • Cali

    Short answer to the question, No. The long long answer, Maybe. No because it shouldnt be put into perspective that simply being who you are and wearing what grows out of your head should be taken into account with personality attributes. I look at it like saying does it take boldness and courage to be black…I mean what else would I do flip a switch and be something else?

    “Maybe” is because there has been sooooo much emphasis and over exposure of wearing natural hair. As someone who has never had a perm or any other chemicals in my hair, this whole topic should not be such a big deal. And yet it it has turned some black women against one another and brought so much judgement and criticism. It’s JUST HAIR PEOPLE. Take care of it and make it look nice to your standards. Shoot if you want a low cut or you just wanna be bald, do you. I don’t see anything bold about that. It’s just hair…or lack thereof. It’s sad how we are looked upon to conform to the ideals of whats beautiful to others. SMH take me back to my carefree childhood innocence of the 90’s…

    -23 year old grad student who looks good with her own natural hair, weaves, wigs, twists braids and whatever the hell else she wants to wear and doesn’t think natural hair makes anyone “bold”.

  • Ms. Kameria

    Natural hair is a no go for me……the longest I’ve gone without a perm is about 4 months, after that I’ll never go that long again. My hair just did what the hell it wanted to do. I’m sorry, but I like the “creamy crack”. I have to be able to run a comb through mine on any given day.

  • Tonyoardee

    The ban on cornrows and dreads in the MBA program at HU has been there longer than 2012, probably for the past 5 years really

  • Nope

    I don’t understand why wearing what you were actually born with is so revolutionary. Also, as with anything in life, everyone doesn’t have to like or accept what you’re doing, just YOU.

  • thatonegirl

    Wearing natural hair really does require some boldness and courage especially if your hair is thin/fine. When I went natural I thought that my hair was going to look like Kelis’s circa 2000 but my hair is thin and I can’t do much with it my twist-outs, braid-outs, etc almost always ended up looking like straw I can’t even wear an afro. It doesn’t matter how much my hair grows, natural hair styles just don’t look the way I would like them to look on me. So big ups to those girls that do it and do it well because this chick can’t.

  • Smiley

    To me, wearing natural hair can sometimes be anxiety provoking. As a young woman who recently graduated, I wonder if it will hinder my job search or cause for difficult networking. So I do feel brave when there are 0-1 other natural people in the room. But, at the same time I have done weaves, braids, and color and felt the same way! What I think it comes down to is insecurity. if I’m feeling insecure at a particular moment, no hair style can change that. The same goes for when I’m feeling confident.