What do Brazilian-wavy, 16-inches, Swiss lace and Ombre all have in common? Well, it’s part of the comeback hair craze that is proving itself to be a favourite and not a fad. Wigs! Women are embracing different textures, lengths, and colours to showcase their new-found style, mood and beauty. If Oprah still had her talk show she’d probably have wigs underneath her audience members seats as gifts, “You get a wig, you get a wig and you get a wig?!” The tv-producer and mogul has been known to rock a variety of hairstyles herself, which demonstrates how though we are now openly embracing wigs, the politics and existence of them is nothing new.
For women the way we look is often taken into consideration when climbing the ladder to success. The odds were not stacked in Oprah’s favour. However, she was also very ambitious, driven and conscious of how she would progress in her career and defy any stereotypes placed upon her. Oprah knew the overwhelming pressure to always present herself well and most importantly that included her hair.
Hair has a political history that continues even today. From 58BC when Cleopatra would wear elaborate wigs as a sign of her status, to the present where ex-FLOTUS Michelle Obama has her hair perfectly prim and pressed (could it have been a series of wigs?) to maintain her perfect image. In these instances, hair and in particular wigs, are used not just for self-expression but to present a certain image and make a political statement. When holiday pictures of Michelle Obama wearing her natural hair came out, a flood of memes which were produced, reminded us of the black community’s longing for the ex-FLOTUS to wear her hair “natural”. This is something that black women might have identified with.
So what has changed?
The idea that certain hair styles are more professional, classy or acceptable, trickles down to the everyday woman, so wigs have been a staple part of black women’s culture. There was a lot of stigma concerning afro hair types, so black women would take any measure to hide, tame or create an illusion that their hair was “better” to fit into mainstream ideas of beauty. Up until, recently wearing wigs was only talked about within the community with a certain level of secrecy. Wigs themselves were more “realistic” and believable in terms of length and style. Now there’s an open shift, more than ever black women are embracing dramatic, vibrant hairstyles, using wigs to reflect a new-found self-expression. Styles that were once seen as “ghetto” or reserved for your grandma’s kitchen table, are defining a new standard of beauty and rejecting stigmas of respectability and status.
Most importantly, as the mindset of the black community changes, lifestyles are also reflecting that. This is because the high demand for wigs and hair extensions are creating opportunities for black women to have their own businesses selling hair, of course. This is key as black women were contributing to a billion-dollar industry that wasn’t catering to their needs. Shockingly, 63% of Black women are willing to pay for high quality products but fail to be represented in marketing campaigns according to the HuffingtonPost. Now that their spending power is used to support the growth of female black-owned-businesses there is perhaps better representation of black consumers.
The growing popularity of wigs is also a result of black women cultivating a self-care space for themselves online. Most often, wearing wigs is an option that many black women use to protect their natural hair underneath. Many online black hair tutorials are educating black women on how to properly care for their natural hair before they put on their wigs and weaves. By creating a strong foundation in loving and caring for our hair we are ultimately teaching ourselves to prioritise our happiness whilst rejecting societal pressures of what type of hair is desirable. Hopefully healthy hair is more desirable. As black women continue to enjoy the diverse wig styles available to suit their lifestyles, they will also carry the confidence in looking and feeling good.
Now that we recognise how often our feelings and insecurities are usually tied to our hair, we finally have a solution to help us in embracing our hair. Spearheading this movement are individuals who range from everyday people, to celebrities and social media influencers like Nyané Lebajoa who shows the versatility of wig styles and how it doesn’t take away from your identity, instead, it is a visual representation of how you feel.
Black women are re-claiming the wig as their own freedom of expression. As a result we are forcibly changing the way we view beauty around the world. Wigs have created a new level of openness. Now when someone asks “is that your real hair?” there is no shame in smiling and saying “no, it’s a wig”. The power is now in our hands. We’re using wigs to express ourselves rather than fit into a mould that was never made for us in the first place.
Written by Funmi