Ben Arogundade, a London-based author and creative director, explores the new rules when it comes to ethnic beauty.
This is an exciting time for black beauty. Black women all over the world are discussing their hair and beauty choices as a result of the so-called natural hair revolution that is sweeping across many parts of America. Over 10 years ago, I wrote a book called Black Beauty, which tried to make sense of the history of different black aesthetic styles and the way they have been received within this culture. With so much exciting debate going on right now, I decided to draft my own personal manifesto for the 10 new rules of black beauty.
1. Action, not hair, is what makes you black
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. remains our best example of this. The ultimate signifier of his blackness was not his hair, features or skin colour, but his words and deeds.
2. All hair and hairstyles are good
Providing you choose them for yourself, rather than through any forms of pressure or coercion, from family, friends, haters or society.
3. Know your black hair history
Knowing the cultural history behind the hairstyle you choose empowers your choices. For example, for those who wear wigs or weaves, this type of adornment dates back over 5,000 years to ancient Egypt, where they were worn for ceremonial occasions, and as sun protectors.
4. Know your own hair history
For many black women, their preference for straight hair is driven by bad childhood memories of being teased and tormented at school about their natural hair, or being made to feel insecure by parents who insisted on the hot comb or hair relaxer. Understanding your own psychological back-story, and the way it has influenced your choices today, is fundamental, thereby raising one’s consciousness from ‘choice’ to ‘informed choice’.
5. Understand who controls black beauty today
They are media owners, magazine and newspaper publishers, advertisers, cosmetics manufacturers, Hollywood producers, directors, casting agents, etc. If you translate this list into people, those in charge consist predominantly of white men. It is they who control what images of blackness are disseminated through the global media. This is not a bad thing in itself, if these men have an expansive view of black aesthetic diversity, but mostly they don’t. To a greater or lesser degree, we are all influenced, conditioned, some might say even brainwashed, by their decisions.
6. Black men – be more supportive
The black Nationalists of the civil rights era chastised African American women who didn’t give up their processed hair during the aesthetic revisionism of the 1960s. Today’s black men should support black women in their aesthetic choices, whatever they may be. They should be more empathetic and less chastising.
7. End black-on-black hair conflict
Black women are under attack again, only this time from each other. Curly against straight, natural against processed. The two styles are billed in opposition to one another – like a face-off between a pair of heavyweight boxers – always with the word ‘VERSUS’ separating them. In reality there is no reason why these two styles should not co-exist in harmony, with both factions accepting, instead of attacking the other. These feuds are divisive, and distract black women from life’s more important battles.
8. All hair has meaning, and yet no meaning
All hair is subject to interpretation, and this will never change. Whatever someone’s personal reason for adopting a particular style, others may view that choice differently. Black women get judged over their hair, but then so do blondes, redheads and women with shaved heads. From this perspective, hair will forever be political and apolitical simultaneously.
9. Perceived meanings can’t be trusted
Reverting to natural hair is often talked about alongside adjectives such as ‘self-acceptance’, ‘freedom’ and ‘political awareness’. But these terms could just as easily apply to a black woman with a blonde weave, who chooses her style while being fully ‘aware’. All assumptions based on aesthetics alone must be outlawed.
10. Keep salon culture alive
Whether hair is natural or processed, black women enjoy the ritual of getting their hair professionally done in a salon. Not only are they also valued meeting places for chat and gossip, but they also support a large multi-ethnic community of hair care professionals who rely on their patronage.
Originally written by Ben Arogundade, this article appeared in Stylelist.com