Restyling Blackness: Experiences and Construction of Natural Hair Practices Among Black Women Living in the UK

Tissa, Faith (2021) Restyling Blackness: Experiences and Construction of Natural Hair Practices Among Black Women Living in the UK. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Many black women struggle with the societal connotations of their hair. After black skin, the hair of people of African descent is seen as a second marker of blackness, and difference. Using digital media sites like YouTube, black women appear to showcase their pride in their “natural hair” as a response to this othering. Studies which have analysed this phenomenon, hail it as a movement for the empowerment of black women. This is a valid but reductionist description of these practices. Thus, this study set out to account for the interstices of this collective experience. Specifically, it engages with the experience of young black women between ages 18-35 living in the UK. Utilising qualitative methods and a postcolonial theoretical lens, the study first interviews 18 women in three focus group sessions as an avenue to intuit their experience. Also a textual reading of 35 natural hair videos on YouTube further illuminated the practices. Content analysis was employed for extracting and organising the superficial data in texts, while semiotics served as an interpretive tool which identified and denaturalised the codes or signs in this cultural practice. The thematic analysis of focus group sessions produced seven major themes. Some of these include; “the nappy hair problem”, “seeing”, and “social connection across diaspora”. The videos revealed that black women are focalised in these practices, and they
reclaim the power of the gaze as both subjects and objects in natural hair representation. Yet the attempt to showcase the pride and positives of black hair tends to reinforce negative connotations attached to it.

Ultimately it was found that the experience of natural hair is made up of ambivalent aspects not only linked to empowerment but a negotiation to surmount the societal codes of Otherness. Through natural hair practices, black women first and foremost, feel seen. Their experiences materialise via the YouTube platform and therefore they are validated as real and present members of society. The study additionally highlighted that natural hair experience is a series of dialogues or conversations at its core. These conversations are by black women all over the diaspora speaking about the “hair and blackness problem” and also negotiating ways to surmount the colonial epistemic model which continues to construct them as Other in society.

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