Saw Good Hair over the weekend, a documentary with comedian Chris Rock exploring the previously (and to some, still) taboo subject of African American hair.
I went in to the film with the notion that a black woman's choice to relax her hair or wear a weave is no different than a white woman's choice to bleach, dye, or style her hair--both are cosmetic choices made by the individual and influenced by cultural norms. Black women use harmful chemicals to adhere to an image of beauty held by society, just as white women use chemicals to do the same. Some claim that the harm in black women doing this is present because they are trying to be something they're not. Or to prescribe to a standard of beauty not set by themselves.
But guess what? This is not a black thing. This is true of all women's fashion and beauty standards, regardless of color.
I felt going in to this film that a black woman's decision to do anything to her own hair is something that she cannot and should not be judged on. And especially not by men. For all women, in a fashion, utilize chemicals in some form to enhance their appearance. Relaxer is made up of harmful and dangerous chemicals. But so are all standard cosmetics -- makeup, gloss, bleach, dyes, nail polish/removal. This is the state of feminine beauty. Hell, male beauty too, if you're too be honest. Unless you don't wear cologne, deodorant, after-shave, skin lotion, or use toothpaste, mouthwash, contact lenses, etc.
So, yes, I went in holding these opinions. And I left the movie . . . feeling EXACTLY the same way!
Watching Bad Hair did not give me any new insight into black women's hair I didn't already know. I live with a black woman, after all. If anything, it only reinforced what I strongly believed: that what a woman does with her own body is her own decision.
It's a knee-jerk reaction--and not just by black men, but some black women as well--that women who relax their hair or wear weaves are doing so to "look white." But this is unfair and over simplifying the situation. After all, if black women are making their hair straight to adhere to a Caucasian sense of what is beautiful, then in turn white women are wearing eye-liner and blush to adhere to an ancient Egyptian standard of beauty.
I mean, how far back do you want to go? Feminine beauty has NEVER been about being natural. From the dawn of time it's been about enhancing what you have, and then taking it a step further and trying to look like something you're not. Something idealized.
This is the key word here: ideal.
Black women in America have developed a standard unique to themselves. Like it or not, this has been decided. It's a purely egotistical and chauvinistic slant held by men that women pretty themselves up to look good for men. Oh puleeeze! Black woman do not torture themselves under 5 hours of intense scalp burn just to compete with white women over black men. They do it to compete with themselves! Just as women's fashion has grown up around the concept of the "other" woman, and not men at all. Women are not stupid. They know they don't have to do much to attract a man's attention. That part is rather easy.
I say this because I've been reading a lot of opinionated male blogs in the week leading up to this film's release concerning the "woeful state" of black women and self identity. As if. Black women are stronger and more independent then ever. They don't need a man to tell them how to feel about themselves. They have that all under control, thank you very much.
The black hair industry is a booming, multi-billion dollar juggernaut. It's not going anywhere. The key, then, if you are a black man (or a white man such as myself), is to just accept it. Black women are not trying to look like white women. Has white fashion *influenced* black beauty? Sure it has. But so has Asian, Middle Eastern, and Indian fashion influenced women's beauty in general. Who are we kidding?
If you really want to get a debate about what Black Hair truly reveals, it's this disturbing revelation that the industry is being dominated by Asian entrepreneurs. How's that for a slap to the face? In the documentary, some of the black women and men Rock interviews express dismay that black people are not even "allowed" to run their own beauty supplies. This opens up a whole other can of worms I won't get into right now (that's probably another blog entry). Suffice to say my views are not what you might think, and that I lay full blame on black people themselves.
Anyway, I think this film was an amazing insight into a part of American culture not too many people are aware of. And not only among the white population, but within the African American community itself. And judging by the reaction of those in the audience with me, this film was received well by people of all backgrounds. I found just as many Caucasian, Hispanic and Asian women discussing the film with their friends afterwards as black women. It's that type of production, and it was done extremely well.
Check it out for yourself some time.