Black and Beautiful

By Stephanie Ambroise

I was sitting in one of the dining commons one day when a young woman who was black like me, came in and handed me a card. This card was an advertisement card for a beauty salon in Amherst. This salon was offering hair extensions, braids, perms and hair straightening. I looked at the card indifferently until a couple of moments later; I noticed she had given the same card to another young black woman, just like she did me. Within seconds of observing the other girl who had just gotten the same advertisement card, I came to notice that other than being black, this girl also had natural hair, just like I did. The entire experience stayed with me, unnerving my spirit for months, and I couldn’t figure out why. Then it hit me, and it was the painful realization of the hatred that was happening within my own race, towards my own race.

With a dominant definition of beauty – both hair and facial features being associated with people who are of European descent, there isn’t much wiggle room available for other definitions of beauty. Most, if not all, commercials related to hair care show women with straight, sleek and silky hair waving her head around in slow motion. There’s even a hair-coloring commercial with Beyoncé in it, where she is with two other women, all with straight sleek hair. Beyoncé’s hair is also straight – and blonde.

Everywhere we look, the black minority is surrounded by advertisements, both on the television screen and on billboards of how their hair should look, how they should wear it, etc. Whether or not this information is coming from another white person or another black person, it still has the same effect. Images frequently advertised as beautiful which display a projection of desirable looks are the styles consumers will lean towards, whether or not it’s representative of their own race. Advertising straight hair as symbolic of beauty makes Afro-American hair, which grows curly or kinky, appear incorrect or undesirable. That which is projected as beautiful is likely going to be what most others are also going to see as beautiful. The voice and the way of the dominant culture is the voice that is said to be the correct, true and beautiful way – while others are simply deviations from these standards.

This ideal is beginning to change, though. More and more black women are now choosing their own definition of beauty apart from what the majority has to say. Looking around, one can see many women rocking their natural hair, and wearing it in many different styles, ranging from big and flowy afros, to small and growing afro-puffs. Choosing to represent the look of our own culture and the way our hair looks natural and accepting this image as being beautiful is a big and important step. Saying no to an ideal held by the majority, holding your own head covered with your natural hair high, and saying “Yes, this and I am beautiful” is in turn a beautiful and powerful thing. There were women like Erykah Badu and India Arie who had gotten the memo about this revolution years before, but it is refreshing and empowering to see more and more people catching up to this new ideal.

Being offered the card at the cafeteria was not as offensive as it was unnerving. What I do with my hair is my choice, the same as if someone wants to have their hair braided or permed, or straight and blonde like Beyoncé. Everyone has a choice with what they do with their hair based on what makes them personally comfortable or what most represents who they are. In being handed that card, the girl was telling me that this was how I should be wearing my hair. That my hair should be braided or straightened, or permed, not frizzy, big and afro-like, the way I was wearing it.

I’m looking forward to the day where everyone begins to wear their hair the way they want to and not the way that they believe they should. The quest to be “beautiful” is a challenging one, and finding beauty in the way you are and what you have is a wonderful end to such a journey. I await the day when the minorities of this culture can feel ok with wearing their hair the way it is naturally, feeling comfortable with it. It will be a day when we can finally say, “I am black, this is my hair, and it is beautiful.”

Stephanie Ambroise is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected].