Black Girls Are Stereotyped By Their Natural Hair, New Study Confirms

A new study by the Arizona State University Department of Psychology confirms what many already know: Black girls have negative experiences related to their hair, and they start as young as preschool.

Girls doing a presentation about the Solar System in the classroom
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When Annette Jeter Jean-Jacques decided to transition from relaxed to natural hair in 2015, she had her daughter top of mind. Now 11, Bailey has a front-row seat to her mother's newfound love of styling her hair as it exists in its natural state.

This unconventional fashionista relishes in her skills of effortlessly accessorizing coily afros, braids, twists, or textured updos with trend-bending outfits that would give even Naomi Campbell pause. Occasionally, Jean-Jacques will even top her billowing mane with an actual crown, solidifying her confidence in her appearance.

How lovingly she cares for her natural hair certainly influences how Bailey as well as younger daughter Bella, 3, embrace theirs. Both girls wear long, flowing braids with pops of color or beads in them.

"I really like that she is proud of wearing the natural hairstyles," says Jean-Jacques about Bailey. "She's going to school showing her personality through her hair. I really think it has a lot to do with me embracing my natural hair, so that helps her feel better and open to wearing her hair in natural styles."

The family lives in diverse Evanston, Illinois, and the children attend a diverse school. It's an atmosphere that's nurturing for all children to express their personal style. That's great for Bailey and Bella, however, not all Black girls have such positive experiences when it comes to their natural hair.

According to a new study by the Arizona State University Department of Psychology, which is said to be the first to examine hair satisfaction in young Black girls, it is common for young Black girls to have negative experiences related to their hair. Verbal teasing and unwanted hair touching were among the top adverse encounters, says the study, which consisted of 105 girls ages 10–15 years old who identify as Black or African American. More than 54% of the girls had these issues, which they claimed started in preschool or kindergarten.

"Those statistics unfortunately track with history and what we know," says Dr. Cynthia Lubin Langtiw, Ph.D., a professor of clinical psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. "I think that it all has to do with a lack of exposure. Many times, that's why non-Black people want to touch Black girls' hair because it's not normalized for them. Images of Black girls with natural hair should be seen more in the media so they are normalized for everyone."

In 13-year-old Bailey's case, says her mother, the other children know that her hair is part of her body, and they must ask for permission before they touch it.

"Bailey knows how to stand up for herself," says Jean-Jacques. "She's pretty assertive and will tell people not to touch her hair. Even if she has to get the teacher involved, she will put an end to others invading her space."

Dr. Langtiw believes that more young Black girls need to be taught the sacredness of their hair – and bodies.

"When there's a sense of a lack of autonomy, there's a sense of a lack of safety in the world," she explains. "What these girls are saying is that time and again, people are crossing their boundaries and touching their bodies. When you think about it, that's horrific."

To end this trauma for young Black girls, says Dr. Langtiw, schools, parents, and mainstream media must play an active role in changing the narrative. For example, she believes that schools are where Black hair should be celebrated.

"I think that's an important piece in the puzzle," she continues. "Our language, the ways that we move in the world set the frame for what young people take in. The girls should see pictures that look like them with hair that looks like theirs. There are so many different things that schools, parents, families, religious settings, etc. can do to celebrate Black hair and blackness."

That's one of the reasons why Ahmad Islam enrolled his daughter in a performing arts high school. Sel (who prefers pronouns them, they, theirs), 16, thrives in this creative environment, which also provides a well-rounded education. Sel also boasts more than 80,000 TikTok followers, where they post imaginative cosplay content. That, of course, includes variations on natural hairstyles, from bantu knots to kinky blonde afros to modernized mohawks.

"As parents, we've let them express themselves," says Islam, whose family resides in Houston. "I am a marketer, so I understand creativity and the importance of being able to exercise self-expression. That comes in a lot of forms. They create art. They paint. They draw, they do all this content. But they also express themselves through their appearance. That's something that we champion and support."

Islam admits, however, that there was initial pushback from older women in his family who were against Sel cutting their long hair into what may be considered "alternative" styles.

"'Why are you cutting your hair? It's so pretty and so long,' [the women] would protest," he recalls. "It was just those traditional standards of beauty in our community that we often try to put off on generation after generation. I've always encouraged my child to express themselves, which is why Sel is proud of the fact that they don't look like everybody else."

Dr. Langtiw stresses the importance of young Black girls having someone telling them how beautiful their hair is for them to appreciate it.

"When they don't have that kind of connection when they're younger, or when they don't have someone who is celebrating all parts of them, it really tears apart at that positive self-image that they can carry into adulthood," she explains.

"From a psychological perspective, the shift toward loving Black natural hair is a radical shift away from the standards of colonization, which is lighter, straighter hair. Loving our hair as it comes out of our heads has everything to do with turning away from colonization and standards that were never for us. It's turning towards love, turning towards blackness, turning towards good psychological health."

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