Writing in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, Tameka N. Ellington of Kent State University outlines the complicated relationship many African-American women have with their hair. She reflects on how the legacy of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, notions of ‘presentability’ and modern (White) views of beauty can all affect how African-American women view and style their hair.
According to Ellington: ‘Natural hair is not fully accepted among either AA sub-cultures or within mainstream society. Consequently, AA women often lack knowledge of how to care for their natural hair, and report a fear of going “natural”.’
For her study, Ellington carried out interviews with 17 college-aged women who made the choice to stop relaxing their hair. As expected, most reported getting little support, especially among their AA friends and relatives, for their decision to ‘go natural’. As she explains: “The AA community’s lack of acceptance of natural hair is rooted in history and the societal meaning of lesser status that comes with having kinky natural hair.”
For many of the women, social networking sites offered the support and comfort that they were not able to get elsewhere. As might be expected, the absence of local support had a devastating effect on many women’s self-esteem. However, in many cases, regular and frequent online contact meant other SNS users became ‘friends and family’. This increased the women’s self-esteem and helped them to accept their own choices, thus increasing their self-esteem even further. Crucially, the SNS did not provide the motivation to ‘go natural’ in the first place, but provided essential information for the women about how to maintain their new natural styles, and offered support on their journeys.
This article is a fascinating insight into how what might seem at first to be a simple aesthetic decision is in reality a difficult choice for many AA women, informed by political, cultural and practical concerns. It’s also a good example of how the use of SNS can empower people who might otherwise lack local support networks to make – and have confidence in – their own decisions.
‘Social networking sites: a support system for African-American women wearing natural hair’ by Tameka N. Ellington. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education (2014)
Taylor & Francis