November 10, 2011

Dreaded double standard

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The dreadlock

Dreadlocks aren't just knots. They are a traditional hairstyle of the Rastafarian. The ones who see God in the Ethiopian emperor and in Africa the promised land. Dreads are also one of many hairstyles commonly worn by peoples of African descent. Maybe indirectly, then, dreads could be considered representative of a dimension of beauty  belonging to the African American race. Dreads emphasize the coarse, curly texture that makes Black hair so unique. More than any other hairstyle out there, I would say dreadlocks seem to embrace "naptural" textures. I'm sure that many would agree there is something beautifully stunning about a headdress of long (or short!) dreadlocks. So why is it that when non-Blacks, and more specifically White people, decide to lock their hair, they get a different reaction?

Not to be offensive to any White people who have begun or are thinking of beginning a rasta hair journey, but more often than not, it seems like people aren't so fond of the idea of dreadlocks on non-Blacks. I hear a lot of, "it looks messy," or "only Black people can pull off dreads." There seems to be this idea that White dreads seem unnatural or forced. But when we make these critiques, are we genuinely saying that White dreads look bad, or are we more simply and instinctively rejecting an image headbutting the "norm" that's been established for us?

The idea of more-typically White characteristics being the Western standard of beauty is a concept I've heard of often. It's also an idea that is hard to dispute. When you look at media and fashion, it becomes pretty evident that straight and wavy hair are what make it on screen. Maybe you'll find "tousled" and curly looks every now and then, but they'll be limited to defined curls (think Taylor Swift) and absolutely no frizz! It is true that over time, racial representations in mainstream media have inched closer to reality, but even considering the progress, media representations are still no where near accurate representations of the American population. When you look at Black women whose faces are present in the movies and TV shows, how many of them wear their hair natural? Close to none. There's a reason why Beyonce, Zoe Saldana, Tyra Banks, Lauren London, Oprah...(the list goes on) rarely ever wear their hair in its natural state, and it probably has a lot to do with the American standard of beauty.

So here is the real question. Straightening Black hair and wearing wigs and weaves are equally as "unnatural" (well, actually more unnatural than) locking White hair, right?  So why is it that heads turn when Whites resort to typically Black hairstyles, but when Blacks resort to typically White hairstyles, nothing feels too out of the ordinary?

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Admittedly, I've had the thought before that only Black people can really pull of dreads. But, lately I've been noticing more and more dreads on non-Blacks around campus, and I've begun to pick up on something I was missing before. People, Whites and Blacks included, are beginning to see something ideal in frizz and to see beauty in texture.

It feels as though Black women are especially affected by White American beauty standards. Black women actually purchase 80% more cosmetic products annually than do general market women (I'm probably in there somewhere, too). Some say that the yearning for straighter hair could be traced back to before Black civil rights. Straighter hair or looser curls implied being mixed, having traces of Caucasian blood. During and shortly after slavery, relations with White people could have been seen as a sign of status, and straighter hair then, could have been seen as more prestigious. Wherever the de-texturized ideal came from, I would say it's made many people feel negatively towards their textured or curly hair as if it is ugly or unwanted.

White dreads prove them wrong. Now, textured hair is becoming something fashionable. People are recognizing the beauty of Black hair. Not only is the general public becoming more tolerant of natural Black hair, in the sense that more women are embracing their natural textures (and now you may even spot an afro or two in corporate America), but White people are actually going out of their way to achieve Black hair textures. We're experiencing a cross pollination of racial differences. Now, the envy goes both ways. Despite any stigma against dreaded White hair, I find something very positive in them. Maybe as Rastafarians see divinity in Africa, the general public is starting to see beauty in Black hair texture. White dreads seem radiant of racial tolerance and appreciation. I think I kind of like them.


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1 comment:

  1. Is this the new destination for your curly locks? I'd be tempted to join


Any insight?