Shame to Pride: A Natural Hair Journey From Childhood, the United States Air Force, to Academia

Shame to Pride: A Natural Hair Journey From Childhood, the United States Air Force, to Academia

Copyright: © 2024 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-8790-7.ch004
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In this chapter, the author discusses a journey of natural hair acceptance. As a child, she struggled with not understanding how to care for her hair and the desire to have straight hair. She shares the challenges of conforming to Eurocentric beauty standards in institutions that require uniformity, such as cheerleading and military service in the United States Air Force. These experiences led her to focus on natural hair in her graduate studies. She discusses the challenges of wearing natural hair in graduate school and how discussions of professionalism and hair left her feeling isolated yet energized. Ultimately, she shares her recent experience with embracing her natural hair as a researcher and professional. As an assistant professor at a prestigious HBCU, she has increasingly fallen in love with her and other women's natural hair. She teaches students about the CROWN Act and has continued her research on natural hair experiences. Today, she credits her newfound confidence to spaces and people that accept and celebrate Black beauty and natural hair.
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The Significance Of Natural Hair For Black Women

This chapter delves into the intricate relationship between natural hair, societal expectations, and the experiences of Black women, particularly within the contexts of the military and academia. To construct a comprehensive foundation for my personal narrative, I draw upon a range of academic sources, including Black Feminist Thought, sociological perspectives, and empirical research on natural hair experiences. Before embarking on a discussion of personal experiences, it is essential to establish key concepts. Texturism, which involves discrimination based on hair texture, is a pivotal concept for understanding the unique challenges faced by Black women in embracing their natural hair. This term, rooted in discussions of hair bias, underscores the need for deeper exploration.

Scholars such as Afia Mbilishaka, NM Rooks, Jenkins and more have begun to examine the deep social and emotional implications of hair shaming for Black women, men, and children within interpersonal and professional relationships and experiences (Rooks 1996, Mbilishaka 2020, Jenkins 2020, Ray 2022). Hair shaming involves microaggression and overt comments about hairstyles and textures that most often result in negative emotional experiences. Dr. Afia Mbilishaka, natural hair researcher and psychohairopist has revealed emotions such as embarrassment, anxiety, and sadness associated with experiences of hair shaming amongst Black men and women in her research (2020). Similarly, Jenkins (2020) and Ray (2022) find anxiety and sadness associated with these experiences for women and children.

While there are many negative emotions associated with experiences of hair shaming for Black people in the U.S. and throughout the world, natural hair is becoming increasingly visible and protected throughout the globe. Social movements like World Afro Day (September 15th) that began in the UK, and National Crown Day (July 3) that began in the US, are just a few examples of ways that Black people throughout the world are advocating for their right to wear natural hair and demonstrating their pride in doing so. Additionally, legislation like the CROWN Act that began in the U.S. have provided liberation and community for those who choose to wear natural hairstyles and textures. Absent hair-shaming, there is a tremendous amount of growing pride in wearing natural hair for Black people throughout the globe.

Sociologists engage in robust discussions regarding the multifaceted dimensions of Black hair within the realms of social, political, racial identity (Greensword 2022, Majali et al. 2022, Council et al. 2020). Recent scholarship has increasingly recognized the profound importance of Black hair, particularly in light of the resurgence of the natural hair movement in the United States, which gained momentum in the early 2000s (Council et al. 2020). Scholars have examined this resurgence as a potent social movement, one that empowers Black women by challenging and redefining Eurocentric beauty standards that historically excluded them (Tate 2010, Jenkins 2019, Council et al. 2020). Furthermore, the scholarly exploration of Black hair's significance within sociology provides essential socio historical context for understanding the racial oppression that has long surrounded Black hair (Greensword 2022). Scholars have even delved into the historical trauma associated with the loss of cultural identity and the public humiliation stemming from head shaving, a form of punishment used during chattel slavery.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Locs: Locs, short for dreadlocks, are a hairstyle where the hair is intentionally allowed to mat and form long, ropelike strands. This hairstyle has cultural significance and has been traditionally associated with various communities, including African, African diaspora, and Rastafarian cultures.

Natural Hair: Natural hair refers to hair that has not undergone any chemical treatments, such as relaxers or perms, to alter its natural texture. It embraces the hair's natural state, including a wide range of textures, such as afro, coily, curly, or wavy.

Box Braids: Box braids are a protective hairstyle that involves sectioning the hair into small, square-shaped sections and braiding each section from the root to the ends. These braids are typically created with synthetic or natural hair extensions and can be styled in various ways, offering versatility and low maintenance.

Texturism: is the discrimination of looser hair textures and curls over afro textures. It is important to note that the natural hair scale is a general guideline, and individual hair can have multiple textures or a combination of different types within a single head of hair. Hair care routines and product choices can vary based on the specific characteristics of one's hair, regardless of the assigned hair type on the scale.

Imposter syndrome: Imposter Syndrome refers to a psychological pattern where individuals doubt their abilities, accomplishments, or talents and fear being exposed as fraud. People experiencing imposter syndrome often believe that their achievements are due to luck or external factors rather than their capabilities, leading to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.

CROWN Act: stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” It is a legislative effort to prohibit race-based hair discrimination. The CROWN Act aims to protect individuals from discrimination in schools and workplaces based on their natural hair, including hairstyles such as braids, twists, locks, and afros, which have historically been subjected to biases and restrictions.

Hair Relaxer: A hair relaxer is a chemical product used to alter the hair's natural texture, specifically to straighten tightly curled or kinky hair. It typically contains chemicals such as sodium hydroxide (lye) or no-lye formulations that break down the protein bonds in the hair, allowing it to be reshaped and straightened. Hair relaxers are applied to the hair and usually left on for a specific period before being rinsed out. This process permanently changes the hair's structure until new growth occurs. Hair relaxers are often used by individuals seeking to achieve a straighter hair texture or manage their natural hair more easily.

Natural Hair Scale: Type 3: Curly Hair: Type 3 hair is characterized by well-defined, springy curls ranging from loose curls to corkscrew-like spirals. It has more volume and texture compared to Type 2 hair. Type 3 hair is further divided into three subcategories: Type 3A: Loose curls with a wider circumference, resembling stretched-out S-shaped curls. Type 3B: Medium-sized curls that are tighter and have more ringlets or spiral patterns. Type 3C: Coarser, tightly packed curls that may appear as corkscrews or small spirals. Type 4: Coily and Kinky Hair: Type 4 hair is characterized by tightly coiled or kinky hair with a zig-zag or S-shaped pattern. It tends to have the least amount of natural sheen due to the difficulty of sebum (natural oils) reaching the hair shaft. Type 4 hair is further divided into two subcategories: Type 4A: S-shaped coils with a defined curl pattern, similar to a spring. The curls are usually fine and densely packed. Type 4B: Z-shaped or zig-zag curls that are less defined and appear more tightly coiled. The hair may have a high density. Within the Type 4 category, there are additional variations, such as Type 4C hair, characterized by tightly coiled hair that may not form distinct curls and has a higher density. This type of hair often experiences significant shrinkage, appearing much shorter when dry compared to its actual length when stretched.

Coily: Coily hair is a texture that forms tight, spiral-shaped curls or coils. It is often characterized by its high density and shrinkage, appearing shorter than it actually is when stretched. Coily hair types, also known as type 4 hair in the hair typing system, require specific care and maintenance techniques to retain moisture and minimize breakage.

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