Textured Hair & Society

Written on: Oct 28, 2018
By: Shari Hicks-Graham

There have been more Hollywood film projects focused on the stories of women of color over the last decade.  One subject that has recently been highlighted is the challenging relationship that women of color have with mainstream American culture, particularly as it relates to hairstyle choice. Nappily Ever After, directed by Haifaa al-Mansour and starring Sanaa Lathan, is the most recent film that I have seen in this category. While the message and the story are by no means new, I felt there were valuable themes and of course, as a dermatologist, some points were particularly notable! Warning: Consider this the last sentence you can read before running the risk of spoiling the movie.

In Hollywood, natural hair tends to be a metaphor for authenticity - it’s not. Sanaa Lathan’s character, Violet, is a perfectionist when it comes to her appearance. However, her desire to be perfect came at the expense of truly understanding herself and living authentically. It was clear that she was raised to be “perfect,” and no matter what, her behavior had to match this goal of perfection. The ideal image was also expressed in her hairstyle choice - long, straight, flowing...exactly how her mother loved it. Let me be clear, I do not think that you have to wear your hair in its natural state in order to be true to oneself. Hairstyles may be as simple or as complex as individuals wish them to be. Straight or curly, processed, or natural, it’s your decision. Hairstyle choice is deeply personal and we should not be penalized in any way for how we choose to wear our hair. However, many women have expressed concerns about feeling stigmatized in the workplace for wearing natural or braided styles. There have been many reports in the news about television anchors or women in the corporate environment feeling as if they could not rock hairstyles that could be perceived as “too ethnic.”  The world’s realities are tough, but at the end of the day, the only thing we can control are our own choices. If we are confident about our own standards of beauty and project this confidence as a result, hairstyle choice will become less of an issue. As a dermatologist, my focus is to encourage what’s healthy for the skin, hair, and your body overall. It’s my job to meet you where you are to help if styling choices are becoming unhealthy for the hair or scalp.

His scalp massage game? The most sensual scene in the film was...the scalp massage in the park. A scalp massage?! YES. Well, if you’ve ever had one, you know! Beyond how good a massage feels, it is also really beneficial to scalp health. Scalp massages can relieve stress, especially when paired with a solid scalp care product routine. This practice may assist in relieving dermatitis flare-ups, which can be exacerbated by stress. Gentle scalp massages stimulate blood flow and oxygen-carrying blood cells help heal and rejuvenate the skin from within. Some of the worst cases of dermatitis that I see are a result of simply ignoring the basics of scalp care. If we don’t routinely apply moisturizer on our arms and legs, how do we look and feel? To help prevent and alleviate bothersome scalp conditions it is good practice to incorporate massage into your daily or weekly self-care regimen. We recommend using a scalp massage technique when shampooing and conditioning your hair with LivSo products. Who knows, maybe someone special can help you out! It makes a difference.

The big chop. Although my decision to cut off my hair was under very different circumstances and less dramatic than the long scene in the film, it was a major decision and it was a bit emotional. Women and girls often feel pressure to fit into certain molds of femininity but if you ask me, Sanaa did not lose an ounce of her beauty with her cropped hairstyle and I’m very happy with my own decision to take the big chop!

Hollywood still has a long way to go with amplifying diverse imagery and storytelling but I am encouraged by the progress that has been made over the last decade. We are not a monolithic group that can be defined by our choice of hairstyle or anything else. All we can do is support each other in our decisions and practice good health so we can live long and strong in our own skin!

Live free and clear,