Tiffany from Insecure, Olivia Pope from Scandal, Queen from Harlem…these characters are the same, except for the breadth of the hair. Rich, famous, sexy… these black women wear sleek hair. Symbolism is far from trivial in representations.
One of the things I enjoyed on TikTok was following the hashtag #BlackWomenLuxury. Truth be told, the app’s algorithm is so good that I don’t know if I actually chose to consume this content or if the app itself decided to feed me, whether I liked it or not.
Vacations in the midwinter sun, fancy bags, designer shoes, star-studded restaurants, modern cars: no detail escapes the videos collected under this hashtag, which recreates the lives of rich and sexy black heroines. Our favorite series, like Tony from girlfriends or TiffanyUnsafe. And that, even the ends of their hair, which is always…smooth and shiny. The reason: straightening (a chemical process that strongly alters the texture of Afro hair), iron or Brazilian straightening (which can also damage Afro hair) or wigs (most of the time expensive).
The reasons for wearing this hair like this when you are a black woman are varied. The main factor is to save time, because frizzy hair requires special attention to styling. On TikTok, the trend has been so widespread that an African American tiktoker answering @tylersimonexo has noticed, like me, the absence of natural hair in this type of very ambitious videos. “You can still be feminine and luxurious and rock your crown,” Can we read under the photos of the netizen with the afro which are more than 200,000 views. With that simple phrase, tylersimonexo puts his finger on a mechanism that is ubiquitous in pop culture.
A trend between aesthetics and stereotypes
In the ’90s and early 2000s, every black star worth their salt wore sleek hair. wigs and lace wigs (a wig with tulle to mimic the scalp) It was on everyone’s head, from Lil’ Kim to Beyoncé via Naomi Campbell or Aaliyah. Whereas natural hair, curly and/or frizzy, was as rare as the white merle. why ? Simply because in an industry dominated by whites, they often have to meet Western beauty standards that reside in femininity in long, sleek hair.
On the contrary, Afro hair is perceived as wild, dirty and masculine. Racial stereotypes that persist and can unfortunately be incorporated by those who are victims of them. Since 2010, these dictates have been the impetus for natural hair movement In the United States, then the nappy movement (normal contraction and happy) in France. He encourages black women to reclaim their identity by advocating a return to natural hair. With this momentum, black women’s blogs and YouTube channels are booming on the web, the purpose of which is to share tips on how to take better care of them. Essential mutual help when you know how little French hairdressers know anything about it.
Popular black women have straight hair
These rules and stereotypes are also present in our series. Black female characters are portrayed as wealthy and/or famous and often sexy with straight hair. whether it is normal or not. For example, in girlfriends, a popular ’90s series starring Tracee Ellis Ross, we find the unforgettable Tony (Gil Marie Jones), a cocky, materialistic, and greedy real estate agent. Throughout the plot, the spectator learns that his way of being is the result of his childhood being embraced by an alcoholic mother. Then we understand that she is doing everything to restore her confidence. This also involves incorporating high-end circles where smooth hair is required to be accepted more easily.
The fate of Coco (Antoinette Robertson) in the series Dear eggs It is almost the same. Growing up amid the slum violence of Chicago, she does everything to get away from her past. In particular by joining a group of white students instead of dating his childhood friend, Samantha (Logan Browning), who wears locks.
This arrogance also reminds us of what happened at Tiffany (Amanda Sells) in Unsafe. With her fake blonde hair, she shows a bourgeois position in her organized life. Standing in contrast to that of her friend Issa De (Issa Ray), a stunt bankrupt who is still trying to find something to do with her life. This woman is clearly wearing her natural hair. A television revolution because she is the main character in the series.
Even recently, we found a similar character in Harlem, Amazon Prime series, with actress Grace Gilly as Quinn, a fashion designer who owns a luxury apartment that her parents paid for. She takes Angie (Shunekwa Shundai, who wears an afro), because she doesn’t have enough money to afford accommodation.
Curly or braided, afro hair is always discriminated against
Physical appearance has always made it possible to determine our belonging to a social status, in addition to being a factor of integration. Already in the 1960s, when wearing a wig was synonymous with hiring black women, because they could not always perform the buns required by their employer, historian Afia Mbelicaka explains in an article for the feminine InStyle. Since then, the price of wigs has risen to at least 200 euros. Suffice it to say that not everyone can afford it.
Moreover, we note that the smooth-haired black personalities mentioned above all have successful professional careers or a comfortable life. In France, black women spend more than white women on average, €80 per month, according to a study by the AK-A communications agency cited in this article by media Maddyness. It’s also because their looks are under constant scrutiny…
Think of our dear Olivia Pope, seductive PR expert scandal, played by Kerry Washington. A person evolving in the political world would have been A completely different figure if she was wearing her natural hair. To make it happen, just take a look at the experience of US actress Ayanna Pressley, who is categorized as an activist because of her flips, the famous twisted hairstyle… who then revealed her alopecia areata in an animated video. Note that Michelle Obama managed to escape thanks to her sleek hair.
The same goes for Annalize Keating, played by excellent Viola Davis in killing. Because, by merging with the audience, they represent respect, professionalism and strength, because they look like the hair of a dominant. As if the smooth hair is uniform like power suit business woman.
Afro hair and not “professional”?
To understand this, Google’s algorithm helps us. The search engine categorized black women with afro-haired in photos depicting “unprofessional hairdressing”. That’s why, at this very moment across the Atlantic, the Senate is studying the Crown Act (shortcut for creating a respectable and open world for natural hair). A law already in place in California, outlawed racial discrimination for Afro hair. In 2020, a study from Duke University revealed that black women with natural hair, locks or braids, were less likely to get a job interview than straight-haired women.
So yeah, these series characters are awesome. Only, the representation they show perpetuates the idea that afro hair is neither sexy nor professional. Even worse, they will appear rude. This is what we can especially see in this series killing By Shonda Rhimes in which the heroine, an alcoholic lawyer with multiple traumas, wears a soft wig when all goes well, only to reveal her natural hair on screen when she takes a heavy hit.
the same from the sideUnsafeTiffany’s woven hair only appears for the first time on the day that signs of postpartum depression appear. Fortunately, we can count on Issa Ray, the creatorUnsafe, To shake these cliches. In the final season of her show, Molly (Yvonne Orji), another wealthy and sexy lawyer, decides to do big chops and show off her curls, only when she brings her life together to focus on herself better.
Oddly enough, Issa Dee’s best friend joins a new wave of black female characters who aren’t rich in sleek hair, but rather are smart and intelligent. diapersStarring Maggie Pierce (Kelly McCreary) from instinct anatomySundy (Corbin Reed) from run the world Or Yaz (Nana Mansah) from managers. On the red carpet, African American stars no longer hesitate to take a photo with African hair. In 2021, actress Lupita Nyong’o walked the steps of the Met Gala with woven accessories. In the same year, director Michaela Cowell won the Emmy Awards with her short hair. While Issa Ray preferred a braided bun. Change is happening in Hollywood!
In 2021, Miss France continues to slay afro hair without any shame