In New Johns Hopkins Study, Black Women’s Hair Can’t Win For Losing
Last week, a research team from Johns Hopkins Medicine published a review of 19 studies titled “All Hairstyles Are Not Created Equal”, in which they analyzed the relationship between “scalp-pulling” hairstyles and hair loss among Black women. The takeaway, according to Dr. Crystal Aguh, is to offer both Black women patients and dermatologists tips for how to better prevent traction alopecia by avoiding high and moderate risk styles, like weaves, locs, tight ponytails, chemical treatments and braids.
And while it is rather enlightening to see more research being conducted on issues particular to or Black women, this is not news for us. The vast majority of us have known since adolescence what those tight micro braids can do to your edges as well as the dangers of any type of chemical treatment. But even though relaxer sales are on the decline in the U.S., you’d be hard pressed to scroll through your Instagram ‘Explore’ page without catching videos showcasing luxurious weaves, braids, and faux-locs. No matter the damage to our own hair, many (but not all) Black women still feel compelled to manipulate their hair in such harmful ways because eurocentric beauty standards still reign supreme in our society.
From employers reprimanding natural-haired Black employees for not having hair that “lays flat”, to tasteless thinkpieces from White women reveling in Beyoncé’s “Becky with the good hair” lyric, and even college athletes being referred to by a media professional as “nappy-headed hos”, there seems to be no hairstyle we can don that won’t provoke the ire of our ever-critical, misogynoir-filled society—hoteps (or rather, “noteps”) included.
Contrary to what those folks would believe, we are not lazy, self-hating women who aspire to rid ourselves of our blackness and one day morph into White women. Many of us are just trying to get by while either navigating the idealization within our own communities of images of Black women with Type 1 or Type 2 curl patterns that, for some, simply cannot be attained without chemical processing, or being told by White America that our hair, no matter what state it’s in, is “unprofessional”—or both.
And so we press, braid, weave, dye, and relax on. All while spending thousands of dollars and placing ourselves at risk of medical disorders in the meantime.
To focus on the harmful styling of Black hair without first focusing on the very real and very harmful societal pressures that would cause a woman to pursue them is akin to trying to solve an algebra problem while disregarding the first half of the equation. It is also dangerous, in that it misplaces blame onto Black women by implying a false sense of choice. I, personally, would much rather spend my hair care budget on myriad other things, like bills, tuition, and Formation tickets.
But until we get serious about rooting out misogynoir in the world around us, we’ll keep doing what we have to do to get by.
Image via open source image