I don’t actually do my hair. My hair does what it wants, no matter how hard I may try to control it. Some days it will decide to form shining, crinkly curls that rest on my shoulders. Another day, it will form a tight, kinky halo around my head.
There are lots of things I don’t understand about my hair that I’m still learning about, but I’m happy to let my hair do whatever it’s going to do. Other people, however, have a curiosity about my curls that never seems to be satisfied. I’m constantly barraged with hair questions (from black and white women alike) and there are certainly some questions that I’m sick of answering.
Can I touch your hair?
Let’s get this obvious no-no out of the way. Articles have been written about this. Songs have been sung about this. An entire video game was created around this question and its answer. And yet, it’s probably a question black girls get asked the most, and that’s if they’re lucky ― some black women aren’t even given the courtesy of being asked before having their follicles felt up by a stranger.
It’s OK to be curious, but it’s not OK to treat black women like a curiosity on display. If ever you feel the urge to ask this question of a black woman, especially if it’s a black woman you don’t know, just go ahead and assume the answer will be “no.”
OMG did you cut your hair?
Without fail, if I go out in public after a wash day, someone somewhere will ask what happened to all of my hair after they witness the incredible shrinkage.
Natural girls are very familiar with the phenomenon we call shrinkage. It’s basically what happens when curly hair shrinks after it absorbs moisture, causing normally long strands to appear significantly shorter. I hate when this happens. Not because I don’t like the way it looks, but because I have to be prepared for shocked faces from my peers wondering what happened to all of my hair (and this sometimes makes me feel like my short crop isn’t cute enough).
Maybe instead of inquiring about the length, try telling a woman you come across that her style is super cute, shrinkage and all. Who doesn’t love a compliment once in a while?
Is that all your hair?
This question and the previous question go hand-in-hand. Just because black hair is short one day, doesn’t mean it can’t be long the next.
Black hair is versatile and can easily go through numerous changes. From short to long, from wigged to weaved, from braided to beachy waves, from a blunt bob to waist-length ponytails, black women have been innovating hair and style for centuries. And all of that invention and flair absolutely belongs to us, whether we bought it from a store or grew it from our scalps.
Do you ever straighten your hair?
Like I said, black hair can go through numerous chameleon-like changes, yet some women are perfectly content to keep their hair the way it comes out of their scalps naturally, in a variety of curls. It’s perfectly natural to be curious about what a fro may look like when it’s straight, but asking a woman to straighten her hair can have some problematic implications.
Straighter, longer hair is historically and currently seen as more beautiful than kinky hair styles. Straight hair has long been considered more professional and less intimidating, and black women with natural ’dos are still finding themselves rejected in jobs, school and dating because they choose not to wear their hair straight. While many black girls are rebelling against this beauty standard by keeping their hair curly, it can still be hurtful when someone implies they may look better when their hair is straight.
Plus, straightening curly hair can be very time consuming and, in some cases, damaging to the strands. My advice for this question? Just compliment the curls and keep it moving.
Black hair is fascinating and the world is fascinated with it. It’s not a crime to be curious, but black women are people and should be treated with respect. Our hair is beautiful, just the way it is, however it decides to look or behave that day. It doesn’t need to be shorter, longer or straighter and it certainly doesn’t need to be touched.
All black hair needs and deserves is to be loved and appreciated by everyone, especially by the black girl it belongs to.