BEAUTY TALK: Part of the politics of black hair: It’s time we created a new vocabulary for naturals
“What can you do with curly, frizzy hair? Make it go away” or so say the people behind John Frieda’s, Frizz Ease; the infamous advert is surprisingly 3 years old and it still irks me when it comes on TV. Frizzy, curly hair is how I would describe my tresses and I love my hair, but the language in the context of the advert is negative as is often case for the vocabulary used around black hair in general terms; and this issue was just one of the themes brought up at Thursday’s debate Untangling The Politics of Black Hair at Selfridges part of the #BeautyProject as hosted by the excellent journalist and author Hannah Pool on behalf of intelligence². (Intelligencesquare.com)
The belief that the topic of black hair which in many circles is a contentious one, could be discussed in its entirety in the allotted slot was ambitious at best. Just hearing from each panel member brought about a whole host of potential subjects; Diane Abbott MP described her score of styles-past from braids, to wet-look perms, to cane rows, to chemical straighteners to the ‘current mass of very frizzy hair’ that lies beneath her weave; award winning hair and make-up artist Edee Beau with her blonde wig described her beauty standard as not based on looking like a black woman but the most beautiful version of her (however that was achieved); and the very brilliant Emma Dabiri who, coming from a dual heritage background described her hair as having been “disappointing people for over 30 years” during which time it was “damaged, misunderstood, broken and unloved”. It was Emma who raised the subject of the vocabulary used for black hair – case in point the aforementioned Frieda advert.
So just why is it that there are an abundance of complimentary terms when describing European hair but a plethora or pejoratives when talking about naturals? Shiny, glossy, smooth Vs coarse, nappy, out of control - I wonder which you would assign to the differing hair types? The fact that we rarely see black hair on TV in its natural state could suggest that we feel we have something to hide, that there’s shame surrounding our natural locks and don’t get me started on the legacy left by centuries of oppression.
For now, as like Thursday’s debate I’ll stick to the short of it and the notion of self-love seems appropriate; the onus surely is upon us to take ownership of our descriptions, to paint ourselves in a positive light and as Dabiri suggested to those in attendance - to get the ball rolling on coming up with a new vocabulary for our natural hair; Dabiri herself describes her crowning glory as resplendent. I don’t always know what the result of my twist out will be and who knows how my hair will react in the unpredictable British weather but rather than go for unruly, I’ll go for fortuitous, fantastically fortuitous! Let’s keep the conversation going, you can contribute to the new natural hair vocabulary by positively describing your hair in the comments section below.
In the meantime, I respond to John Frieda and co’s ‘what can you do with frizzy curly hair?’ with - EMBRACE IT, love it, own it, wear it with pride and attach the word fabulous to it, FABULOUS FRIZZ less of the ease!