Black women and hair
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Marilyn McKenzie BSc, PGDip, MBACP
28th March, 20180 Comments
Today I am going to talk about hair. Some have more, some have less, some wear extensions or weaves, some have their hair natural or in locs. It is important to talk about hair with no judgement, but when working with black women, their hair can come into the session. Black hair shouldn’t be political, however there are so many feelings surrounding black hair that to ignore it can become more and more difficult.
Black hair can be linked to:
- Perceived attractiveness.
- Perceived class.
- Perceived social status.
- And many other things that seem unnecessary to others but can be a big issue for the client, especially when talking about relationships with others and with themselves.
The idea that black women wear weaves because they hate themselves is outdated, as they often wear weaves and extensions for the same reasons that any other culture would.
The idea of having “good hair” where the woman (or man) has a looser curl texture can be directly linked to slavery and colourism as a preferential, however in the same way that people of lighter hue can sometimes feel rejected from darker skinned people, there can be issues either way. Where some women and men feel that they cannot look professional in wearing their hair in its natural state can seem ludicrous, it would be important to note that only recently a child’s mother took her son out of school because the school had a problem with his natural hair and asked him to cut it short, even though his white counterparts are not asked to do the same.
In the therapy room, hair can come up in different ways, whether it is through hair loss, or the view that black women feel judged for the way they wear their hair and the difficult internal relationship this can cause within themselves. Black women’s self esteem and the relationship with their hair is rarely talked about. Racism, shadism or colourism can be linked to hair very easily, but this can be difficult to bring up when you are from a different culture, especially when discussing the confidence of black women whether it is in the workplace, while dating, past bullying experiences, their views on how their children will look and whether they feel judged by the therapist.
What I am alluding to is purely that when working with a black woman it can be helpful to bear in mind as this may not be something that she may talk about openly (especially if you are a therapist from another culture) as there may be a fear that you may not understand. It is important to bear this in mind when discussing how the woman feels about themselves in relation to others. To note the power dynamics in the room, the perceptions they may have of you and the shame that can come with discussing hair and how this may affect them.
When working with a woman who wears locs, there can be the idea that they are radical or a Rasta when they simply just like wearing their hair that way and have no religious affiliation at all.
If you do catch yourself making assumptions about the way that others live their lives, it is important to note these, bring them to supervision and ensure that you are allowing the client to tell you their experience, as black women are not a homogenous group and are just as diverse in the way they live as their white counterparts.
About the author
I am Marilyn McKenzie and I am a qualified psychotherapist who has worked with couples, addiction, DV, young offending, grief and bereavement as well as anxiety and depression.
I am integrative in my approach but often work systemically. I have a private practise and work with relate.
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