UWO Sisterhood talks “natural hair”

Laura Dickinson, Managing Editor

Many African-American females at UW Oshkosh experience pressures like chemically straightening their hair, searching for a local hair salon and having strangers touch their hair, which was discussed at the In Our Heads About Our Hair panel discussion.

Due to societal mainstream beauty standards, many African-American women believe they must succumb to beauty norms to achieve success in business and relationships, according to the documentary “In Our Heads About Our Hair,” presented by the UWO Women’s Center.

The documentary, shown at Reeve Memorial Theater on Feb. 26, featured African-American women who embraced and questioned natural hair and discussed why they wear their hair the way they do. The film was followed by a panel discussion with members of UWO’s Sisterhood.

The film’s main focus was about “natural hair,” which is the term for African-American or black hair that has not been altered by chemical straighteners, including relaxers and texturizers. African-American women shared their thoughts about the history, their identity and their perspective about their natural hair throughout the film.

While the film was centered around celebrating natural hair, many women in the film said they feel like they will not have success in a career if they show up to an interview with natural hair.

UWO senior Alexis Brown said she has resorted to wearing her hair in a straight style for an interview, like many of the women in the film.
“I am currently a student in the College of Business, and I am hoping to get a job in the corporate world after graduation,” Brown said. “I have already had my internship, which at the internship interview I did wear my hair in a straight style.”

Brown said she wore her hair that way because of advice from her mother.

“[My mother talked] about professionalism in a predominantly white world or just a predominantly white institution,” Brown said. “You need to look the part of what professional would look like to someone else.”

Brown said after wearing her hair straight to the interview, she became more comfortable to show her style in the office.

“Slowly after the interview I wore my hair in box springs and whatever hairstyle I wanted to wear,” Brown said.

UWO senior Imani Ware said she is going to have a career in politics and women in politics are already judged when it comes to their clothes and their looks.

“I always keep that in mind just as I am looking at things after school,” Ware said. “How I am going to wear my hair, how people are going to judge me for wearing my hair, what are news reporters going to say about me wearing my hair natural are all things I think about.”

The film explored what it means to African American women when they cut off their chemically-altered hair and revert back to their natural hair. Ware said she recently did the “big chop” like the women in the film.

“When I did do it, I had good comments, I had negative comments,” Ware said. “Some people said I looked like a little boy, some people said ‘you’re bald,’ so I got all theses different comments.”

Ware said even her parents were taken a bit back when she got her hair cut.

“Sometimes your parents are your worst critics, even though I love them dearly,” Ware said. “I literally cried when my dad was like, ‘what did you do to your hair?’ I told him it was going to grow back, it’s just hair.”

Ware said she appreciated the experience of cutting her hair short, and would recommend it for anyone.

“I think that is something that all women should do because when you cut your hair and you actually see how people react to you, it is a totally different experience and that really goes for any race of people.” Ware said.

The city of Oshkosh has just opened the first beauty shop where African-American women can get their hair done within the last year, according to panelist and UWO student Ronisha Howard.

“Before that, you would have to drive up to Appleton,” Howard said. “Which if you didn’t have a car, like I didn’t have one, you would have to take the bus which took a long time.”

One of the topics brought up in the discussion was when people touch a person’s hair without asking. Howard said even if she asks kindly for someone not to touch her hair, some people don’t understand why she doesn’t want them to touch her hair.

“I try to remind myself that not everyone has the same hair type as me and I try to answer their questions,” Howard said.
Brown said her stance on hair touching is very simple; she is a “pro-do-not-touch-my-hair type of person.”

“If you have questions about me or my hair, I am more than willing to answer without you invading my bubble,” Brown said.

Brown has had experiences where strangers were playing with her hair, without asking her.

“[While studying abroad] I had my hair in box braids, and we were sitting in this lecture pit and since the braids were longer, I couldn’t feel right away when someone was touching the ends,” Brown said. “My friend sitting next to me was like, ‘turn around,’ and I saw this girl just playing with my hair.”

Going forward, Brown said she identifies as a young, black queen and hopes to thrive in the future with any hair decision she makes.

“That is something I for sure get here on campus and I have received it in the professional world,” Brown said. “There has never been an instance for me where I didn’t get a job because of wearing my hair in a different manner, but if something like that were to happen in the future, I would be pretty upset.”