Category Archives: On Beauty

Assimilated Beauty

by Guest Contributor Lisa Leong, originally published on the AZN Television blog

“That’s colonialism all over your face!”

The quote is from one of my favorite Asian American Studies professors on eyelid surgery, nose bridge implants, and any other kind of cosmetic surgery that transforms Asians physical features into more Caucasian ones. She meant that there is one standard of beauty—the Western one—that gets imprinted on our faces, our bodies, and our senses of self.

It’s easy to see that the Western ideal of blond-haired, blue-eyed, All-American (or Ayran, if you’re more sinister) beauty is the dominant standard. Look no further than the all-present world of popular media. Advertisements, TV, and movies glorify beautiful faces, but these beautiful faces don’t look anything like me—or you, probably. Every billboard says, “This is Beauty, and you are not quite it. Envy my bag, my hair, my look and my, uh, eyelids.”

Racialized plastic surgery is a popular topic on talk shows like Tyra and Montel. They raise the question: does eyelid surgery erase or enhance race? The audience nods along in agreement that eyelid surgery is a way for Asians to conform to white prettiness. The plastic surgeon and his patients say that they are just enhancing Asian looks. I may not have big, round eyes, but I can see perfectly well what’s going on here. Continue reading

Nappily Ever After? Not Quite…

by Latoya Peterson

*Warning: Strong Language*

Regular readers might remember a piece I wrote a year or so ago, called Hair, Apparently. In the piece I wrote about an incident where I felt like someone had insinuated I was a “house nigga” because my hair was straightened with a chemical relaxer.

The piece sparked an interesting conversation in the comments and I was comforted by the reactions by most of the readers – do you and let it be done. The overwhelming consensus was your hair is your hair and you should be able to do with it what you please. (Should is the operative word, but more on that later.)

However, a lot of time has passed since then. In the interim, I read Tami’s piece (the original version of the piece posted here), started reading Afrobella’s blog regularly, and watched as my friend Spiffany transitioned from chemical relaxers to a beautiful and natural do. I admired what people could do with their naturals, but never felt motivated to do it myself.

Yet, Tami posed a little question in her original piece that always stuck in my mind.

Earlier this year, a fellow blogger very smartly observed that black women may be the only race of women who live their whole lives never knowing what their real hair looks and feels like. Think about that.

I was one of those women. Aside from a happy little puffball photo from the fifth grade* and a couple of shots of me with pressed hair, I had a relaxer for as long as I could remember. And that question stayed with me, for the next six or so months until I had my third Catastrophic Relaxer DisasterTM and found myself bald at my temples and missing a big chunk of hair from the back of my head.

From that day on, I was like “Fuck it – I’m letting it grow.”

And so it has. Today, I’ve been relaxer free for more than a year. My hair is fully natural – I cut out the last of the chemically straightened hair six months ago and haven’t really looked back. I love my hair now, love everything it does, how it looks, all that.

But it occurs to me that this was strange journey for me. Navigating transitioning my hair out was never really about my hair – it was about notions of societal influence, beauty, intra-group standards, cultural conditioning, and asserting my own personality. It was about my hair as a political battleground – where people read the pattern of my stands like tea leaves, trying to divine my personality and political views. It was about everything except what I actually wanted to do – which was stop relaxing my hair and wear a new style.

While I scoured all the pro-natural sites on the net for advice, all I learned were new styles. No one told me how to cope with the transition itself. Everyone cuts to the happy – “You’ll love yourself! You’re free from chemicals!” speech, but no one really talks about how tough that road is to walk. So, let’s look at a few of the things we tend to gloss over when we talk about natural hair.


The Influence of Men and the Perception of Attractiveness

Let’s start with the outside influence aspect of things. About two weeks out from the Catastrophic Relaxer Disaster,TM I was hanging out with my friend KJ, the natural haired friend I referred to in the first piece. Artfully rocking a cap and a long bang to cover my bald spot, I excitedly told her my decision – I was switching to natural hair.

She stopped fumbling through earrings and looked up at me, face locked in a hesitant expression.

“What did your boyfriend say?” she asked carefully. Continue reading

Nappy love: Or how I learned to stop worrying and embrace the kinks

by Guest Contributor Tami, originally published on What Tami Said*

My hair is nappy. It is coarse and thick. It grows in pencil-sized spirals and tiny crinkles. My hair grows out, not down. It springs from my head like a corona. My hair is like wool. You can’t run your fingers through it, nor a comb. It is impenetrable. My hair is rebellious. It resists being smoothed into a neat bun or pony tail. It puffs. Strands escape; they won’t be tamed. My hair is nappy. And I love it.

Growing up, I learned to covet silky, straight hair; “bouncing and behaving” hair; Cheryl Tiegs and Christie Brinkley hair. But as a young black girl, my appearance was far from the American ideal. Making my hair behave meant hours wriggling between my grandmother’s knees as she manipulated a hot comb through my thick, kinky mane. The process stretched my tight curls into hair I could toss and run my fingers through, something closer to the “white girl hair” that so many black girls admired and longed to possess.

My beautiful, straightened hair came at a price. It meant ears burned by slipped hot combs and scars from harsh chemicals. It meant avoiding active play and swimming pools, lest dreaded moisture make my hair “go back.” It meant having a relaxer eat away at the back of my long hair until barely an inch was left. It meant subtly learning that my natural physical attributes were unacceptable.

I was not alone in my pathology. Pressing combs, relaxers, weaves and the quest to hide the naps are part of the fabric of black beauty culture. It is estimated that more than 75 percent of black women straighten their hair. In the book “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America,” Ayanna Byrd and Lori Tharps write: “Before a black child is even born, relatives speculate over the texture of hair that will cover the baby’s head, and the loaded adjectives “good” and “bad” are already in the air.” In the same book, a New York City dancer named Joicelyn explains: “Good hair is that silky black shit that them Indian girls be havin’…Good hair is anything that’s not crazy-ass woolly, lookin’ like some pickaninny out the bush.” Too often, black women find their hair hatred supported by media, men and the rest of the mainstream. Continue reading