Gazes on Black Hair and Beauty

Gazes on Black Hair and Beauty

Shatima Jones seated at the head of a dining table, applying lipstick in a round table mirror (in black & white)
Photograph by Colin Jerolmack (2021), after Carrie Mae Weems

For Black people, our hairstyles, which should simply be a matter of personal choice, can have a significant effect on our social status and chances for economic mobility. Our hair is closely monitored in institutions, such as the military, workplace, and schools, where certain popular Black styles are discriminated against. Under the gaze of whites and other non-Blacks, our hair may be seen as a problem, a spectacle, or something to be appropriated. Within the Black community, we are still working to more fully realize the ideals of the Black is Beautiful and Natural Hair Care movements and do away with colorism, texturism, and notions of “good” versus “bad” hair. These issues take center stage in my class, “(De)Tangling the Business of Black Women’s Hair.”

The student papers published this week focus on gazes on Black women’s hair in the industries of fashion and marketing, the institutions of the school and family, and in media. They lead us to grapple with a couple of broad questions: How do understandings of colorism and texturism shape our assessment of beauty? How do institutions like the family and schools structure Black children’s hair journeys and their experiences of race?

Modeling Race: Black Models on the High Fashion Runway
by Netanya Ronn

Modeling Race by Netanya RonIn this paper I delve into the complex relationship between the fashion industry and the representation of Black models on high fashion runways. I discuss how Black models are represented on the runway and how diverse runways have actually become today. The discourse around Black representation in the fashion industry is relatively new, as diversification of all industries has only become a mainstream issue in the last one hundred years. Scholars have previously discussed the commodification of Blackness in the industry and that fashion is not interested in true representation, but simply the illusion of it. Along with this illusion, fashion has taken parts of Black identity and claim it as their own, leading to discussions on appropriation versus appreciation and where to draw that line. Through my case studies, I found that although some fashion houses may self-identify as being “diverse” the industry as a whole still has a long way to go in terms of true equal representation. True representation would be measured not only in terms of how many Black models are cast in the show, but also how they are styled and how they’re represented on the runway. Although there have been case studies similar to mine, I believe that by comparing two very different fashion houses, with different histories and public images, a better image of the industry as a whole can be understood. Also, by studying these two different sectors of the fashion industry, predictions and the future of the industry can be better understood. Continue reading “Modeling Race: Black Models on the High Fashion Runway” by Netanya Ronn.


Redefining Black Beauty: Hair-Care Packaging
by Tatyana Tandanpolie

Redefining Black Beauty: Hair-Care Packaging This paper explores the way that hair-care product packaging reflects society’s beauty expectations for Black women’s hair and implicates societal perceptions of Black women’s hair. It interrogates the question, How does the language used on hair care products define what is considered beautiful and, thus, imply how Black women should define their beauty? Scholars have studied this by looking at the way that skin- and hair-care advertisements marketed to Black women during the 1960s connected the attainability of upward mobility to physical changes to appearance. An analysis of the relaxers and styling creams from three hair care brand shows that Eurocentric standards of beauty are maintained on chemical relaxer products, by way of featuring straight hair, as well as on natural hair care products, via a texture hierarchy. These beauty standards apply to the models featured on the product packaging as well because they reinforce a colorist link between hair texture and skin tone. Departing from scholars’ arguments that only sporting natural hair resists dominant beauty standards, this study suggests that a Black woman exercising her choice of how and with what to style her hair is a stronger act of resistance itself. Continue reading “Redefining Black Beauty: Hair-Care Packaging” by Tatyana Tandanpolie.


Blackness and Colorism in Kenya Barris’s Productions
by Britney Agyen

Blackness and Colorism in Kenya Barris's Productions by Britney AygenBlack families have been portrayed on mainstream television throughout the late twentieth century, in programs such as The Cosby Show, Good Times, and Family Matters. Since then, Black families have been demonized and reduced to portrayals as poverty-stricken and welfare-dependent on various American media outlets. White families, on the other hand, have been portrayed as the embodiment of model citizens. In the past, Black families on television were for the entertainment of the white viewer but later became primarily for the Black viewer. Contemporary shows such as Black-ish, Grown-ish, and Mixed-ish have become extremely mainstream due to their ability to address racial relations, cultural shifts, and other interdisciplinary topics relevant in the Black community. The named examples are all shows created and produced by one Black man: Kenya Barris. With the traction of the Black Lives Matter, Barris seems to be a firm believer in shedding light on Black issues, such as how colorism plagues and is reinforced in our communities. Colorism is the concept that lighter-skinned Black individuals are given more opportunities and privilege than their darker-skinned counterparts. Typically, the media shies away from colorism, even when centering Blackness and Black life. Shows like Black-ish tackle conversations around colorism head on. My research question focuses on how colorism is discussed on Barris’s shows? It is essential to analyze the implications of colorism represented on television under one producer whose work is under a larger, more racially diverse, audience’s gaze than in the past. Cotninue reading “Blackness and Colorism in Kenya Barris’s Productions” by Britney Agyen.


Pelo Bueno/Pelo Malo: The Natural Hair Care Movement in the Dominican Republic
by Melany Canela

Pelo Bueno, Pelo Malo by Melany CanelaThis paper examines how the natural hair care movement all across Latin America has influence views on “pelo bueno” and “pelo malo,” which translate to “good hair” and “bad hair.” Pelo bueno/pelo malo represents a mode of racial classification in terms of proximity to whiteness in the Dominican Republic and Latin America as a whole. Recently, the natural-hair movement has uplifted mainly Afro-Latin women, personally and culturally, leading them to love their natural hair. Narrowing in on the Dominican Republic, I ask: To what extent has the natural hair care movement in the Dominican Republic shifted ideas about pelo malo/pelo bueno? What do these conversations look like in the media? This paper examines a public service announcement by Sinergia films and reactions to it via YouTube posts and newspaper coverage. This conversation of natural hair has been studied in Latin America, mostly focusing on women’s journey to accepting their biological roots and getting in tune with cultural aspects connected to their hair; African practices rooted in their culture, identity issues, and normalizing wearing natural hair in professional and academic settings. With this knowledge, I am able to narrow into the Dominican Republic and inspect the change the pelo bueno/pelo malo conversation has changed due to the rise of natural hair care being popularized. Continue reading “Pelo Bueno/Pelo Malo: The Natural Hair Care Movement in the Dominican Republic” by Melany Canela.


White Parents, Black Hair
by Rachel Goulston

White Parents, Black Hair by Rachel GoulstonWhile there is literature exploring the relationships that Black women form with each other through doing hair, there is a noticeable lack of discussion about how white parents care for their Black children’s hair. My research focuses on online Black hair care resources that cater to white parents of Black children and seeks to understand how white parents find resources and form community centered around Black hair care. Through performing a content analysis on two online Black hair care resources, I find that 1. there is an abundance of online Black hair care resources and communities for white parents to explore; and 2. not all white parents will utilize these resources unless prompted by an outside source, usually an older Black woman. I expand on these findings and discuss Black hair as it relates to the formation of both Black and white racial identities as well as the shaping of kinship ties. It is important to note that this research primarily discusses white adoptive parents of transracial families, but does include white biological parents of biracial Black-white children as well. Continue reading “White Parents, Black Hair” by Rachel Goulston. 


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