Identity Negotiation and Perception of Hair

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A woman’s hair is often referred to as her “crown and glory.” Hair is a salient physical characteristic of one’s self concept and how others view their level of attractiveness. One of the major intra-prejudice amongst African Americans is hair texture. This stigma is especially prevalent among African American women. For African American women, hair carries an even greater psychological complexity. Starting from slavery, African Americans were judged by the texture and curl pattern of their hair. For example, Blacks with lighter skin color and straight/wavy hair had certain advantages oppose to those Blacks who possessed more afro-centric features, such as darker skin and kinky hair (Myrdal, 1962; Neal & Wilson, 1989; Parrish 1944; Poussaint, 1975; Reuter, 1917). While a plethora of commentaries have been written on black hair, few empirical studies exist that have examined the reverberating consequences of slavery, as it relates to the western indoctrination of hair and its impact on racial identity/self-concept among African American women.

History of the Complexity of Hair among Black Women

The origin of the controversy surrounding African American hair dates back to slavery. It was a major phenotypic characteristic used to classify African Americans’ racial identity, intelligence and attractiveness (Guthrie, 1998). European culture was used as the reference group of comparison. Whiteness became identified with all that is civilized, virtuous and beautiful, whereas Blackness was deemed as inferior, rebellious, and inadequate. Guthrie (1998) reported that the hair of the black man was wool, not hair. Subsequently, this racist ideology was internalized by many African Americans, which resulted in what Jones and Shorter-G...

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...al, political and economic strides African Americans have made in society, are African American women still psychologically enslaved to their hair? The purpose of this study is to examine current perceptions of hair and its importance to racial identity and self concept among African American female college students. More specifically, this investigation addresses the following research question: Are perceptions of African American hair related to perceived attractiveness, self-concept, racial identity, and overall happiness? It is hypothesized that: 1) African American women are more likely to perceive mainstream hair texture, such as straight, permed hair, as more attractive than natural/ kinky hair; 2) An interactive effect is expected between skin-tone and hair texture on the dependent variables attractiveness, racial identity, self concept, and happiness.
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