Pride in plaits at Hair Show: United Women of Color celebrate cultural identity

Emily Pisqui

In a country where women of color regularly experience objectification, appropriation and biased dress codes based on European beauty standards, events like the United Women of Color Hair Show are critical for appreciating Black culture and understanding aesthetic trends that stem directly from Black women. 

On Feb. 9, the United Women of Color presented their annual Hair Show. Housed within the Black/African American Cultural Center, the UWC works to bring together underrepresented women with strong sisterhood and community outreach.

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As part of Black History Month at Colorado State University, the UWC celebrates a piece of their heritage that has been used as a sign of identity and a visual art, as well as a subject of discrimination: hair.

woman holds her hair
Hanggatu Abdullahi shows off her box braids following the United Women of Color Hair Show in the Lory Student Center Theatre Feb. 9. Abdullahi traveled from the University of Northern Colorado to watch the show and support her friends who were competing. (Forrest Czarnecki | The Collegian)

“We have to consider the history of our various people,” said Joycey SaintJour, the vice president of United Women of Color. “There has been a long history of forced assimilation into Eurocentric hairstyles, more recently transitioning to a natural hair movement where the Black community has challenged expectations. Along the way, there have been creations of pretty incredible styles.” 

For the Hair Show, three hair stylists were challenged to interpret historical and modern hairstyles that were categorized in three themed rounds. The most innovative and skilled hair stylist was awarded with a $300 prize.

The first round, called “Back to the Roots,” highlighted the history of Black hairstyles with a touch of a modern look. 

“I love learning about Black history and seeing what Black hair (looked like) way back when,” said MaKenna White, a junior at CSU. “I think this event is important to empower Black women for everything they have gone through and just appreciating their hairstyles.”

The hair stylists were precise with every strand of hair on the models, creating box braids with modern twists and fiery colors. Stylist Aishat Akolade gave her model a look inspired by historical African looks. Alongside the classic braids, Akolade finished the look with a large ponytail, referencing Eurocentric beauty standards that are forced on Black women but their ability to be comfortable and rock it at the same time.

We don’t always get to see Black people showcase what they can do, and hair is one of those things that has been stigmatized for years and years.”  -Taylor, CSU psychology student

“In the future, I see Black women taking back the beauty in their hair and owning it,” Akolade said. 

According to sophomore Dallas Botchway, seeing his cultural history represented through hair inspired a sense of pride.

“I’m from Ghana, so it was interesting to see how people (at CSU) see Ghana,” Botchway said. “It’s good to have events like this because it keeps people grounded to show they are Black and proud.”

It is important to remember the growth women of color, specifically Black women, have gone through during the past centuries. In order to recognize the retainment of African identities even in the face of a world concerned with silencing them, the last round of the Hair Show focused on what is to come. Titled “It’s the Future I Can See,” this round begged the question of how people of color will continue to lead trends and push the norms of fashion and culture in the future.

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“Are we rising to the potential that our ancestors have laid before us, and are we taking younger generations under our wing, pulling them up with us?” asked Marcela Riddick, president of the UWC. She emphasized the importance of continuing their trend of innovation into the future without leaving behind traditions of the past.

Members of the United Women of Color pose for a photo after the annual Black History Month Hair Show in the Lory Student Center Theatre Feb. 9. (Matt Tackett | The Collegian)

Hairstylist Kerriana Tatum pulled inspiration for her model’s hairstyle from her Egyptian ancestors. She incorporated elements of the past into the future by adding buns, beads and cornrows. For Akolade, her inspiration in this round was the importance of Black women embracing their beauty within their hair and the versatility that comes with it.

It is important during events like these to recognize the erasure that Black women have faced, even in the modern era. Traditionally, Black hairstyles in particular have been a target of Eurocentric administrations, using it as rationale to suppress women of color in educational and professional settings.

“I got (my hair) relaxed for the longest time,” said a psychology major who only identified themselves as Taylor. “I believed that I was supposed to do that as a Black person. I think one of the biggest things is to encourage people of color to do whatever they want to do to their hair.”

The UWC and the Hair Show aim to leave a lasting impact, spreading hope for the future and making sure that the cultural aesthetics of their ancestors will not be erased on CSU’s campus.

“We don’t always get to see Black people showcase what they can do, and hair is one of those things that has been stigmatized for years and years,” Taylor said. “It was awesome to celebrate not only natural hairstyles, but relaxed (hair) that’s perfect too. It’s always fun to see.”

Emily Pisqui can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or via Twitter @emilypisq15.