Curly Hair : Why Meghan Markle's Hair Straightening Angers Me

Explore the impact of hair straightening on Black and mixed-race women, highlighting figures like Meghan Markle and Michelle Obama, and the push for natural beauty in a world of Western beauty standards.

Curly Hair : Why Meghan Markle's Hair Straightening Angers Me

Celebrities of African descent who straighten their hair perpetuate the idea that Black or mixed-race women must conform to Western beauty standards to gain acceptance.

Updated on 10.14.2033 at 02:41 PM

Last weekend, amid the extensive media coverage of the royal wedding, I couldn't help but notice the allure of Meghan ini Markle.

While she shares some resemblance with me due to our mixed-race backgrounds, there's still a visible aesthetic difference, mainly in her perfectly straightened American actress hair.

However, my perspective changed when I stumbled upon a video from about a decade ago showing Meghan Markle denouncing the sexism in advertising on Nickelodeon.

Her face remained angelic, but her curly hair was quite different, more relatable to the millions of Black and mixed-race girls dreaming of hair like their blonde, blue-eyed friends.

Meghan Markle isn't alone in adhering to Western beauty standards.

Even feminist and Black advocacy icons like Beyoncé and Rihanna have often sported wigs or chemically straightened hair, encouraging Black and mixed-race women to adopt methods that can harm their scalps, such as chemical straightening or flat irons.

It's crucial to recognize that the stigmatization of natural, curly hair has deep historical roots, dating back to the colonial era when African hair was ridiculed to degrade slaves. In more recent history, during South Africa's apartheid in the 1970s, the 'pencil test' determined race by checking whether a pencil would fall through the hair.

Straight hair implied privilege, while coiled hair marked discrimination. Even today, the belief that natural hair is 'unprofessional' lingers, pushing many to straighten their hair before job interviews.

In this context, Michelle Obama's decision to reveal her natural hair only after her husband's presidency ended carries significant meaning.

Journalist Lori L. Tharps, in her book 'Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America,' explains that Americans were ready for a Black First Lady, but not one with an afro. A New Yorker cartoon during Barack Obama's first campaign even portrayed him as Osama bin Laden and Michelle Obama in military attire with natural hair, highlighting the prejudice associating afros with aggressive Black activism.

Thankfully, a movement called 'Nappy,' derived from 'natural' and 'happy,' has gained popularity in the United States since the 2000s, advocating for embracing natural hair in all its forms.

Celebrities like Lupita Nyong'o, Alicia Keys, and Beyoncé have embraced their natural looks, and even the film 'Black Panther' marked a revolution in cinema by featuring Black heroes and women who abandoned wigs.

In France, where representation of Black women in mainstream cinema remains lacking, sixteen actresses published 'Noire n'est pas mon métier' (Seuil, 2018), rejecting their stereotyped roles and the racism ingrained in French cinema.

Their powerful appearance at the Cannes Film Festival, fists raised and natural hair, made a statement.

While I may not be concerned about the British monarchy's traditions, I would have loved for Black and mixed-race girls in 2018 to witness a 'Nappy' woman marrying an English prince on television."