Hair We Go Again: Black Hair in the UK

This final post of the “Hair We Go Again” series is a piece of essential reading for all. It’s going to provide valuable insight into black hair experiences within the United Kingdom, from 13 different perspectives. More specifically, it’s going to outline some of our biggest pet peeves. In doing so, misconceptions will be debunked, questions will be posed and harmful behaviours will be highlighted because quite frankly – a lot has been upsetting me and my homegirls.

As I’ve detailed most of my hair journey in Entangled and Tresses Be Trippin’, I’m going to get straight to the point and then pass the mic…

“We pump millions of pounds into an industry that is targeted at us but isn’t largely by us or arguably, even for us”

I find it fascinating (and by fascinating I mean extremely concerning) that the afro hair industry in the UK is dominated almost exclusively by South Asian men. For example, if you look at the landscape of businesses within this niche (selling afro hair products to Black women) across London, you’ll notice this bizarre trajectory – and it’s been like this for YEARS. In the north of the capital, the likes of Pak’s monopolize the market. Whereas, on the south side of the river, shops such as Shabba, Sabina, and Afro Hair & Beauty run things. That’s not to mention the tons of stand-alone hair shops that aren’t franchised or don’t have multiple branches. Although I’m obviously guilty of contributing to this, it irks my soul to know that we pump millions of pounds into an industry that is targeted at us but isn’t largely by us or arguably, even for us.

If I start to talk! I’ve witnessed such subpar “customer service” in some of the aforementioned shops. Everything from eye rolls, to huffing and puffing, to just outright rudeness. I didn’t understand any of it as a teenager, but as an adult, particularly having learned about deep-rooted, anti-black racism within the South Asian community, I now see how that possibly influenced the less than friendly interactions I saw (and sometimes still see) in such hair shops. With that in mind, could this be considered as a form of economic exploitation of the Black community? I’ll leave that with you.

I know (ironically) it’s not the easiest industry for Black people to break into, just because there is already so much competition, but big up to those who are establishing Black-owned hair shops across the UK, especially in and around London – be it brick and mortar or online, we absolutely love to see it!

“My hair is not, has never been and will never be an ‘issue‘”

“Your hair doesn’t meet company policy.” Those words will forever stay with me. Because my hair was not straight and easily smoothed away into a “tidy” bun like the woman I was working with, my hair was an “issue”. My natural hair didn’t meet a policy that was created without thought or consideration of me and others with hair like mine.

While working in the hospitality industry, I remember always having to be very conscious of my hair. This was despite whether it was out in my go-to afro puff or in a protective style. There were countless times where I had to rethink doing a particular hairstyle, in case that too, “did not meet company policy”. I remember not being able to work on at least two occasions because my hair was burgundy. Meanwhile, I’m seeing other women with hair that is blue, purple, and pretty much every colour in the rainbow. But it is only me and my Black friend, who was also not allowed to work, that are an “issue”.

Having my hair constantly policed to this extent, came with a lot of anxiety. I was working in various venues across London, so I never knew how my hair would be responded to and if it would be deemed an “issue”.

For the record, my hair is not, has never been, and will never be an “issue”.

By @wanderlustcalls | www.wanderlustcalls.com

“Black hair doesn’t just come in Yara Shahidi and Angela Davis”

I enjoyed watching TV in late 90’s Britain and seeing Black people on the screen. One of my favourite channels was Trouble. With their selection of Black American shows, I could finally live my black hair fantasy. Whilst watching ‘Sister Sister’, I wished that my hair would drop to my shoulders like theirs, just so I could fit it under a bucket hat.

When I got older, and finally did the big chop, seeing my curls and coils, I couldn’t believe that I didn’t have the 4c, so called ‘nappy’ hair – and believe it or not, I was disappointed. The time spent looking up ‘How to style 4C TWA (Teenie Weenie Afro)’ on YouTube had come to nought. I had to start again. Thus, the search began for something I didn’t think I would find. There isn’t just one type of hair, just like Africa isn’t a country but rather a vast continent with different people and tribes. Our hair is so much more interesting, hair types from 4a to 4c can be found on just one head.

Eventually, questions such as “I love your hair, are you mixed with anything?” and “What texturizer did you use?” were asked. People just couldn’t believe that black hair didn’t just come in Yara Shahidi and Angela Davis. Though things are changing ever so slowly, Netflix shows like Blood and Water, are showing Black hair in its glory.

By @NaturallyLola | @lolaanny | SauceSistas Youtube

90s Black TV Shows

“We still have a long way to go until all hair types are appreciated.”

As someone who grew up in the 90s, I never really saw Black hair represented in the media. Even during visits to the hairdresser as a teen, I was surrounded by images of Black women with relaxed hair. This gave me the idea that straighter hair was more manageable. Three years ago, I stopped relaxing my hair and I’m so glad I did because relaxers have been linked to numerous health problems such as fibroids. Times have changed and it’s great to see natural hair being embraced by more women. Although mainstream hair brands should be applauded for their efforts to be more inclusive, we still have a long way to go until all hair types are appreciated.

By @kelleswriter | www.itskellesspace.com | Kelle Salle Pinterest

“As a Black woman, everyone has an opinion on your hair – even though you never ask for it”

As a Black woman, everyone has an opinion on your hair – even though you never ask for it. This is one of my biggest pet peeves.

A couple of years ago, I did the big chop as I wanted to start fresh and have healthy natural hair. I was very happy with my new shaved hairstyle and enjoying it; although most people had positive things to say, there were always a few that didn’t. I remember going to a family function and all of the aunties had something to say. Most said that they liked it and that it suited me, but some took it upon themselves to share their dislike and shock that “a pretty girl like me would cut her hair”. One aunty even asked for me to grow it back and insinuated that no guy would like or marry me because I had short hair! I just stared at her and walked away because culturally I had to be respectful.

Views within our community on what hairstyles are ‘better’ or ‘prettier’ need to be challenged and change.

By @Lei.noire | www.leinoire.com

“There’s beauty in forgetting what you see online”

So, I have thick 4c natural hair, what people often liken to candy floss or something fluffy and soft! In the past, I’ve had extra entitled people in work environments touching the surface of my hair and patting down my afro/slicked bun. But who asked you to touch my hair? I don’t care if it looks like something sweet or ‘cute’. You get the odd “your hair looks different to what I saw in the interview. Did you change?” My hair was straight in the interview, I now have thick afro hair tied in a low bun. You’re smart, read between the lines.

Currently, I’m on a weave hiatus because my natural hair was screaming at me to look after it and my scalp was very irritated. I’m not going to lie… I look different without weave and do not always feel ‘glamorous’ but I am me. I am still flawless and comfortable. This. Is. My. Hair. There’s beauty in forgetting what you see online and knowing how to best nurture your natural self and listen to your body, skin and hair. I’ve had people give their unsolicited opinions on how certain hairstyles make me look older or younger. If we also start to talk about the struggles of edges control, the need to make your hair look well put together. Boy! But I love how thick and full it is…the length will come soon! 

By @d_kechix

Hair type chart

“Does being Black not afford me the right to be fluid with my hair choices?”

I always struggled with the concept that Black women’s hairstyles were a way to show personality and express identity. When my hair first started falling out 8 years ago, I was stripped of the privilege of achieving certain styles. Gone were the days of expression through braid patterns, colours and weaves. How are you supposed to feel when one of the most creative parts of your identity is gone? The idea that as a Black woman, my hair is my crown, also proved to be challenging. When I had to shave my head, I felt like I had stripped myself of one of the things that make Black women so special. Can you still call yourself a Black queen without a crown?

Lastly, I grappled with the notion of Black women’s hairstyles being equitable to their pro-blackness. It was pushed that if I straightened or permed my hair, or even wore a straight blonde wig, that I didn’t love my blackness in full, that I wanted to appeal to Eurocentric beauty standards or that I hated myself. Does being Black not afford me the right to be fluid with my hair choices?

By @ellemacuk

“It’s incredibly difficult to find a salon, Black or otherwise, that is skilled in styling Black hair”

I’m not a fan of hair salons even though we need them. I remember being 15 and having my hair straightened every 2 weeks by a Black hair dresser using one of those tong ovens. They can reach very high temperatures and the hair dresser knew nothing about proper heat protection – for her Blue Magic would suffice. On one occasion she burnt the front of my hair so badly that it turned bright orange and broke off. Instead of refunding me she offered me a free ‘treatment’ for my next visit!

I then proclaimed that ‘white’ salons were the answer so I booked an appointment at Toni & Guy for my hair to be straightened. They only had one mixed race woman trained in afro hair. She started straightening my hair using professional straighteners but then half way through decided that her white clients with appointment times after mine were more important so started giving me twists so she could finish quicker. I was very disappointed and didn’t have the confidence to ensure I got the service I paid for. In the end I paid £55 for mini twists and some gummy hair products I never used as they are not suitable for my hair type.

It’s incredibly difficult to find a salon, Black or otherwise, that is skilled in styling Black hair. Surprisingly, whilst at uni, I found a white hairdresser in Stoke who was trained in afro hair. Nowadays, I trim my hair myself and stick to styles I can do.

By @blackpistachiox | www.blackpistachio.co.uk

“The hair on my head is what you’ll have to get used to”

Working in the city, usually as the only Black girl in my office/sector, I was very familiar with the excitement of securing a new role quickly being dampened, as I realised that I had to create a plan for my hair. I used to think I couldn’t walk into the office with a short bob weave one day and decide to switch it up to chunky, Bohemian crotchet twists the following week because the entire office would erupt into a chorus of, “OMG, YOUR HAIR IS SO VERSATILE”, “I wish my hair could frizz up that way”, or the one that baffles me the most, “Wait, so did your hair grow overnight?” – You know white people wear wigs and extensions too, right?!

According to others, my hair is more than just hair, apparently, it defines me as a person and allows people to ignorantly decide who I am. I’m here to tell you that I switch my hair up simply BECAUSE I CAN.

I think I came into my own when I became confident in my professional abilities, attended an interview with my natural ‘fro – and got the job. I was so tired of having to stay awake until 2 am doing a hairstyle that suited Western ideals. The hair on my head is what you’ll have to get used to and it’s as simple as that.

However, to get here, it took a lot of unlearning as well as standing up for myself, particularly when a guy at my previous workplace, who was clearly consumed by madness, put his hand INTO my natural hair puff. In return, I put the fear of God into him and we didn’t speak after that.

By @lozzahsthoughts | www.lozzahsthoughts.com

Don’t touch my hair.
Back up 2 metres and keep your hands to yourself.
This rule will apply even post-COVID.

“No one is going to tell you the history of Black hair and how it’s been used as a tool of oppression”

I remember growing up seeing hair tutorials on shows like This Morning, which never included my hair type. It’s crazy to me how much we had to figure out by ourselves. As a kid, it’s a harsh reality to find out that your hair is like society’s dirty little secret, that’s kept locked away in a box, in the darkest corner of a storage unit. 

I remember begging my mum to let me relax my hair when I was in primary school. I wanted that long, straight, sleek look that seemed to be a Black girl’s key to obtaining beauty. As a child, no one is going to tell you the history of Black hair and how it’s been used as a tool of oppression.

All I understood back then, was that no one had hair like me on screen or on billboards. Surely that meant that my hair wasn’t allowed in those spaces, right? If I couldn’t find tutorials on how to style my hair on morning talk shows, surely that meant that I shouldn’t have this type of hair? If hair like mine isn’t showcased as the cream of the crop, in terms of beauty standards, this must mean my hair isn’t beautiful? Therefore, I must do what I can to make it beautiful? It sounds crazy to think or even type this now, but as a child, everything seemed so black and white.

By @ronitasworld | www.ronitasworld.com | Ronita’s World Youtube

“Black hairstyles are seen as “cool” on non-black women”

Growing up with 4c hair has been emotionally challenging during all stages of my life! In my childhood, I remember various female family members would repeatedly ask why I hadn’t “done something” with my hair as it was natural (and flourishing by the way). Non-black classmates would comment on how interesting my fro was, questioning how I washed it with the look on their faces which read “can I touch it?”

Once it was chemically straightened in adolescence, most people told me how pretty I looked with straight hair (so without it I wasn’t?) and a few people commented on how I’d be damaging my hair with the chemicals, which was annoying to hear, but the creamy crack lived up to its name.

At University, I started to transition back to natural hair, eventually deciding to wear my hair in braids every few months which has been well received in this new wave of natural hair enthusiasts. But even this doesn’t please some who have since asked why I don’t wear my hair straight during special occasions.

My experiences have highlighted that opinions on Black women’s hair are strong and will always try to be imposed on you in an unprovoked manner. We’re currently in a phase where black hairstyles are seen as “cool” on non-black women but negative opinions are reserved for when we wear these same styles that our ancestors made fashionable. It is frustrating after years of being fed the narrative that European standards of hair were best.

It does take confidence to ignore all of this and feel comfortable wearing your hair however you want and I’m glad to say I’m finally there!

By @road2culturedom | www.roadtoculturedom.com

Hair, is in fact, “that deep”

“’Good’ hair is a concept.”

I’m writing this from the experience of someone who was repeatedly told that I had ‘good hair’ because of the length and texture. As a grown ass woman, I have had to do a lot of unlearning and education when it comes to the politics of Black hair. ‘Good hair’ subscribes to the idea that all other hair is unworthy – which is not true. ‘Good’ hair is a concept. We should be focusing on having healthy hair instead. ‘Good hair’ constantly reinforces hair bias which is still a big issue within society. Hair is hair, and that’s on period.

By @char_x.o | www.memoirsmusings.com | @char_x0  

“We’re still in the middle of a messy break up with Eurocentric beauty standards when it comes to hair – she’s not quite a forgettable ex just yet”

Black folk embracing their transitions, big chops, and protective styles is truly a joy to watch.  As the natural hair movement continues to grow, the narrative that black hair is difficult to manage and is time consuming (who said that?) is slowly disintegrating. Between the learning and unlearning, are we saying goodbye to Eurocentric beauty standards?

Often present in western media representations, these standards have emphasised and led to the homogenisation of long, straight hair as the ideal. In the move to define our own standards, the flawed hair type chart has created an obsession with categorizing our hair. The movement is more accepting of the looser textured type 3a-3c. From hairdressers in our own community describing our hair as “tough” and “nappy” to brands emphasising type 3 hair and products to make your curls “looser” – God forbid you happen to have 4a-4c hair.

This is further coupled with an obsession over length. Why isn’t your man able to climb up your locs yet? Yes, of course, black hair can grow beyond armpit length, but genetics play a key part in that. Striving to have healthy hair should be the goal as our good sis mentioned here.

Even with the rise of the movement, beauty standards remain pervasive, excluding many black women particularly those of a darker skin.  Clearly as a community, we’re still in the middle of a messy break up with Eurocentric beauty standards when it comes to hair – she’s not quite a forgettable ex just yet.

By @rrrraks

And that’s that on that.

I’m sure that there are countless Black women, residing in the UK (and even outside of it), that can relate to at least one (if not more) of the points explored in this post.

We’ve told you some of our pet peeves, what are yours?

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