Saturday evening on her Instagram profile, R&B singer Ciara debuted a new hairstyle: waist-skimming loc extensions. The style, a temporary version of the loc-ed hair many Black people of all genders sport, sparked discussion both among fans and style outlets.
One in particular, People magazine’s StyleWatch section, posted a story Tuesday about Ciara’s newest mane and stirred a dialogue about far more than trendy summer hair colors. Associate Style Editor Brittany Talarico noted that Ciara is set to wed fiancé Future in a “very elegant affair,” then said immediately afterward in parentheses that the wedding was “another reason [People thinks] she’ll ditch the dreads.”
While the phrase has since been removed, the undertones of Talarico’s words were not lost on some Black readers. YouTube comedienne, natural hair guru and Upworthy curator Franchesca Ramsey pointed out People’s words on her blog shortly after the article was posted. A Black woman with dreadlocks herself, Ramsey noted that the article suggests Ciara could not possibly want to keep her loc extensions for an “elegant” wedding—meaning the locs extensions themselves cannot be elegant.
Regardless of their intent, People drew upon a long legacy of white beauty standards deeming locs (and other forms of Black women’s natural hair) inelegant, unkempt, unprofessional, and otherwise concerning. As far back as the early 1800s, Black women in the United States were legally mandated to cover and obscure their natural hair so as not to threaten “social stability.”
Even as the natural hair movement gains steam, Black women are regularly denied employment, passed over for promotions, and met with hostility in the workplace when we choose to wear our hair as it grows out of our heads. While it may seem inconsequential what a beauty magazine thinks of Ciara’s potential wedding hairstyle, for everyday Black women this judgment matters. When this viewpoint is held by hiring managers, it can be the difference between a job and continued economic instability; that’s quite literally life-changing.
That we believe something is fundamentally wrong with Black hair manifests itself often in the most misogynistic ways, but men are not immune to the scrutiny. Hampton University recently banned dreadlocks and cornrows for male business students — a decision that came because the dean believes those styles “will prevent students from securing corporate jobs.” Again, when Black hair is stigmatized in its natural state, fear of acquiring employment pushes Black folks (especially women) to police one another — and make decisions like chemically relaxing our hair, which can often be dangerous.