A personal pet peeve of mine is when strangers or people that I have no real friendship or connection with come up to me and touch my hair. As someone who has worn many different hairstyles in their lifetime, I have had plenty of people see a new hairstyle as an opportunity to reach their hand out to touch it’s texture or investigate its appearance.
I get it – when it comes to hair – especially black women’s hair, some people find that to be very fascinating. We can wear our hair in braids without having them loosen up or slip out, sometimes we wear our hair in natural curls, but the next day it may be straightened with a little length added to it. One day we may be in the mood for sengalese twists or box braids. Generally, we can wear many styles.
However, a new hairstyle isn’t an excuse to touch someone’s hair – especially if you do not know them very well, but you would be surprised how often people do it.
I know some of you may be wondering “what is the big deal?”
I mean, if someone finds something to be nice and wants to touch it, why is it such a problem?
Imagine walking down the street and someone approaches you, cheerfully, and compliments your hair style. Before you can even fully utter a thank you, their strange fingers are interlocking themselves within your hair, groping it’s texture, giving it a pinch and sometimes even a slight pull as if they’re testing to see whether it’s all your “real” hair or extensions.
Would that feel like a genuine compliment to you or would you feel a bit violated that someone you don’t know just put their hands that you don’t know if they’ve washed in your hair?
I’ve even seen people ask for consent before touching someone else’s dog, but sometimes the same respect isn’t shown to other people’s hair.
For me, it feels like a violation of my personal space and identity when someone does that.
For me, my hair, whether it’s straightened with extensions or in it’s natural straight, is an extension of myself. It’s an expression of my identity and what I’m feeling in that particular moment. It many cases it’s also taken a long time to get my hair in that desired style so when some stranger comes up and touches it, it makes me feel like they have no respect for the things I’ve mentioned above.
Would you go into a museum and start touching the paintings on the wall just because you like them? Probably not because you respect the pieces of art as things that should not be messed with.
While I am not comparing my hair to the Mona Lisa, I am saying that often times people have more respect for the personal space of animals, expensive paintings, and even clothing than they do people.
I guess in so many ways, it feels like they are touching my hair not because they like it, but because they are trying to understand or investigate it.
“Just how does your hair grow that fast? Yesterday it was in a curly ponytail and now it’s so long and straight.”
“How do you get your hair this texture?”
“How did you get your hair to be so curly?”
“Is that your hair or a wig? Like your real real hair, I mean?”
There’s an aspect that makes you feel more like an animal in a petting zoo when that happens and less of a person who’s personal space deserves to be respected.
At this point, if you’re still reading and disagreeing with me, I want to encourage you to think about it this way.
Sometimes when people see hairstyles that are typically worn by black people, they view them as either unique and beautiful or dirty and unprofessional. Any time students are forced to cut their hair or remove their locs because they “don’t fit the uniform policy” or are “unprofessional” can give you a pretty good sign of the tension surrounding black hair. These same hairstyles are sometimes worn by people of different cultures, who are then able to simply cut it off and step right back into privilege, while these stereotypes and adjectives associated with our hairstyles still remain attached to us.
So in many ways, for many black women like myself, our hair is not just something that grows on our heads. It is an extension of our identity and self-expression. It’s the textures and sometimes even the hairstyles our ancestors once wore for functional and fashionable reasons.
For example, for people with really curly hair like myself, braids are a great way to keep your hair out of your face during the warmer months or as a protective styles as you’re growing out your natural hair.
Extensions, weaves, and wigs, can also serve as a protective style that allows us to express ourselves and our creativity in ways that will not mess up our natural hair.
They also look really cute and give us more flexibility in how we want to wear our hair.
Additionally, these hairstyles often take a long time to install and style depending on what you’re getting done. For example, when I get box braids or Senegalese twists, they can take up to EIGHT HOURS to finish. Yes, that’s a full work day, if you are still following at this point. Imagine sitting in a chair that long to get your hair braided and having someone walk past and touch your freshly braided hair? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anyone touching my hair after I just got it done.
When I get weaves installed, they’ve taken anywhere from 2-4 hours depending on what style, what length, and what else is being done to it. For example, for my wedding when I only had about 18 inches installed, it took 3 hours to install and style. It took a long time getting it done and the last thing I want is for some stranger to feel entitled to playing with a couple of the curls.
In short, when it comes to hair in general, I think the general rule should be, “don’t touch what’s not yours.”
The same way you would not go to touch someone’s food whilst saying, “that looks good” you do not need to touch someone’s hair to compliment them or let them know that you like it.
Have you ever had someone touch your hair without asking? How did you deal with it?