While hair can oftentimes be a reflection of your mood or mindset, for Black people — and Black women in particular — its significance runs much deeper, serving as a symbol of strength against prejudice and discrimination.
"Since hair is an extension of our appearance, Black hair is often policed and targeted to discount our abilities and limit our access to resources, education, and employment opportunities," says Afiya Mbilishaka, Ph.D., an expert on Black hair and mental health, and the founder of PsychoHairapy. "[So] we bond with other Black people through hair and create community through the grooming process to fortify us in places that see our hair as a deficit."
Whether those rituals take place in the salon chair or at home, they're a powerful form of connection, says Kristin Rowe, PhD, assistant professor of American Studies at California State University, Fullerton and a consultant for selfmade. "[It's about] connecting with other Black girls over shared experiences. Or connecting with your mother, who used to sit you in her lap and braid your hair. Or connecting with your great-grandmother because your mom and grandma would be getting their hair done for Easter at the same time. All those interrelationship moments with other Black women and girls build up a sense of worth and a deep connection of belonging.”
From embracing natural hair to committing to a Wash Day routine, taking time to focus on one's hair is important for self-care, adds Dr. Rowe. "The pre-poo, the shampoo, the conditioning cap — I'm carving time out in order to do this for myself, with myself, and in my own space.”
Doing so can also be a way to honor ancient hairstyles and rituals, which can be emotionally grounding and important in preserving the legacy of Black culture. "One ancient black hairstyle that I incorporate into my work is braiding," says Mitchell Cantrell, celebrity hairstylist and Ouidad ambassador. "Black people have been braiding their hair for centuries, and I honor this style by putting braids on my celebrity clients to display our culture on a global scale."
In partnership with Ulta Beauty, which helped bring Black-owned beauty brands to the forefront at R29's recent The Glow Up event in Atlanta, we asked four Black women to share their own personal hair stories and to walk us through their rituals, the different meanings behind them, and the ways hair care and healing are inextricably linked.