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the contradictory nature of hollywood hair

March 14, 2019
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A Black woman’s glory is in hair. From birth, we are granted sisterhood into an exclusive society built upon the maintenance of hair, and physical appearance in the world. Our journey can be traced back towards the secrets of our ancestors who hid food within the hair during the Great Passage to the Americans to subdue their hunger. Enslaved Africans utilized braids as a messaging system to document the trails towards freedom, and stored essentials for the hard route along the way. In the American South, discriminatory policies subjected Black women to keep their hair covered in head wraps, a communal symbol adapted from their African heritage which contributed to a communal identity among them. As cultural norms and legislation shifted post Civil War, Black woman disassociated from traditional braided styles and transitioned to “straight hair” seen as a symbol of wealth, due to its proximity to white standards of beauty. Spearheaded by Annie Turnbo Malone, the development of a capitalist industry focused on the modification of Black women’s hair resulted in the accumulation of wealth for Black women in the industry, such as her mentee, Madame C.J. Walker.

One of the first Black women millionaires, Walker popularized the use of heat-based straightening products, such as the hot comb for Black women to achieve “good hair” status. Good hair; defined by Professor Whitney Bellinger at University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, is “hair which is long, straight, and has a silky feeling or when one has seemingly Caucasian hair.” According to Perception Institute’s Good Hair study, Black women are inherently aware of the social stigmas associated with their natural hair texture, and experience higher levels of anxiety than their white counterparts about their hair. Achieved through the implementation of chemically based relaxers, Black women can reach the goal of straight hair, at the cost of long-term health impacts, which contribute to vast health disparities. To be viewed as feminine in this society as a Black women came at the cost of your wholistic health and overall well-being due to social constructs of beauty emphasized by the Western world.

Black people compose 12% of individuals who work in the salon and spa industries, according to the American Association of Cosmetology Schools. Despite their community in the beauty industry, many Black hairstylists are unable to obtain union jobs in Hollywood to properly deliver hair care to Black actors and artists. Their exclusion has resulted in Black creatives to spend additional money on the outsourcing of their beauty needs, due to Hollywood’s hairstylists lack of knowledge for Black hair care and texture. Featured in Teen Vogue, Model Olivia Anakwe spoke about her mistreatment as a natural hair model who was ignored by hairstylists during Paris Fashion Week after they cornrowed too tight which can result in hair loss. Protective styles, such as cornrows, braids, and twists, if done properly can contribute to healthy hair growth, but due to exclusionary policies, Black women risk losing their job or education, because of its “ghetto” aesthetic.

The contradictory nature of the Hollywood hair industry negatively impacts Black actresses due to disinvestment by film studios to invest in Black hair care for its talent. Actress Gabby Sidibe asked directors to modify her character to donne protective styles, because of the gap of hairstylists who can maintain the health of Black hair. White women in Hollywood lack consideration about the issue within the industry, because of their privilege to wear Black hairstyles such as Kylie Jenner’s cornrows and Marc Jobs’ utilization on bantu knots on his models without any consequence; because when have white people been held accountable for theft? For generations, white people have cultural appropriated our culture for capitalist profits, and continued to erase our contributions from the history of innovations. Hollywood sustains itself on cultural appropriation because it allows white celebrities to be classified as trendsetters, while Black celebrities to have our beauty be associated with racist stereotypes, such as weed.

“You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it,” on “7 Rings” by Ariana Grande exemplified white women privilege for celebrities in Hollywood such as Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry who have the accessibility to acquire luxury hair products, without having to consider if the budget will cover the costs, due to their status in the industry. There is a reason why Black celebrities have created events like Essence’s Black Women in Hollywood, because there is an inherent need to honor Black beauty in a space where fellow celebrities can be community with each other, aware of the societal, cultural, and physical stressors associated with their status. To be Black is to be visible, we are actively surveilled in this police state, we are subjected to theft of its creative intellectual property by white owned corporations, and our hairstyles are popularized at the exact moment it is replicated on a white woman’s head.