Ortiz: The importance of ‘Hair Love’ winning an Oscar

Kenia Ortiz

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

For a long time, Black hair has been cast in a negative light. Every year, the United Women of Color at Colorado State University present a Hair Show, put on by the Black/African American Cultural Center, for the purpose of celebrating their hair. 

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Black men and women have been labeled as unprofessional or unattractive because of their natural hair or protective hairstyles. Such hairstyles include cornrows, box braids, dreadlocks and bantu knots. Certain companies ban these Black hairstyles because they’re considered unprofessional.

The short film “Hair Love,” which won an Oscar this year, took a different take on how Black hair is portrayed. The story is of a young girl named Zuri embracing and loving her hair.

“There were many styles displayed in ‘Hair Love’ that did not conform to Eurocentric beauty standards,” said Josh Mekonnen, a second-year student at CSU. “When the little girl pulled up video tutorials of styling Black hair, none of them consisted of straight hair. It was in a positive light, and it showed that Black hair is beautiful, and there are so many styles that you can do with it.”

European beauty standards have set the expectation that for hair to be considered beautiful and “taken care of,” it needs to look and feel a certain way — completely dismissing the beauty and history of Black hair.

In an interview with the BBC, Leila, a name given to protect her true identity, said, “A few years ago I had my hair styled in cornrows, and I was asked quite blatantly by my boss how long it would be before my hair was back to ‘normal.'”

“I never really saw Black hairstyles in many shows while I was growing up,” said Isabelle Rayburn, a third-year student at CSU. “In the shows I watched, the Black girls always had their hair straightened, and I remember always wanting my hair like that. … The first time that I actually saw something other than straight hair was on ‘That’s So Raven,’ and it was always seen in a positive light. Her hair was always in braids or curly, and she really represented Black women with her hair.”

Mekonnen shared that his friend once told him, “(‘Hair Love’) is important because Black girls are always taught growing up to be ashamed of their unmanageable hair and to always have it straight or by white beauty standards, but (‘Hair Love’) teaches young girls to embrace it and love themselves.”

This short film is important not just because of its representation, but because the positive representation encourages Black women to embrace and love their hair.”

I will never know what it feels like to be told to change my hair or be taught to hate it because my hair fits the European beauty standard, and that is a privilege I, and many other women, hold. By choosing to remain ignorant to this privilege, we uphold white beauty standards and also appropriate Black hairstyles.

When a non-Black person wears their hair in braids, dreadlocks and other protective styles, they’re seen as edgy or beautiful, but when a Black woman does it, she is perceived to be dirty, ghetto or unattractive. It is unacceptable to overlook the judgment people of color face because of their hair and to wear it because it’s “cool.”

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An example of this would be when Zendaya wore her hair in dreadlocks to the Oscars in 2015. Giuliana Rancic, a co-anchor of E! News, made a comment about how “Zendaya’s hair made her ‘feel like she smells like patchouli,’ before adding, ‘or weed.'”

Part of Zendaya’s response to this comment said, “There is already harsh criticism of African American hair in society without the help of ignorant people. … To me, locs are a symbol of strength and beauty, almost like a lion’s mane.”

“Hair Love” celebrates Black hair and Black beauty. Not only is the story centered around Zuri’s beautiful, thick, curly hair, but we see love for others’ hair as well. We see Zuri’s mom making tutorials on Black hairstyles and Zuri’s wall being covered with drawings of Black women. This short film is important not just because of its representation, but because the positive representation encourages Black women to embrace and love their hair.

“I hope that people start to see that these types of hairstyles are important in the Black community and acknowledge that these hairstyles are not messy because there has been a problem with Black hair not being seen as professional because of beauty standards that have been put on us in America,” Rayburn said.

Kenia Ortiz can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @Kenia_Ortiz_.