Goodbye to "Good Hair": Six People Open Up to Allure About the Beauty and Diversity of Black Hair
Growing up as a black child in a Western country, it didn't take long for me to realize that society has some, well, views on black hair. In mainstream society, white women with so-called beach waves and straight, smooth strands are lauded as beautiful. Even within our own communities, toxic attitudes surrounding our hair linger — looser, glossier curls are oft represented as "goals," while undefined kinks are something to be creamed, gelled, and twisted until they clump into a totally different pattern.
The Perception Institute's 2017 "Good Hair" study suggests that “a majority of people, regardless of race and gender, hold some bias toward women of color based on their hair.” Fortunately, perceptions are changing: The number of women relaxing their hair is steadily declining, and stars like Lupita Nyong'oand Solange Knowles proudly rock their texture on the regular. But while things are shifting, it's at a sloth's pace — and that's why I tapped six people who are determined to swiftly kick those biases right in the butt.
Each subject boasts a different texture, and each possesses a unique relationship with their hair. As such, we wanted to showcase these individual experiences and styling preferences not only through the interviews but in the portraits captured by photographer Quil Lemons, too. "I didn't want to go far away from each model's personal hairstyles," explains Seto McCoy, who styled models' hair for this shoot. "I wanted to enhance it and let them be free in their element." Even as mainstream society grapples with accepting black hair, we wanted to show our subjects embracing theirs without shame — no matter what they chose to do with it.
Gabrielle Richardson, 23
Model and Artist
"Even at a young age, I could tell the difference when someone was treating me a certain way when I had my hair in a natural style, versus when I had it straight," Richardson told Allure as the manicurist buffed her nails. "You can definitely hear the coded language — how someone talks to you, even as a child. Someone is telling you the way you look is unkempt."
"That's a very woeful ignorance [to] ignore the history and the struggle of what that black woman, in particular, had to go through," says Richardson. "In New Orleans, they made a lot of black women cover their hair at one time. We had to struggle just to be able to legally wear our hair how we want."
Ebonee Davis, 25
Model, Actress, and Activist
One thing many former members of the relaxer club can tell you is that once you go natural, you begin to learn the full spectrum of styling possibilities for your hair. Braids, twists, locs, fluffy updos, blowouts — there is just so much to choose from. But thanks to the prevalence of sleeker textures in our culture, many people, even folks who do hair for a living, aren't aware of all the options. "Sometimes I'll go to set and hairdressers will say, 'Oh, your hair's already done,'" Davis shares. "I usually have it in a wash-and-go. They'll say, 'There's not much we can do,' and I'm like, there's so much we can do. There are so many options. It's like architecture. You just have to know how to get in there and work with it."
"The world is created with whiteness as the standard, the baseline for everything," Davis says. "When whiteness is the standard, anything outside of that is going to be seen as weird or inadequate. You're programming people to believe that the way that they're born, the way that they move through the world, the way that they look, their appearance — everything about them is inferior or inadequate."
Mikelle Street, 27
For Mikelle, embracing his hair was all about expressing himself. "Since I was really young, I've known that I should have long hair. I just didn't know what it would look like, how I could have long hair and be a guy and that be OK," he tells Allure. "Locs were not on my brain at the time."
"Needless to say, I did not cut my hair — she's still long," he assures me. "But that was the moment that I really had to confront the idea that there are specific ways that black people can have hair and be [seen as] acceptable to [certain groups of people]."