So what is Good Hair? This is a phrase that the majority of Black Women have grown up hearing. As young girls we were told by our mothers that we had good hair (long, grew fast, soft) or bad hair (short and 'nappy'). As teenage girls, we were jealous of our peers that had long and soft hair, whilst all the time cursing our unruly and 'unmanageable' manes.
The idea of 'Good Hair' has historically been related to how soft and long our hair is. Typically achieving this look has traditionally meant the use of chemicals on our hair. Having 'nappy' or naturally Afro hair hasbeen frowned upon in many quarters for many years. The longer and more European the hair, the better. This attitude is an obvious hangover from the days of slavery and colonialism. We were told that only light skinned or white women with long straight hair were attractive. That was (and still is to some extent) the beauty ideal to which we have aspired to. Indeed in the US in the 60s/70s, many black women had to relax their hair in order to achieve any kind of recognition in the work place (something that is STILL prevalent is some parts of the world today).
To this end, black women have resorted to using varying techniques to attain this mythical 'Good Hair'. This includes using relaxers and weaves. Despite the well documented damage that relaxers cause, they are a billion pound business with more and more new entrants entering the market.Relaxers are known to damage the hair follicles, sometimes permanently and can lead to weak/receding hairlines.
Weaves are also know to cause considerable damage. Traction( hair loss caused by pulling the hair ) and central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (scarring and baldness) are known to be caused by badly applied weaves/braids. This is exascerbated by the fact that Afro hair tends to be drier and coupled with the shape of the follicle, the hair is more prone to breakage. In many cases the natural hair under the weave is not properly maintained which also leads to considerable breakage.
Despite the massive industry geared towards giving Black women 'Good Hair', there seems to be a change afoot. Over the last 10-15 years or so there has been a gradual move away from the weave and relaxed hair scene and into the 'natural' hair scene. There are countless websites and shows dedicated to showcasing natural hair styles. There are many blogs and YouTube channels dedicated to showing us how to take care of natural hair as well as style it. Natural hair is also becoming embraced, albeit slowly, by the world of showbiz. Solange Knowles had been wearing her hair in a natural afro style for a while now, despite a negative reaction from some corners.
So are we changing our perception of what is 'Good Hair' now? Is 'Good Hair' now becoming natural, unprocessed hair as nature intended? Are we changing our beauty ideals and moving away from what has been imposed on us for generations?
I believe we are but we still have a long way to go.