Years ago, I decided to add light brown highlights to my hair. I shared my plans with a group of my coworkers. A young, light-skinned, black man with braided, loosely curled hair gasped in horror and said, “Aren’t you too dark to get your hair colored?” I couldn’t believe my ears. He just shook his head, as if to say I should know better than to even attempt something so out of my league, and then turned and walked away. His long braids whipped confidently behind him.
Ever since then, I’ve wondered why only certain groups seem to be authorized to enjoy coloring their hair in lighter shades. Why are dark-skinned black women immediately considered “ghetto” or accused of trying to appear lighter if they attempt a daring new hue? Why are black women, of all shades, immediately accused of wanting to be White if they opt to dye their hair blond?
By the time I was a sophomore in college, more and more black women were challenging the rules of hair coloring. So, you can imagine how excited I was when I finally mustered up the courage to go to a salon and get some light brown highlights. The first day I got them, I walked through the campus proudly showing off the new colors against my almond skin (take that light-skinned guy with the curly braids). Then IT happened. A guy I knew approached me and congratulated me on my highlights. He said they made me look lighter! It was as if he was patting me on the head for “bettering” myself. He wasn’t the only one to notice my change for the “better”! That was the first and last time I dyed my hair.
Despite the fact that stars like Mary J. Blige, Sandra Denton of Salt-N-Pepa, Keyshia Cole and others have made blond hair on black women more fashionable, there’s still a heated debate in our community about what it actually means when black women decide to “go there”.
Just a couple of years ago, Beyonce found herself at the center of that debate when the New York Post accused L’Oréal of “whitewashing” the star for its Feria ad. The fact that B was rocking strawberry blond locks in the ad didn’t help. On an episode of The View, entitled “Why Don’t Black Women Wear Their Natural Hair”, Whoopi Goldberg proclaimed, to much applause, that black women with blond hair “freak her out”. When The Tyra Show’s “What is Good Hair” episode aired, folks across the nation were saddened at the site of a preschool-aged black girl wearing a long, blond wig and confessing, “I think people like me better when I have my Hannah Montana wig on.”
I’m not going to lie; when I saw Hottie on “Flavor of Love” for the first time, I thought, “This woman definitely hates herself!” But, if blond hair equals self hatred, what about sistahs like Kim Fields, who rocked golden locks for years?
I don’t think there’s a blanket answer for all of our black blond bombshells. Some folks definitely lighten their hair to make their complexions appear brighter. I know them; they exist. On the other hand, there are plenty of women who do it just to try something new and unexpected. Others, particularly those in the entertainment industry, do it out of blond ambition (i.e. to ratchet up the sales of an upcoming album).
There are no easy answers to this one ladies and gentlemen. I do know that I’ve seen dark, medium brown, and light-skinned women pull off sun-kissed locks successfully. Blond Sistahs: Wannabe White or Just a Highlight?