Archuleta is an author, poet, blogger, and host of the…
Most Black women can remember being told at an early age that our hair is our crown and glory. We learn to center our very existence based on what our hair looks like and how others perceive it. Of the many spaces we occupy, our hair represents points of joy and trauma. Nonetheless, throughout history, Black women have never allowed other people’s expectations to define our one-of-a-kind style.
Executive produced by Oprah Winfrey, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Michaela Angela Davis, The Hair Tales is a powerful celebration of Black women’s beauty, identity, and humanity expressed through the stories in our hair. This docuseries features six diverse women (Oprah Winfrey, Issa Rae, Ayanna Pressley, CHIKA, Marsai Martin, and Chloe Bailey) as they bring their intimate stories about their hair to the table with host Tracee Ellis Ross.
As The Hair Tales unfolds, each woman connects her personal life journey to her hair. It’s an honest look into the complex culture of Black hair and, ultimately, Black women’s identity, beauty, and social contributions.
Our favorite awkward Black girl Issa Rae reminds us that we don’t have to be the same person forever. As someone who’s unapologetic about her style and how she wants to be represented, Rae has given Black women permission to be themselves. She talked about perceptions people have about her hair and how the media impacts how we see ourselves. It’s about knowing who you are but, more importantly, being satisfied with what you see.
As we talk about hair being a Black woman’s crown, what happens when you lose your hair completely? Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley found this after losing her hair to alopecia. She shared her hair loss journey in a video in 2020. She felt it was important to be transparent about what she was going through to help others. In her eloquent tone, she says to Ross: “You do not need hair to wear a crown.”
Pressley explained that Black girls have to be hyper-visible and visible at the same time. For example, when rules and actions are created in the school systems, they may seem universal. But these directives are really to control Black girls’ hair and bodies and then send them home — out of sight and mind. Young Black girls are shown that they are not accepted, appreciated, or able to be taught.
Many Black women developed an immediate soul connection with beauty salons at an early age. I remember being about eight years old when I started getting my hair done every two weeks. Along with my mother, the women at the beauty salon helped impact the way I saw myself; their conversations, the kinship between one another, and the joy on their faces when their hair was done.
The women profiled in the series spoke about finally getting to a place of loving their hair after many points of contention. As Dr. Joan Morgan from the Center for Black Visual Culture explained, “Black women have always chased a standard of beauty where the line is constantly shifting; measuring ourselves against an unrealistic expectation.”
The series is also framed by the voices of academics and thought leaders, hairdressers, and cultural leaders. I enjoyed their conversations as they talked openly about their hair journeys. Celebrity stylist Kim Kimble boldly said, “I don’t know you ain’t fabulous until you tell me you ain’t fabulous.” That’s one for the books!
What I found disappointing about The Hair Tales was that it largely focused on natural hair, with a tiny blurb about relaxed hair that was mostly negative. I understood the premise to be a revelatory journey, which I realized meant accepting yourself completely through wearing your natural hair.
The series touched on how relaxers are marketed to Black girls, including how they are the only demographic that chemical straighteners are marketed. I’m dating myself, but I remember the Just for Me and PCJ relaxer commercials and how badly I wanted my hair to look like that.
Relaxed girls have stories to tell too, yet those were overlooked in the series. It’s not lost on me that relaxed hair is processed hair. It has been a widespread conversation due to being the culprit behind cancers and fibroid issues in Black women. I have contemplated going natural several times and even gave it shot last year because of these facts. However, I still wanted to hear stories from Black women with relaxed hair. I believe their journeys could have been a worthy part of the conversation — otherwise, the series should have been called The Natural Hair Tales.
We may not think of our hair as being an act of liberation. But Black hair is art; it can be created and expressed in any way we desire. It allows us to be free in our spirit which speaks to how we show up in the world. This makes others uncomfortable. Those who can’t do want to do. The truth is, other people’s discomfort is never our problem.
I’m excited for Black women to see this series because it’s inspiring and empowering. It also shows a vulnerable side to these women I know I hadn’t seen before. It is a lesson of loving yourself, starting with the crown; a message solidifying that we set the trends; a reminder that we are indeed free.
The six-part series will debut on Own and Hulu on October 22, 2022.
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Archuleta is an author, poet, blogger, and host of the FearlessINK podcast. Archuleta's work centers Black women, mental health and wellness, and inspiring people to live their fullest potential.