Since the early 1900s, Black women have had a fascination with their hair. More explicitly, they have had a fascination with straightening their hair. The need to be accepted by the majority class has caused them to do so. Though the image of straight hair as being better than coarse hair still hasn’t left the Black community, there has been a surge of non straight hairstyles since the nineteen sixties. Wearing more natural hairstyles, which ironically enough include weaves’ and hair extensions’ has been considered to be more empowered and more enlightened.
However, this image comes with a price, and though it appears the natural’ hairstyle movement has advanced Black women, it has actually set them back. The color of the ad is done in browns, earth tones. The signifier in this ad is the colorless sketch drawing of a woman that takes up one page of the two-page ad. She is a symbolic, versus an iconic sign, because the images that lead people to assume the picture is of a Black woman are learned, symbols such as thick lips’ and the way her hair looks, not straight lines, but dotted. The signified is a Black woman, with natural hair’, presumably pretty. The next part of the ad, and as equally important as the first, is on the second page. Large, in bold, is the word naturally’. Beneath it are the words “If citrus sheen fell on shimmering braids and soothing mist caressed short twists.
How lovely would that be?” It has the feel of a poem, and the different shades of brown add to the artistic feel of the page. The artistic feel is important, because it adds the idea of a woman with natural hair as being both bohemian and sophisticated. Beneath the poem’ is an introduction to the product.
It emphasizes the product’s natural ingredients, things that seem as though they would be better in a salad dressing than on one’s hair. However, these ingredients are important. First, the emphasis the naturalness’ of the product in turn emphasizes the natural state of the projected audience’s hair. Secondly, its use of Americanized products instead of typical African products (olive oil versus jojoba oil) separate this ad from the typical natural hair care product’ ads. This ad is geared towards a new type of Black woman, one who is more interested in a connection to spirituality and art than to Africa.
The actual value of this product is around four dollars and sixty-three cents, but the sign value is intelligence, connection to nature, spirituality, poetry and art. The model is drawn because a real life model would be perceived to be fake, air brushed, etc. The colorlessness of the drawing creates the scene of a universal Black woman. Also, the drawn picture doesn’t get into the light/dark color complex. The light/dark color complex is another ideological problem in the Black community. Lighter Blacks (especially women) were perceived to be more attractive, more intelligent, and more acceptable to the White community. Darker skinned Blacks were perceived to be the opposite. This was deposited upon the culture during the slave era.
Hair texture also became an issue within the Black community, as lighter, straighter hair was perceived to be nicer, and coarse, thick hair was perceived to be bad, ugly. The afro movement in the 60’s challenged this ideology. In the 60’s, natural hair’ meaning coarse and thick, began to signify intelligence, Black power, and resistance to the majority culture, overall enlightenment. This image was reborn in the late 1990s. Newer options for natural hairstyles and the increasing acceptance of dreadlocks reinitiated a type of anti chemically relaxed hair’ movement. Refusing to put chemicals’ in one’s hair (chemicals referring to those used to straighten one’s hair) meant refusing to cater to the slave mentality’ of light skinned, straight haired beauty.
However, the connection between natural hair’ and soulful, enlightened, etc, only works if one’s hair is naturally coarse. In an increasingly diverse Black community, many are born with naturally straight, or naturally curly hair. However, if they leave their hair in their natural state, they are still considered people who cater to the slave mentality. The actual product takes a small role in the ad. The sketched model and the word naturally’ exist on the bottle, which is how the ad is connected to the product.
Also, the product itself is another earthy’ shade, which helps enforce the all natural’ idea. Being an ad geared towards a Black audience, there are codes therein that the majority many not understand. These codes are braids’, twists’, sheen spray’ and natural beauty’. A Black American female will know that braids’ and twists’ are types of natural’ hairstyles. Sheen spray is also something known within the Black community.
It was first connected to the natural hairstyles in the 1960’s where it was referred to as afro sheen’. Since then, sheen has often been connected with natural hairstyles. Also, there is a decided lack of the word dreadlock’ in this ad. Instead, twists’ are used. Dreadlocks and twists are the same thing. However, the term dreadlock has been connected to oppressive White rule.
It is another cultural ideology that calling twists’ dreadlocks’ is falling into oppressive majority culture speech. It is cultural myth that British people considered dreadlocks dreadful, therefore named them accordingly. Unlike many other natural hair-care product ads, this ad is specifically geared towards women. It isn’t unisexual. On the bottle, shown in the ad, there is a thin woman gazing out into the distance, her body curved.
This is a new invention, and a rather interesting one, as Bordo explains in her article, Hunger as Ideology. “Arguable, a case could once be made for a contrast between White women’s obsessive relations with food and a more accepting attitude towards women’s appetites in African American communities. But in the nineties, features on diet, exercise and body-image problems have grown increasing prominentreflecting the cultural reality that for most women today free and easy relations with food are at best a relic of the past”.Earlier in this essay, I mentioned that the drawing was supposed to be of a woman, presumably pretty.
I myself was drawn into the thin is beautiful’ ideology unknowingly, as I immediately connected thinness with beauty. Until extremely recently, curvy bodies were considered attractive in the Black community, as compared to the thin, sickly’ looking White women bodies. Just as Wolf explains in her article The Beauty Myth, the farther women advance political and socially, the harsher the beauty myth is used against them. In this case, the punishment for rebelling against the majority culture by adapting a subversive’ hairstyle, the thinner you have to be in order to still be considered beautiful. Furthermore, thinness in the Black community is difficult to achieve. Typically, Black body structure, food and eating culture doesn’t easily result in thinness.
This is the price Black women pay for this new expression of self.The new face of Black feminine beauty comes with a price. It alienates nearly half of those in the culture that don’t fit the standard. While the hairstyle challenges the majority culture, the newfound search for thinness that comes with the hairstyles returns Black women to the confines of White beauty standards. The ideology that natural hairstyles bring enlightenment came from the Rastafarian tradition.
However, what new ads and cultural myth discount is the religious dimension that the Rastafarians placed on their hair. Natural hair doesn’t mean immediate spiritual or intellectual wisdom. What at first seems to be the advancement of Black women, shows the backwards regression of Black beauty.