Chris Rock’s 2009 documentary, “Good Hair”, brought attention to hair and ideas of beauty in the African American community.
According to a review by Ann Hornaday for The Washington Post, Rock was inspired to make the film after one of his young daughters asked why she didn’t have good hair.
“The concept of ‘good hair’ — which, simply put, has come to mean ‘the straighter the better’ in the African American community,” Hornaday wrote.
So, what really is good hair?
“Healthy hair is good hair,” said Rhonda Stokes, owner of Rhonda’s Reflectiosn Styling Salon in Lansing. ” Hair comes in all different textures; no texture is better than the other. And it depends on the individual. But for most African American women, good hair is healthy hair.”
Stokes said that African American hair requires more effort and attention to keep it healthy. She has clients that come in to get their hair done as often as once a week, because they are unable to style it themselves or would prefer that a professional style it.
Hair is an important beauty priority because women want to look their best, Stokes said.
According to Stokes, as long as it is nice and neat, it is beautiful.
“I would say the most beautiful styles would be styles that are nice and neat,” she said. “Whether it’s short, long, or even natural. Something that’s beautiful and every hair is in place…something that looks like you take care of your hair.”
At Michigan State University, young African American women wear their hair based on their own personal preference.
LaTrice Davis, an advertising senior, prefers to wear her hair straight using a pressing comb and a flat iron. She said that she has her hair styled about every two weeks, which costs about $45 per visit. She then wraps her hair at night in a silk scarf to preserve the style from getting frizzy.
Davis said having her hair styled bi-weekly is not always possible on a college budget, so sometimes she waits longer in between hair appointments or finds a friend to style her hair for her.
Long hair is a desired style, whether it is straightened or curled with a curling iron, is seen as attractive to men, Davis said.
“In the African American community, beauty…correlates to having longer hair, which is why a lot of black girls get hair extensions,” she said. “Because having long hair makes them look a lot better to….most guys. They prefer girls with really long hair.”
However, more natural styles like locks are another way of having beautiful hair, Davis said.
“Most of my friends…that have locks…which are dreadlocks or forms of dreadlocks, they are more like earthy…they are content with themselves and they don’t believe in straightening their hair,” she said. “And they feel that having natural hair is more beautiful.”
Susah McPherson, a senior studying interdisciplinary studies in social science, wears her hair in locks, which she has re-twisted once a month and ties her hair up at night.
McPherson said that while she prefers to wear her hair in a natural, low-maintenance style, having beautiful hair is dependent on personal preference.
“I think it’s to each his or her own,” she said. “It depends on what the person prefers. I am an advocate for natural hair, but if you want to add artificial hair to your hair, and that makes you happy and that adds to your beauty, then go right ahead.”
According to McPherson, hair can be representative of personal style in the African American community.
“It represents a person’s style, who they are, their identity,” she said. “It shows how you… value your looks and yourself, if you put a lot of time into your hair and maintenance. To someone else it may seem like it is not maintained or styled to their liking. But to that person it could be styled how they like it and it fits them well.”
According to Davis, beauty associated with hair is also a personal viewpoint.
“I have a cousin who has locks and she puts lock’s in her daughter’s hair, because she believes that’s what beauty is, because it makes you natural,” Davis said. “It’s not chemically processing your hair. It’s not straightening your hair.”
Although society may have standards that explain what good hair is, it’s the wearer’s opinion that’s important, whether the person wears their hair straight, in locks, or another style.
“They are just two different…styles that come with two different mindsets,” Davis said.