Use your head: Think before you ask questions about a black woman’s hairstyle

Black hair is remarkable: kinks, curls, naps, and braids.


Maya Apau

African American girls endure constant comments related to their hair–much of it comes from the speaker not understanding the black hair basics.

***This is PART 2  of a series of stories about the black experience at a suburban Maryland high school. In Part 1, Lancer Media reported on the spark of activism created when the  AACC (African American Culture Club) spoke to the staff at a faculty meeting.  They described the intentional and unintentional discrimination they had experienced. One area of focus concerns the problem that few white people understand black hair and make hair an uncomforatable issue at school.

Instead of celebrating our beautiful hair, sometimes, we get questions from our peers that are rude and insensitive.

“Weave snatched!” “Are you bald?” “All black people have short hair.” “How long is it?” “Did you cut your hair? [When braids and extensions are removed]” ”Can I touch your hair?” 

For the uninformed, this is a quick history lesson and explanation of the most common protective and natural hairstyles that are styled, braided, sewn, and worn today. It will answer the questions you might have wanted to ask.

Here’s a question I get all the time from girls who wear their hair the same: long and straight.  “Why do you change your hair all the time?”

Why I change my hair all the time is because I am protecting my natural hair. It’s called a “protective hairstyle.”

According to Thirsty Roots, a blog devoted to black hair care,  “The definition of a protective hairstyle is a style that tucks the ends of your hair away from being exposed to damaging agents such as sun, heat, and constant manipulation.

Some examples of these protective hairstyles include box braids, buns, sew-in weaves, wigs, and more.  

Box braids are individual plaits that can be divided into squared (box-like) or triangular shapes. Box braids can vary in length, color and type (natural or synthetic). 

Beyonce is known for her beautiful hairstyles, especially her braids.  In fact, there is a popular hashtags #beyoncebraids.

Beyonce started a trend in 2016 called “Lemonade Braids.”

Weaves and sew-ins: weaves are tracks of hair (natural, synthetic, or mixed) that are used to alter one’s hair from short to long and in between.  

The protective hairstyle lasts for a while, but they are not meant to be kept in place for a long time. It’s an opportunity to change fashion instead of having the same hair every day.

 “What does your hair really look like?”

Let’s break down hair types!  Most Caucasian girls have hair that falls into Type 1 (Straight) and Type 2 (Wavy).  

While all black hair is beautiful, there is a cruel discrimination between Type 3 hair (curly with ringlets) and Type 4 hair (coily and tightly curled hair).

Like differences in skin tone, a quick look at famous black women will reveal that there is bias in hair types, too.

Type 3 hair has a natural S shape where the hair is naturally curly. MyRevair describes Type 3 hair as “forming ringlets that are naturally defined.” 

Tia Mowry-Hardrict; “Sister Sister” actress tweeting out #naturalhair in support of fellow actresses.
Tia Mowry rocking natural hairstyles on her YouTube channel; Tia Mowry’s Quick Fix.


Type 4 hair is the coily and tightly curled hair “without the ringlet form.” Type 4 hair tends to “keep its shape whether wet or dry.” 

Type 4 hair:

While all black hair is beautiful, for years women of color with looser curls with Type 3 hair have been praised and seen as more beautiful than women of color with tighter curls, coils, and kinks; Type 4 hair. 

The looser curl pattern has been seen as the presumed and ideal texture for black women to have. If your hair isn’t Type 3 then your hair is stereotyped as short and ugly when it’s worn naturally. However, the myths behind Type 4 hair being short must come to an END. 

“Why do all black people have short hair?”

It’s about shrinkage.

Natural Hair Blogger, Atwiine

With all curly hair types both Type 3 and Type 4 there is a term called shrinkage.

Shrinkage is the “decrease in length when your hair dries. Not only is it completely normal and a sign of healthy hair; it shows that your hair is properly moisturized and has good elasticity. We cannot change a phenomenon that is a key characteristic feature of curly hair.”

So while some hair might appear shorter and coarser, in reality, when the hair is properly stretched and blow dried, the length will show. 

“Are you bald?”

No.  Are YOU bald? 

The answer is “No.” To be curious about one from another ethnic background or a person who is of a different race (including hair) is one thing. However, there are respectful, as well as knowledgeable, ways to approach that situation. 

When a Caucasian woman gets extensions or clip-ins, no one reaches out and touches her hair or questions her about being bald.

In Part 3, I will address the right way and wrong way to talk about hair.