I once spent a considerable amount of my time procrastinating by searching ‘Blonde TWA’ on Pinterest. I was despondent that I didn’t have a TWA. It meant that I couldn’t dye my hair blonde, and wear it short, like all those beautiful women I saw on the board. Black women look beautiful with blonde hair. This is undisputable. And it’s not just blonde hair either. We look phenomenal in ginger shades, black tones and brown hues, vibrant reds, sexy purples and even unconventional blues. So, why, when I wear blonde hair, am I judged for wanting to look white?
I love to wear blonde hair, but I hate the meanings that have come to be encoded within it. I am angered that a black woman cannot choose to wear her hair in whatever style she prefers without drawing criticism from everyone around her. When I wear my hair natural, I am judged for looking “too” African, whatever that means. Considering my foremothers came from Africa – as well as I do – I have never considered that an insult. When I wear a weave, I am accused of hating myself, a black woman in a white man’s world. And when I wear braids, it is because I want to hide my real hair from the world. I just can’t win.
The emphasis we place on blonde hair as the epitome of beauty is quite clearly constructed – each generation passing down this horrific ideology to the other. While I find blonde hair beautiful, I no longer enjoy wearing it. Defending my beauty and fashion choices every day is strenuous. It is very irritating watching men – especially black men – fawn over a woman with blonde hair for, surely, it signals their unwillingness to see beyond ideology and, especially, status? With blonde hair, I become a trophy, not a person. Yet, when I wear my hair natural, I move from trophy status to “otherness”.
I have had a white male friend criticise me for not wearing my natural hair more often. I have had a black male friend judge me for wearing my natural hair too wild. It is just hair! Why must the collective identity of a race of women be placed so heavily on my shoulders? On and on, unto the shoulders of the next black woman? And the next? And the next? Black women are, themselves, the most hyper-sensitive to this issue. They often stare at me in wonder, as though in awe that I dared to wear my hair natural, my curls defying gravity and jutting up to the sky. They often look at me with pity, cynicism and envy when I wear blonde extensions, as though ashamed for me for hating my blackness, yet wanting to wear this artificial crown of penultimate beauty.
My choice to wear my hair blonde does not set black women back, neither does my choice to wear my natural hair set us forward. Again, this responsibility cannot rest on my shoulders. It is too heavy a burden to bear, for I do not judge white women who perm their hair, dye their hair or wear dreads. I do not condemn Asian women who artificially straighten their hair or colour their hair or experiment by braiding their hair. Why, then, am I judged as a sole representation of the millions of black women in the world?
In Reel to Real: Race, Sex and Class at the Movies, feminist scholar, Bell Hooks, tells us that,
‘any black actress who wants to make it in Hollywood has to confront a world where glamour, beauty, sensuality and sexuality, desirability are always encoded as white. Therefore the black female who wishes to “make it” in that cultural sphere must be prepared to disidentify with her body and be willing to make herself over.’
This includes that small site of socio-political identity, our hair. I often wonder how distinctively more popular Kelly Rowland would have been if she had worn her hair blonde and carried a lighter skin tone. I often wonder how much less popular Beyoncé would have been if she wore her hair a black afro. I am not blind to the prejudices of the world. Nevertheless, by placing the global discussion of black female hair on the individual black female, we offer no solutions, but only condemnations.
Despite it all, I am glad to see more black women wearing their hair natural. It is important that we move on from our slave mentality of covering our hair up as though it were a source of shame. I am proud to see us embracing a pre-slavery mentality, when our foremothers washed their hair, plaited it, and oiled it so that it shone brightly in the African sun. I am left in a quandary, for I no longer feel comfortable wearing a hair colour I love. I am scarred from the battle, each day forced to defend how I wear my hair, forced to commit to a “side” in the grand narrative of black female hair.
A million times, yes. Black women can wear blonde hair. But they can also wear fake hair, real hair, red hair, curly hair, straight hair, green hair, afro hair, Indian hair, short hair, long hair, mid-length hair, wigs, weaves, plaits, braids, dreads, and even no hair. Leave us alone.