To Straighten or Not: Hair Politics Snags Black Women

Many feel pressure to go straight
By Sarah Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 27, 2009 9:39 AM CDT
A straight-haired Beyonce Knowles attends the Cinema Society premiere of "Obsessed" in New York on April 23, 2009.   (AP Photo/Peter Kramer, file)
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(Newser) – For black women, it's near impossible to choose a hairstyle without society weighing in. Chemical relaxers help straighten hair, but "you’re pegged as selling out," a black studies professor tells the New York Times. But go natural and "you’re seen as not practicing appropriate grooming practices." The issue may seem outdated, but Malia Obama, all of 11, caught flak for going natural and wearing her hair in twists recently. (Her mom straightens.)

Many women are tired of the debate—it's also the subject of an upcoming Chris Rock documentary, Good Hair—and want hair to be just that instead of a political statement. "I am who I am regardless of how I wear my hair," says the owner of a website devoted to black hair. But not all black women feel comfortable making that choice: Sales of at-home relaxers are holding steady at $45.6 million a year.