By Megan Munson
Honors Blog Editor
On Wednesday, February 17 I attended a panel on black hair and skin at 6:30 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium. This event was part of Black Empowerment Week run by the Meredith Black Student Union, or BSU. The panel was titled “Black is Beautiful: A discussion of how society portrays the importance of image and beauty on black women”. Four of the five panelists were Meredith students – Sarah Marshall, Raven Gregory, Jessica Boyd, and Brandi Doubt – and one was a cosmetologist from Glam Lyfee Studio named Ashley Parker. Brittany Jenkins, a BSU officer, moderated the panel. The first question asked if some hair textures were better than others. The panelists agreed that all types of black hair is good hair, though our cultural standard of beauty doesn’t include natural hair. Hair is a huge deal in society, because it changes how you carry yourself. Hair is visible to everyone, so it’s often perceived immediately. That point led to a discussion on whether or not natural hair is viewed as professional. As someone without this hair texture, I’ve never considered hair being a limitation. The panelists discussed people who have had to cut off dreadlocks in order to get a job. In order to be deemed professional, many people must tame and groom hair to fit what is considered a white standard. I was somewhat surprised when learning this, especially after several panelists insinuated that hair someone is born with should not hold him or her back.
A couple of the student panelists described a nearly cultural pressure to have their hair chemically straightened. Senior Sarah Marshall said that television and movies influenced her to get her hair chemically straightened, but then it started falling out. She went on to describe how embracing natural hair can be a process for many people with all types of black hair. Hair in general consists of all different textures, and Ms. Parker said that this is what she sees when working with clients. Because “good hair” is a myth, she embraces working with all types of hair textures. The conversation then turned to hair-related experiences with those from other races. I was shocked to hear that these young women have had people come up to them and touch their hair without permission, as if they have a right to do so. Senior Raven Gregory stressed the importance of taking discussions about hair as an educational opportunity for others. After many talked about becoming more confident with their hair throughout college, Raven stated: “Hair is about figuring yourself out, and we have a long journey being young people.”
The panelists’ conversation turned from hair to skin as they discussed similar struggles of feeling beautiful and confident. The women agreed that television does not accurately represent black beauty, and as a result there are still negative stereotypes surrounding them that people make solely based on skin color. Throughout this discussion, there was a common theme from the panelists about owning who you are and being comfortable with your own skin, no matter what the stereotypes and media may say.
Attending this panel was such a wonderful opportunity for me, as a person without black hair, to understand what my peers with this hair and skin experience. I have an increased sympathy for those who struggle to embrace their natural hair. I also have an increased respect for the black women who are still struggling against stereotypes and shattering expectations today. I believe that if we want to move forward, we must change these perceived negative stereotypes and continue to have such conversations as this one. Thank you to the Black Student Union for hosting this informative event.