Serena Williams’ natural hair

7 July 2012

I’m having my own breakfast at Wimbledon and finally putting to webpage something I’ve marveled at for the whole tournament: Serena Williams’ beautiful natural hair.

You’ll excuse me if I see this as a statement. A growing number of Black women have chosen to reject the plethora of hair straightening products and treatments in favor of natural hair lately — a choice that isn’t necessarily easy. The artist Zina Saro-Wiwa recently talked about her own transition to natural hair and the strange emotional ambivalence that accompanied giving up on forms of Black hair that you’ve been told are more beautiful. It’s hard to give up the sense that one’s own hair is somehow … in need of alteration.

If white women have their own madness around hair, Black women experience those crazy emotions about their hair as all the more aggravating. Despite the ascendance of the Afro in the 70s, many Black women can’t escape the feeling that their natural hair is ugly, frizzy, and unmanageable — and they’re willing to undergo all manner of chemical treatments to straighten it or achieve soft waves.

Given that many have had lifetimes of hair-straightening treatments, what would it take to chop it all off and start over with natural hair? What would that hair look like if you just let it go?

So after years of great and distinctive ‘dos each year from the Williams sisters (this year Venus sports very long braids, which she often ties into an elegant bun), I have to gush about Serena’s natural hair. Is it a political statement about Black women’s beauty? I’m not sure it matters whether Serena intended it that way — in our era with the ever-proliferating chemical industrial complex that profits from women’s insecurity about their appearance, Serena sporting long, beautiful natural hair can’t help but say something important to fans.

I say yes.

16 Responses to “Serena Williams’ natural hair”

  1. Didion,
    Great post! I hate that we, as a community, have put such horrible pressure on black women to change their hair. It has been my experience that people’s natural hair is always the most beautiful.

    • Didion Says:

      Of course we do — because for centuries whites have gotten a big charge out of comparing Black women to white and finding them lacking. And it’s awfully profitable to get women into those chairs at a salon.

      But as much as I’m with you on the natural hair thing, I can’t remember the last time I talked to a woman — Black or white — who likes her hair as it is. Too many grey hairs; too thick and frizzy; too thin and lifeless; too curly; too heavy. Hair is a crazy, emotional thing — and a private shame. Hair is crazy.

      • You are so absolutely right–Hair is Crazy! Even as I was typing my comment, I was aware of my issues. I have very curly (Jew-fro and very gray hair) that I straighten everyday. The one qualitative difference is that I put that pressure on myself, rather than a larger societal pressure. As always, I love reading your blog. Are you really there at Wimbledon right now? I’m envious.

      • Didion Says:

        Oh heavens no — I’m sitting with a bowl of granola in front of my tv! But I love the idea of having my own breakfast at Wimbledon … and if only mine also includes strawberries and cream.

        Yup, hair is so strange, considering how many ads try to play on the fantasy that it might be effortlessly gorgeous and camera-ready. All those commercials in which some asshole with long, shiny, straight hair tosses it and lets it wave in front of the camera… oh, the damage they’ve done to psyches everywhere!

      • I love that you are in front of your tv eating your breakfast watching the game. Yes, I have always wanted long straight blonde hair that would cascade down my back.

      • Didion Says:

        Who doesn’t want that? There was a girl in my 4th grade class with that hair, and I used to just stare at it.

    • Dienna Says:

      And black people can be just as bad to other black people when it comes to hair. It’s as if some are continuing what racist white people started.

      • Which makes me very sad!

      • Didion Says:

        And even when it’s not political — like when your mom says, “But your hair looked just like Sanaa Lathan’s in Something New when you had it treated that one time!” it feels fraught with years and years of people believing that natural Black hair is ugly.

        Hair is crazy! I can’t tell you how many times during my teens & 20s that I came home from the stylist with a cut and wanted to cry, it was so awful.

  2. Didion Says:

    Also, friends, check out this beautiful tumblr:

  3. Dienna Says:

    “Given that many have had lifetimes of hair-straightening treatments, what would it take to chop it all off and start over with natural hair? What would that hair look like if you just let it go?”

    Been there, done that. Years ago, I cut the damaged relaxed hair off and went natural, starting off with twists which grew into locs to my back. Two years ago, I cut the locs off to barely an inch of hair and dyed it red, and it’s grown out again and is now past the nape of my neck. The first time I cut my hair it hurt, but as I got used to cutting it off and starting over it was nothing.

  4. Adrienn Says:

    I do love my hair… as it’s been given. Is it that unusual?

  5. jkeys Says:

    As a woman who cut off all my permed hair and started from a small afro, I am glad to be rid of the painful and long days at the beauty salon. No longer do I put myself thru what others feel and myself felt was beautiful. It’s a transition even now. I have days where I love my tight curls and coils. Then there are days, I hate them, but I will never endure the burning sensations brought on by chemically relaxing my curls to be what society feels is beautiful. Thanks for writing this article!

  6. […] helmet of hair preoccupied so many bloggers last year. Perhaps because I’m a big fan of natural hair for Black women, I have read several other bloggers who yearn publicly for Michelle Obama to stop […]

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