'Married at First Sight:' Can We Not Blame Relationship Struggles on Natural Hair, Please?

Jephte and Shawniece
By Veronica Wells

I love me some “Married At First Sight.” While most of the couples on this Lifetime series eventually divorce, it’s fascinating to watch two strangers come together and unite in Holy Matrimony the day they meet each other. Each season, the show usually finds one Black couple to feature. Naturally, it’s the Black couple’s story I’m the most interested and invested in. But since the show’s inception, none of the Black couples have stayed together.

This year, the Black folk are Jephte and Shawniece. The couples are matched by a panel of experts and are supposed to complement one another. But from the day Jephte and Shawniece met, I knew there were some drastic personality differences that would eventually cause some problems. Chief among them being Jephte’s cautious reserve, his hesitancy in opening up compared to Shawniece’s extroversion, affection and need to be affirmed and desired. Honestly, it is downright cringeworthy to watch. After one episode a couple of weeks ago, I questioned the reason Jephte decided to be a part of this process in the first place. I mean, if you have a problem with strangers, marrying one might not be the best strategy for your life.

But all of that is for context. We’re here today to speak about something entirely different. While the show is about love, marriage and the conflict that can arise within them, the discussion around Shawniece has been about appearance, specifically hair.

Shawniece is a cosmetologist working to eventually open up her own salon. And for the most part, on the show she wears her hair in an afro. On their wedding day she had it expertly slicked back into a bun. But in the days since, on their honeymoon, in their move back to Boston, it’s been in a fro.

In addition to the fro, she generally wears minimal makeup. I think she’s cute. Not to mention, with all of Jephte’s stuff-- causing her to cry because she feels rejected by him, her hair and makeup haven’t been at the forefront of my mind. But you know how it is with Black women and hair---especially when a Black woman appears on national television. All of a sudden she’s representing all of us. And if we don’t like it, we attempt to disassociate ourselves from the Black woman who can’t manage to take care of her hair. The response to her hair on Twitter has been everything from interesting to downright hurtful with women blaming Shawniece’s hair for the problems in her relationship.

I could go on but you get the gist. That last tweet is particularly important because on their wedding day, Shawniece’s mother told Jephte that she wanted him to get to know and love her real daughter, not the one dolled up for their wedding day but her daughter with her real face and real hair.

But apparently the people of the internet want something different. All of this discussion just reminds me of how far we still have to go when it comes to embracing our full, Black selves and our Black looks. I don’t think it’s any secret that, for all the progress Black women have made with our natural hair, there are still certain styles and textures that are acceptable and the rest are not. This discussion of Shawniece’s hair reminds me of the time when Solange was wearing her fro out and she had to tell strangers, fans, people who didn’t know her to stop suggesting she do a twist out because she didn’t like to wear her hair that way. It reminds me of Gabby Douglas and Black women telling her her edges weren’t slicked down properly. There’s a lot of micromanaging and focus placed on hair when it’s not the main story. It wasn’t for Gabby, Solange and it certainly isn’t for Shawniece.

Her husband keeps reminding her that she’s a stranger, that he doesn’t know her. He won’t speak about certain subjects, refuses to sleep in the same bed/room with her. She’s always the one initiating affection but it’s her hair that’s holding them back.

I can’t help but feeling like this is yet another example of women going out of their way to absolve men of guilt or fault in a relationship, no matter how they behave, and attribute the union’s failings solely to the woman.

The comments about her hair have been so prevalent that Shawniece eventually responded to them, in a series of very classy tweets.

Precisely. Not to mention based on tweets from both her and Jephte’s Twitter accounts, it seems like they stayed together, meaning she found someone who liked it.

Do you feel we unfairly criticize black women's hair in media?
Veronica Wells is the culture editor at MadameNoire.com. She is also the author of “Bettah Days” and the creator of the website NoSugarNoCreamMag. You can follow her on Facebook and on Instagram and Twitter @VDubShrug.

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