Friday, March 19, 2010

Curly Versus Straight Hair Experiment, and my new word Hairist!

Through Afrobella's site I found this ABC News hair social experiment.

The investigator, curly-haired Taryn Winter Brill, asked five white guys to rate her "hotness" when her hair is straight versus when her hair is curly. The guys were asked to describe her curly pic with one word:
"Frazzled," one said.
"Giddy," said another.
One guy said, wide-eyed, that "she looks like someone who wants to get married, real fast." Um, what? How could curls communicate that?

When they rated her straight pic (much later, not realizing it was the same girl), they said she looked "classy," "pretty," and "nice."

Here you see the underlying stereotypes of curly hair. It's always been tied up with race in my own hair situation, and I forget that every curly girl faces preconceived notions like this. Not from everyone, of course, but it's there.

Jezebel noted that the story was inherently racist. Because it completely ignored race? It seems a better way to isolate the variables, because race adds a whole other can of hair worms... If we see how straight/curly hair affects the way white women are seen, we can understand even better why black women would want the straight-haired look too--why all women do. Maybe? I wonder how much different it would have been if Taryn were blonde and therefore the pinnacle of the longstanding beauty standard when her hair is straight. Do blonde curlies have it slightly better?

Check out one Jezebel reader comment (I'm assuming a black woman): "I always cringe when someone compliments my hair not by saying they like the cut or the color I dye it but because it is straight, followed by some kind of "I wish mine were straight!". I feel like I unwittingly just participated in something racist when that happens."

That person would probably also tell her she looks much "classier" with straight hair, not "frazzled" as she would be with curls. Some people are just ignorant. They believe hair stereotypes. They are "hairists" in the same way other people are racists. Some people are both, but here's my question: can someone be a hairist without being a racist, or vice versa?

2 comments:

Jenna said...

My a-mom always mentions how nice my hair looks when I'm wearing it straight, but never when it's natural. In fact, until I finally demonstrated for her what happens when you brush curls, when I'd wear it curly in the past and it'd get just a little disheveled, she'd nag me to "just brush it to make it smooth out."

To this day, if I want to look professional and "put-together", or if I'm really fixing myself up for a date or special event, I straighten the hell out of my poor hair. The bit about men rating a woman differently based on her hair rang very true for me--I get much more positive attention from men when my hair is straight.

I've also noticed a big difference in the way natural curls and carefully constructed curls are perceived...like it's ok to have curls as long as they still look silky, shiny, tame, and easily controlled. My best friend sometimes even straightens her curly hair before (ack!) curling it into big, soft ringlets!

I wish people didn't assume things about me simply because my curly hair tends to fuzz up when it's humid out.

Even more, I wish *I* didn't assume those things about myself.

Liberty said...

Jenna thanks for your comment! That's so interesting how people (even your family) react differently to your different hairstyles! Strange. So subtle.

P.S. I love your long, dark, beautiful curly hair!