It Literally Grows Out of Our Head this Way
Unraveling and redefining the beauty and versatility of Black hair
By: Justine Milner
RICHMOND, Va. - Blow dryers are going, heat is rising from flat irons and Faith Evans “Soon As I Get Home” is playing in the background at Image Enhancement Center in Richmond. A range of melanated women are talking, laughing and decompressing as they celebrate their beauty and transform into whomever they want to be.
“The passion for doing hair came from just seeing an aunt who’s a hairstylist in my family,” said stylist Dionne Hughes who owns the salon. “When I got older, probably around 16, 17 years old, certain hairstyles attracted my attention that I had not seen before, so it was interesting to me to begin creating styles that were not the norm.” Hughes said she was influenced by styles she saw in Baltimore, where she was living at the time.
Hughes explains the process of a rodded ponytail and how the creativity of the style caught her eye.
“In Baltimore I believe it was a rodded ponytail, and I had never seen it in Richmond,” Hughes said “They were taking the wefted hair and rodding it and you could put the rods in the microwave and then pin it onto the hair. So that was the first style I started doing when I was in my senior year of high school, it was a rodded ponytail.”
Check out this 56 sec TikTok to see the process.
From that first style, Hughes has expanded what she can do.
Check out some of her work here
The versatility of a Black woman's hair is truly endless, getting styles like: braids, bantu knots, sew-ins, locs, microlinks and blowouts as some of the options, a Black woman getting her hair done is an experience like no other. Yet, multiple studies show Black hair is discriminated against and underrepresented, especially in the media.
Some women at Image Enhancement Center salon getting their hair done
Not long ago, Black TV journalists were told by employers to have a more straight or “consistent look.”
“From 2002 until 2014 I wore wigs, weaves, whatever because news consultants would tell me they like the more straight, long look,” Spectrum NEWS 1 in Charlotte News anchor Karla Redditte said.
Ms. Redditte says she hid her hair for more than a decade because news consultants and directors felt showing a Black woman in her natural state would turn away their core audience.
Natural hair alone wasn’t the only issue, texture was also an issue. There are many types of hair textures. Type 4/4c hair is referred to as Black, kinky, or coarse hair and is characterized by its tight, dense texture and natural lift, this is why Black women with kinks have so much volume.
“I’m sure that was definitely a concern,” Redditte said. “Ya know, how would viewers react to a Black woman wearing her natural hair. And not just natural hair, I mean we can talk about the texture of hair. I’m a Black woman but I don’t have that silky, curly hair. I’m definitely a 4b/4c so I’m sure that was part of it too.”
Usually, it is assumed that type 4c textured hair is less manageable or “nappy,” because the curls are tighter compared to type 2b textured hair
“We have naturally beautiful hair, without chemicals in it,” Image Enhancement Center owner Dionne Hughes said. “However our hair can shrink up and become very tight and hard for us to detangle and comb through. Over the years thankfully they have created a lot of products that help us to detangle our hair and manage it a lot better, so I think the coarseness of our hair is something only we can relate to.”
Type 4c hair after being blow dried
In 2014, Ms. Redditte wore her natural hair to a company party and her news director asked her why she never wore it that way on air. Ms. Redditte never bothered to ask, because she assumed her boss had the same thoughts as the others she came across: that straight, long hair was the more “professional” and “credible” look.
“When he asked me that, that was all I needed to ditch the rest of it,” she said. “And I haven’t looked back since.” Now Ms. Redditte wears her hair however she chooses, switching between: natural styles, protective styles and wearing it straight.
Karla Redditte wearing her natural hair in a bun
“I felt more confident when I took the wig off,” she said. “I didn’t realize I would feel that way. I remember I was so nervous the next week going on television with my natural hair, but I felt better just about myself.”
With hopes of eliminating unfair judgment and discrimination against Black hair, Dove recently co-founded the CROWN Coalition to advance anti-hair discrimination legislation called The CROWN Act. The CROWN Act stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair and prohibits discrimination against hair textures and styles. California was the first state to pass the law on July 3, 2019 and lawmakers in other states are trying to do the same.
Although many women are going natural and various Black hairstyles are becoming more accepted, there are many women trying to correct years of damage to their tresses. Processes like too much heat, over processing the hair with relaxers to make it straight and constantly putting tension on the scalp with wigs and weaves to conform to European beauty standards and over the last few years, there's been this debate surrounding natural and relaxed hair, which is better? Can relaxed hair be healthy? Does natural hair grow faster?
Karen Flowers, a cosmetologist of 15 years, now a trichologist (a person who studies hair, hair loss and scalp disorders) gave her expertise when asked about the topic, watch this short video below.
Relaxers are still fairly cheap, here's a children’s for $6.49
Taking care of your hair is what matters. Here is Flowers' approach.
The process of discovering your hair and what makes you happy can require a lot of patience but the end result can feel so empowering.
If getting a relaxer works better for you, do it.
If being natural works best for you, do it.
If going bald makes you happy, do it.
Do what works best for you and your hair. But whatever you do, make sure it’s your personal preference and not an act of conformity.
“There are so many people, non-black people that try to get their hair like ours but we don’t think about that. We think about some of the things we’ve been told over the years and things that are now ingrained into our minds,” but it’s good to see that we’re getting away from that” she said. “Especially some of the younger journalists coming along, they don’t even know anything about wigs, ya know wearing them on air, because they don’t have to anymore.”
If you’re reading this and you’re a Black woman struggling with your hair journey (whatever that looks like to you) and don’t know where to start, contact Ms. Flowers at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Ms. Hughes at Image Enhancement Center Salon.