I Wish It Was “Just Hair”…But It Aint » VSB

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I Wish It Was “Just Hair”…But It Aint



Full-disclosure: I’m a proud member of the #naturalhair community. I’m the chick who schedules huge blocks of time to wash, condition, and style my hair, all the while claiming that #bighairdontcare. The summary of my hair journey has been a rollercoaster of tender-headed press and curls to perms to (cluelessly) natural to the return to perm and then to where I am today: a more knowledgeable natural. Shouts to YouTube tutorials. I did the “big chop” in 2011 and have been happily in the land of naps and curls sense.

Anyway, after Giuliana Rancic’s recent comments about Zendaya Coleman’s hair, a conversation erupted that always arises whenever any form of natural hair is insulted. The backlash over the outrage is usually in the vein of, “WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?! IT’S JUST HAIR!”

Ohhhhh girl, I wish. I sooooo wish. That ain’t the way the cookie crumbles, however.

It’s not just hair since we even have to have a “community” dedicated to natural hair in the first place; a community which serves as an alternative to the straight hair standard of beauty and the lack of hair-care information available since naturals were long seen as the “other.” It’s not just hair when my hair grows out and the default response of members of my family and social circle is that of, “So, what are you going to do with your hair?” as if the way it grows out of my head is somehow not acceptable. It’s not just hair when Dove has entire campaigns for little girls letting them know they don’t have to “tame” their curls. It’s not just hair when I’m given backhanded compliments of “Oh, you should keep it like that!” whenever I decide to use a flat iron on my hair. It’s not even just hair when, in my own damn natural hair community, the kinkier the curls, the less praise you receive since looser curls are the standard of beauty within that very subculture. It’s certainly not just hair when kids are being sent home from school because their locs are seen as breaking dress code and then being taken to task in the corporate world for the very same reason when you become an adult.

And it’s definitely not just hair when a high-profile celebrity correspondent has to publicly apologize on-air because she reinforced a trite stereotype about locs, offending the specific subject and an entire group of people who are tired of having to hear that shit just because of the way they choose to wear their hair.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to judge someone how they wear their hair or look down on those who don’t choose to go natural (an issue within our community in and of itself). In fact, one of the main things I love about my hair is the versatility of it. I can wear it straight or curly depending on my mood and neither is better or worse than the other.

I liken the “it’s just hair!” sentiment to race in that I’d love race to not be an issue since it doesn’t make sense as an issue in an ideal world. But, I’m also not of the “color-blind” group that feels we should ignore race so it just goes away. Not even. I’d rather a world where we’re able to acknowledge our differences and celebrate them. Same goes with hair. There are so many different textures and grades of hair and each has their own form of beauty. Hell, the very fact there is such a huge variety is beautiful in and of itself.

So, here’s hoping that we can one day live in a world where it’s truly “just hair.” But, in order for that to happen, we have some real work to do. And I predict it’ll take longer than a wash day.

Tonja Stidhum

Tonja Renée Stidhum is a screenwriter/director with cheeks you want to pinch... but don't (unless she wants you to). She is made of sugar and spice and everything rice... with the uncanny ability to make a Disney/Pixar reference in the same sentence as a double entendre.

  • pls

    came in here to say i have experienced hair privilege way more than light skin privilege.

  • CorettaJG

    Speak on it.

  • Melissa

    Yeesh, I saw that episode of Fashion Police. I read that she was, in her own mind, referring to “hippies”, but if you’re on television you have to assume that 40-70% of your viewership are ignorant halfwits and you can’t have a black woman with dreads on the screen and say, “I bet she smells like weed.” Nope. No can do. In any event, you’re a gorgeous woman with equally gorgeous hair and so is the very lovely Zendaya.

    • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

      I could give that benefit of the doubt (that it was just a general “hippies” comment) if I didn’t see a swam of fashion articles praising Kylie Jenner for her faux locs as “edgy”, just weeks prior.

      • mikster

        dude they are always getting “edgy” compliments on our stuff!!

        • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

          I meant to ask – ARE THOSE MINNIE MOUSE EARS IN YOUR AVI? Because you automatically doper than everyone because of it. #biased

          • mikster

            lol yep…. I had just got back from running the Disney marathon and I was still feeling myself lol.

      • Melissa

        Exactly – if she’d said something amounting to “It’s hippie chic and hippies like weed” – dumb, but not cringe-worthy. Can I just also say that Zendaya has more style and beauty in her pinkie finger than Kylie Jenner does in her entire body?

        • MeridianBurst

          Kylie’s style would be dope if she was like 23. As a 17 year old it concerns me the route she’s taking when it comes to fashion and beauty, especially with the latest things she’s posted on the gram. It looks like she had surgery on her butt and is essentially niptucking herself into who she wants to be. Zendaya’s approach is healthy. She makes choices based on what she wants to express about a part of herself and experiments with different looks and styles to create something she likes. She has a solid grasp on self-confidence imo.

          • Melissa

            Totally – Kylie doesn’t have the wisdom to (granted, no one in that family has enough brain cells, nevermind wisdom) make choices like that. My boyfriend is a plastic surgeon and he says anyone who does multiple surgeries on someone that young (that doesn’t have some sort of defect that need to be fixed/medical problem), should have their license revoked! On a less dysfunctional note, I love Zendaya and you can tell she has a style all her own – hell yes, that takes confidence :)

    • MeridianBurst

      Zendaya has a look that was “bohemian chic” so she smells like weed but Kylie who was the embodiment of bohemian chic was edgy. She probably really did see it that way but that just means she doesn’t realize her racial bias. Not that she doesn’t have one.

      • Melissa

        Yes! THIS! I haven’t been that embarrassed on someone else’s behalf in a long time.

        • MeridianBurst

          Watching what happened to Zendaya made my eye twitch because I knew how big of a deal it was to her to wear such a style at the Oscars. What happened to Rancic made me wince because I knew she was in for a rude awakening.

          • Melissa

            It totally was a “I’m anxious and now I need a cookie.” moment all around!

  • *passes the collection plate for the twin*
    Because it can never be “just hair” when the mere thought of “doing something with it” to comply with whatever qualifies for passing an interview. Or when certain communities can wear all of the colors of the rainbow and be considered “edgy,” while other communities that have done it for decades are “ghetto,” “trash,” and “low-class.” It’s not hypersensitive to point out the unequal thinking, and it’s dismissive to throw out a “sorry if you were offended” non-apology to make up for it.

    So many blinders must be removed.

    • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

      “Or when certain communities can wear all of the colors of the rainbow and be considered “edgy,” while other communities that have done it for decades are “ghetto,” “trash,” and “low-class.””

      THANK you for mentioning this point. Very important aspect.

      • MzzPeaches

        Yes! Like I get annoyed when a Black female celebrity goes blonde and people jump on that “tryna be white” tirade. Like damn, maybe she wanted to jazz it up. It’s like we can’t even make the most basic attempts of trendy w/o it being overly scrutinized to death.

      • heyheyno

        Right!!! great point

    • YaYa

      Word!! *tosses my 10% into the collection plate”

  • Val

    The thing that I took away from this was that chick’s comments are reflective of the larger society’s beliefs regarding braided/ dreaded hair. So, as usual with this sort of thing, the problem goes beyond a simple insult.

    There are all sorts of negative repercussions for people who wear their hair in braids/ dreads. Some are economic. As in not getting a job because of your hair. Some can affect your treatment by law enforcement or how you are treated when out and about because you are seen as a suspect because of your hair. This is especially true with men who wear dreads.

    So, I’ve been disappointed that the conversation has been mostly about the offending chick rather than what those who wear dreads/ braids have to deal with and how hair bigotry in general effects African Americans. It’s been a missed opportunity.

    • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

      I saw the evolved conversation spawn from this instance on Twitter (hair bigotry in general), but it definitely depends on where you look. There was also a lot of attacks on Giuliana that went WAY too far (bringing up her cancer; COME ON man, that ain’t necessary). There was so many subcultures of Twitter. So many Twitters. lol

      • Val

        Okay, well I wish those particular Twitter conversations would hit the mainstream because this to the mainstream is more about Giuliana Rancic than the implications of the comment or the victims of such attacks.

        Lol Yep, there are definitely a lot of Twitter universes.

        • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

          Girl, me too! We still ain’t REALLY talked about it in a large scale. I really need us to go there… and ASAPtually. I feel like we been tip-toeing around it.

    • Uniquely Blushed

      I agree, I think this would be a great opportunity for the people who have dreads and braids to inform the people who may be contemplating getting that particular hairstyle to let let us know what they went/go through.

      My daughter wants dreads. I’m not sure if I want her to get them. My reasons would be 1. too young 11 yrs old (in my eyes) 2. who’s gonna maintain 3. be different. everyone has dreads now.

      • Just Sayin

        exactly. The maintaining is the issue for me. But once locs are Locked its a lot less maintenance. I’m a loose natural and use to twist my hair every week or other week. I couldn’t see locs being anymore trouble.

        • AlwaysCC

          they’re not. i personally thought that loose natural hair was waaaaaaaaaaaay more trouble. i couldn’t wait to start my locs again! lol

      • AlwaysCC

        that’s funny you think everyone had dreads…where i am, everyone has loose natural hair lol i guess it’s all relative

      • Detroit Skater

        i’ve been loc’d for 9 years and have never had a problem at work. except for the one time a co-worker thought she was about to touch them and i had to shut that down. the only person in my family who did not like the idea of me loc’ing was my mother. her dislike came from a church member who never groomed his. she likes them now, i guess. i get many compliments even when i feel they are in need of tightening (i interlock). i loc’d b/c i lost my braider (got a full-time job, darn her), i like to workout and i have never liked doing my hair so this was my best option.

        1. i wouldn’t say to young. i saw a little girl the other day much younger than 11 who had a beautiful set of loc’s. talk with her and determine why she wants them. have her do the research on what it takes to maintain a healthy set. have her research the different kinds of loc’s to determine which will work best. i’d even have her research what she would need to do if she should decide she no longer wants them after a period of time. having her do all the leg work will let you know for sure if this is something she wants for sure of if it’s a fad to her. 2. if you decide to let her loc you can maintain them it is not hard at all. i maintain my own (money saver). i’d say the hardest thing takes place before the hair actually loc. if she has soft hair it will take longer to loc and you may have to redo a couple here and there, but other than that not hard at all. check out a book titled “nice dreads” by lonnice bonner. 3. wanting loc’s is her being different. don’t stifle her. if that’s how she chooses to express who she is let her. *ignore #3 i don’t have kids* :-)

        • AlwaysCC

          i wouldn’t let my daughter get locs until she was maybe high school aged (i have locs). i see young girls (and boys) with them all the time, too – i just prefer certain hairstyles on children. *shrug* i guess it’s just personal preference

          how long does it take you do maintain your locs? i’ve always gone to a stylist (i hate dealing with hair lol), but the few times i’ve twisted mine (they’re traditional) it’s taken me hours…my shoulders can’t take that on a regular basis lol

          • Detroit Skater

            i feel ya on the personal preference.

            i’ve got down to a science from start to finish i takes me two hours (i don’t count wash time b/c that varies). i put on a good movie and the time passes. i tighten once a month although next week when i do them it will be two months so it make take a little longer, but on average two hours. my bun game has gotten better so i put it off last month. LOL

            • AlwaysCC

              you ain’t neva lied about the bun game! a bun can go from casual to formal with a few accessories and minimal work #winning

      • Kema

        Getting my locs was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Of course it was because I’ve always wanted wash and go hair + length.

      • I agree that 11 is too young for loc and that is ONLY because they are a rather ‘permanent’ hairstyle. I’m just not a fan of imposing such a long term style on a child, let them choose it when they can really understand that to change their minds means combing them out or cutting them off

    • AlwaysCC

      there are even divides within the loc’d community. it’s deep. #cantwealljustgetalong

  • Sylqué

    I feel like folks set themselves up with the “it’s just [fill in the blank here]” because it’s never just anything. Not money, not hair, not Twitter…

    • Barbie

      The personal is political!

  • I’m happy with how Zen responded to the comment about her hair as well as the support across both age and gender that she got from black people.that was beautiful. I hope that becomes the standard

    P.S. I’m here if any of y’all need a scalp massage.

    • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

      I’m happy she clapped back, too, but I hope we can one day make it in a world where we don’t have to “explain” our hair by listing several accomplished ninjas that also rock natural hair. As if they’re an exception, by default of their hairstyle choice.

      • Sahel

        Umm,i give massages too

        • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

          I mean, why would I turn down a BOGO special?

      • I GOT YOU

        • Lea Thrace

          Look at this expertly placed trap…

          I see you Ricky!


          • ^_^

          • HeyBooHey

            You know Lik Lik @madlark:disqus STAYS with the trap like a hustler in the hood. Young cub is determined to prosper outchea

    • MzzPeaches

      *raises hand* I brought my own organic coconut oil :)

      • Freebird

        Ill take that oil .
        *greases hands*

        If Malik is too busy…. I’m here.

      • Can’t wait. :)

  • Erinn Anova

    Thank you.

  • Dougie

    Hair is most definitely a representation of identity. Being unnecessarily judged negatively for any reason is a bad thing. It sucks that I got pulled over more when I had braids than when I cut my hair. Both times I had long hair. I’m sure that my career path would also be different if I had hair. I feel for anybody who has been negatively affected by however they choose to identify themselves.

    I’m married to a natural hair community member so I understand all the effort, the struggle, the good days and bad, and I try to be as supportive as possible. But I have questions:

    why can’t people have preferences?
    why is a compliment about one style immediately looked at like a put down for another hair style?

    I tell my wife when I like her styles, I tell her some of the styles I don’t like as much – but the goal is happiness, right? If you like the style, then rock it. Basically I’m saying that I understand being irritated if your life is altered by the way you’re rocking your hair, but taking compliments and reading into them like it’s back handed or not heartfelt is kinda wack to me.

    • mikster

      You know what…… I never actually thought of it like this until you pointed it out and you are right it is totally your preference to like whatever style you like. Just the other day I wore my hair straight and a guy that always compliments me (Even when my hair is wack) walked up and said “Beautiful” I actually did take that as “oh so whats wrong with my kinky curls?” I said thank you but I did feel some type of way…..but now that i think about it it. im gonna let a compliment be just what it is.

    • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

      “why can’t people have preferences?
      why is a compliment about one style immediately looked at like a put down for another hair style?”
      I feel you here. People can most definitely have preferences, even if that preference is the default standard of beauty. But, there’s definitely levels to this ish. Because a lot of times, folks can’t state their preferences without having to put down others. ORRRR, usually it serves as a sting because the natural hair community automatically hears the myriad of insults they’ve heard in the past and still hear ringing in their ears. Not saying that’s logical and I do think we should be able to just take a preference for what it is… but that’s not exactly reality at the moment, unfortunately.

      • MeridianBurst

        Compounded rejection coupled with a lack of acknowledgment is borderline abusive. It’s something black women experience a lot of.

      • Dougie

        yea, I understand it’s a fine line to walk. I think I just didn’t like the examples used in this post. The levels are not unnoticed. I just wonder (and it’s really a wonder, I’m not leaning any which way when I ask this), if the natural community is actually being insulted often or if they’re hyper sensitive to anything being said about their hair, since it’s not the standard of beauty that we’ve become accustomed to.

        I know my wife was very sensitive in the first year/year and a half of her natural journey. She had to regain all types of confidence.

        • MeridianBurst

          It is a very sensitive time for a woman and I do think the fragility within that process is exactly why people should be mindful of how they address it. It really is about the woman and embracing good things about herself and it’s something that people take away from intentionally or unintentionally. You have to give women the space, freedom, and personal agency to blossom.

        • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

          “I think I just didn’t like the examples used in this post.”
          They’re all very real instances, though. Like the backhanded compliment I cited. Maybe I should’ve specified, but that was also right after those same people turned up their nose at me when I first big-chopped. Or look at me weird when I wear it in a wash-and-go.
          With any instance of oppression, you’re gonna have folks that are hyper-sensitive. It’s natural (heh). That doesn’t discount the validity that people still have a reason to be offended, though.

          • Dougie

            while I acknowledge the validity in each individuals feelings, I’m not the biggest fan of hyper-sensitivity because those examples always get brought up by an opposition in meaningful debates to try to dismiss a conversation that is necessary to have.

            I also have these opinions specifically about natural hair because I was very anti-natural before living with somebody who went natural. So I was the guy side eying the big chops, so I had to do some internal searching about why I felt the way I felt. I’ve done a 180 about my feelings and how I view natural hair, but I also love the one time per year when my wife does straighten her hair too lol. I’m a walking contradiction, but I’m working on it lol

            • Deeds

              So, why did you feel the way you did about natural hair?

              • Dougie

                Same reason as most, i assume. TV images. My mom, aunts and female cousins had a perm growing up. All the people with ‘fros were men so I didn’t equate it with feminism. A whole bunch of toxic images and assumptions I made because I was living in a box. I believe this is pretty typical though.

            • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

              It’s cool! Like I said in my post, I like the versatility of my hair. Sometimes I want to wear it straight, sometimes I don’t. Basically, my hair is Almond Joy and Mounds.

  • MeridianBurst

    Hair means something distinct to individual cultures and then it means something specific to each individual. For me, hair is another aspect of femininity that I enjoy caring for. It makes me feel good to learn myself and how to maintain such healthy hair. It’s a nice feeling to spend that time on myself and look at it and love it. As a black woman, it’s dope that curls are the envy of other cultures. It’s dope that people look at black women as being incapable of having length or a naturally lovely aesthetic, and yet our hair is always the focus of everyone’s conversations. At some point I’m gonna need people to stop finding fault with us when they’re clearly so enamored we are the foundation of every major industry and trend. It’s okay to look at a black woman and admit she’s dope. I don’t even take people seriously at this point because it’s obvious they’re going out of their way to pretend blackness is flawed while simultaneously trying to be us.

    It *should* just be hair because the thing about it is, the Earth is a very vast place to exist on and there’s never going to be a universal or cohesive look. Beauty is beauty no matter the form it comes in and a difference shouldn’t be a point of contention, it should just be a moment where you have to get something that isn’t the same as you. Asian hair and black hair aren’t the same. If you’re black and your hair is curly than it’s beautiful, but the Asian person is going to have to learn to applaud that.

    “I’d rather a world where we’re able to acknowledge our differences and celebrate them.”

    iWish, but perpetual conflict is the preference and the reality of the world we live in.

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