Edited by Madeline Gunawan
I’m wearing a bonnet. I don’t think there’s a sexy kind of bonnet. I don’t think there’s even a bonnet that’s “fashionable,” or one socially acceptable to wear out in public without getting weird looks from people. They just don’t understand, and it shows. They can get away with not wearing a bonnet because their seemingly undamaged fine hair falls down on their shoulders, rather than pointing away from their head like a black womans would. Anyway, I’m sitting here with a bonnet on, tucked in bed, hoping my white boyfriend doesn’t FaceTime me. We’re not at the stage yet where I introduce him to my hair care tool and all its purple, satin glory.
What I’m getting at here is: Black women’s hair is a socially taboo subject. From fine hair people literally not knowing what coarse hair feels like and not keeping their hands to themselves, to our hairstyles being demonized and banned in school dress codes, it’s apparent that Black women’s hair isn’t normalized in America. Don’t get me wrong, most of my Black friends know what the deal is from the durag to the cherished bonnet. And while some things are kept close in these circles in the name of culture, maybe a certain degree of openness can create a sense of normalcy.
For context, I was born in 2000. By 2006, I was socialized to look down on people who wore synthetic hair. Shows, songs, and micro-aggressive language towards Black women were seething in hatred and all other things Black. Of course the self loathing Black woman was given a voice too but not because she’s valuable, because she’s confirming society’s disgusting bias.
“Well if she’s black and she’s saying this, I mean, it must be true, right?” Wrong.
The stigma behind specifically, wigs, was never a classy or articulate one. The women depicted in wigs in media were the rambunctious, “ratchet” ones and the women with the pretty, long, natural hair (uncoincidentally light skinned) were the pretty ones, the ones to admire, the ones who had men all over them. So I decided to be like those girls. By the time I was 8, I had a long ponytail to the mid-low part of my back when it was straightened and a father who would tell me to never cut my hair. To say the least I was proud it was “all mine”. Looking back there’s nothing wrong with taking pride in what your body is capable of, but an 8 year old looking down on someone else based off of a screwed up Eurocentric standard of beauty is disturbing. But I know as Black women, we’ve been there at one point or another. Making it through the self love journey is a Black woman’s rite of passage, despite the fact society shouldn’t make it that way. There’s a reason when you google “professional hairstyles” 4c or even 2c hair doesn’t come up: there’s a stereotype about the people to which hair is attached. I didn’t want to be mistyped as a girl who didn’t have “enough” hair on her own or the girl who was ghetto. I ran the opposite way of those stereotypes (naively thinking my black skin didn’t already put me in that category in other peoples’ minds). This line of thinking carried all throughout middle school.
The rise of white Hollywood being more open about the use of extensions and other forms of weave is when the floodgates opened to the normalcy of “fake hair”. White people have given themselves monopoly over all things normal so it’s not unnatural (no pun intended) that society would embrace tracks, clip ins and wigs with open arms when it’s on Kylie Jenner, who claims to have “started wigs”, or on Katy Perry. Now that wigs have white women endorsement after primarily being a tool for black women, it’s acceptable to wear wigs. I’m disappointed to admit their endorsement is when my perception of wigs changed too.
However, not unlike most trends or practices, the perception of the practice depends on who’s doing the practicing. There’s still a clear delineation between the idea of a white woman sporting a wig and a Black woman sporting a wig. There’s still that assumption that white women like Jenner “don’t need” the hair even though her natural hair is shoulder length, and women like Niki Minaj “do need” the hair even though her natural hair is down her back. There’s still that rift in the perception. It’s a rift that I fear will never be fixed. The rift that says I’m dramatic when I’m passionate, I’m bossy when I’m correct, I’m just angry when I’m rightfully upset, and I’m ghetto when I use Ebonics that, ironically enough, are found comical on TikTok when being done by nonblack people.
The divide is so clearly racially based, yet I’ve heard few people call out the absurdity of this form of blatant racism which I once internalized.
When I realized I’m a Black woman who’s viewed in the same light as every damaging caricature in the media and there’s absolutely nothing I could do about it, I allowed myself to get familiar with the idea of being lumped into a group. I had learned to dislike Black women so much I had forgotten I’m also a Black woman. I also had to realize the damaging stereotypes aren’t true about any of the other Black women I knew. I had taken a stereotype and wrongfully gave it the dignity of calling it the truth. Admittedly, the problem goes deeper than wigs but it’s weave that made me learn so much about myself and the women around me.
In short, my way of thinking changed from disdain to adoration. I can spend hours on my Instagram explore page watching wig installations because not only are they satisfyingly transformative, but it’s a very advanced cosmetic art form. From the hair grade, to making the wig, to choosing the lace, plucking, dying, installing, customizing, blending in that powder concealer and styling, it’s an entire process. The process results in something beautiful and unique to black culture. I still haven’t worn a wig due to this intricate process. Honestly, I’m scared to get a wig and have my hairline look like a clown thinned it out. I’m intimidated by the process.
After watching installation tutorials with my boyfriend, (needless to say he was in awe of the insane transformations and invisibility of lace) he looked at me dead in the face and said “Oh you could definitely do that!!” Maybe I can do it wonderfully. Who knows! But I know I’m glad the only thing stopping me this time isn’t being afraid of who people will think I am, but respect for the craft.