Lauryn Hill’s Hairstyles: Response to Style Politics/”Good Hair”

Our discussion on “good hair” and African American hairstyles made me try to think about different moments in popular culture when black women have worn their hair naturally (as in, left it at its natural texture, etc. – not chemically straightened/relaxed and stuff) and when/why, in these moments, these more natural hairstyles were allowed to be fashionable.

I’m a pretty big fan of Lauryn Hill and The Fugees, so the first thing that came to mind for me were a couple of their music videos. The first thing I thought of was Lauryn’s hair in “Killing Me Softly” – She basically has a full afro, and her hair looks awesome. Although, I’m not sure if all of it is her real hair or not, and I guess the fact that that thought occurred to me is interesting. Do you think this makes a difference? Is it better for her to have fake hair that looks less like it is taking after “white” hairstyles? Is it the same because it is still not her real hair and that fact, alone, signifies something?

The second video that came to mind for me was her video for “Doo Wop”. This video features Lauryn in a “past” setting (which is, like, around the 1960’s I think? Correct me if I am wrong. lol.) and in a “present” setting. However, it is in the “present” setting that she has a more natural hairstyle – a hairstyle that is considered more “ethnic” – and in the “past” setting where her hair is not natural. What, if anything, do you make of this (especially considering the documentary we watched this week)?

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13 thoughts on “Lauryn Hill’s Hairstyles: Response to Style Politics/”Good Hair”

  1. I think that Lauryn Hill is trying to send a message in many different forms through her video, “Killing me softly”. I think that she uses her hairstyling as a way to both embrace her racial background, and to empower her black female viewers and fans. I think that she is using her hair a symbol of power and confidence. I am not sure whether or not all of her hair is real, but I find it irrelevant. Many celebrities and singers have to exaggerate their presentation in order to get their message across. I think that she wants to exude racial empowerment, and so she wore her hair in a manner that would tell other black women that she was empowered by being a black female, and that black natural hair was beautiful. It isn’t about Lauryn Hill’s hair specifically, but is instead about the natural black hair of her female fans.
    I also found it interesting to analyze the hair of the rest of the characters in the video. Specifically the men all seemed to have afros, as well. This creates a unity among black empowerment between both genders. I think that is a great movement to increase racial empowerment through natural beauty.

  2. I think with all of these style politics, I’ve moved away from the idea of “white hairstyles” and “white features” and if people of color want to look like white people. I think our past readings articulated it best when they said that the whole topic of eye-lid surgery is much more complicated than trying to look Anglo – it’s a way in which all of us are trying to negotiate our identities through this paradigm of Western beauty standards. Like when black women wear a weave or relax their hair for a job interview so they don’t come off as like they’re trying to make a political statement.
    It strikes me as odd then, when someone like Raven Simone, who spends all her time telling girls to love their body and not conform to societal western standards, go on in a mindless drivel about her weave in Good Hair, gloating how expensive it was, how it was “real” hair, and wore a thousand dollars worth of makeup, and that’s not even counting her outfit, clothes, accessories. I think it’s very hard to stand on a pedestal of self-righteousness and tell the world that they’re above the standards of beauty, when most of us are conforming to it in one way or another, compressed into these (gendered) roles all the time.

  3. I believe it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Some black women, as we saw in Good Hair, and my friends and I like weave because of it’s convenience and simply because it’s fun. We don’t see weave as a bad thing for us or anyone else who uses it. We’ve all worn our hair naturally and think hair can be beautiful in many different forms, whether it’s your real hair or someone else’s. In regards to Lauryn Hill, I think some people may prefer that her hair look natural, whether it’s weave or not because her music and brand stray from mainstream pop icons such as beyonce and Rihanna that some people believe conform to white ideals of beauty. So even if she does have weave, it’s weave that has been made to copy the beauty of black women’s hair and not another ethnicity.

  4. At the same time, maybe a weave is a large part of the persona Simone has created for herself, and therefore very much a part of her identity. Weaves are a significant facet of Black culture, as evidenced in the video “Good Hair;” many women participate, even with very limited incomes, and many more have significant knowledge of weaves. Black men know at least partially about weaves as well. So just because Simone tells adolescents to love their bodies doesn’t mean her message conflicts with her adoration and attachment (I think she even named her weave – or was that someone else?) to her weave.

    Lauryn Hill addresses this very issue in “Doo Wop” with the mirrored 60’s/present images of herself. She presents very different images, one which conforms to the Westernized beauty ideal, and the other which emphatically embraces an African American one – yet both images are of herself. It seems that, as a widely popular hip hop star, Hill wanted to project a different image of beauty in the media than most of her fans were used to seeing, one that reflected their bodies much more closely. I take from the video, however, that she also wanted to show acceptance for those who chose to relax or alter their hair in some other way. Many of her fans did relax their hair, and by presenting such a beautiful image of herself in both contexts, Hill demonstrates the dichotomy within the African American community and that both can serve the community well.

  5. I think that Lauryn Hill’s choice to wear an afro is a very powerful one, on the other hand you must realize the art of manipulating hair is one that is kin to Black culture around the world. Even before white colonizers had come to Africa, women were putting mud in there hair to retain moisture, twisting it, braiding it. As technology has advanced, so has the ways in which we choose to manipulate our hair. Each and every Black woman and man have there own reasons behind why they wear their hair the way they do, and yes like mentioned in class it is a political statement; it carries a message of its own. I just wanted to make sure that it is said that not everyone relaxes there hair to appear white, or to have that “white texture”.I’m being funny but serious at the same time, if this was the case, many black people would then purchase white hair, not Asian or Indian hair. Also there wouldn’t be a variety of textures and styles of hair to chose from when walking into the beauty supply store. Regardless of race though everyone manipulates their hair,whether it is dying it, or cutting it. It is just that Black people have been made to feel inadequate for the difference their skin and hair pose next to an array of different races. Like I said in class, my hair being able to stand (without product) was something that I took pride in. My hair is relaxed today, but that is simply because I made that choice, whether it be influenced by society or not, it’s not because I want to be white. If that was the case I wouldn’t have bought an Afro ponytail the other day. All in all, you can still make as profound a statement with or without a weave.

  6. Hair for African Americans is a very complex issue that individuals may not always understand or have not taken the tie to futher investigate. African American women often attach meaning to the way they choose to wear their hair. It is an expression of their identity and helps to define them as an individual. It has political aspects because it can be a hinderance in certain situations while a symbol of rebel in another. The idea of how an African American woman can be judge based on the way she wears her hair for an interview was discussed in class. Straight, long, European standards of what har should look like is the basis for many corporate America jobs. Those who do not align with these standards are often not able to “pass.” I always find it interesting to think about how things would be different if the shoe was placed on the other person’s foot. For instance, Black woman are always thought of as trying to be “white” if they relax or add extentions to their hair. What if a White woman permed her hair and added curly or kinky extentions to her hair? Would it then be said that she is trying to act “black?” I think questions like these are never thought of in the minds of white individuals because they are the norm and do not have to think of ideas like the above. They are always able to pass in society.

  7. You bring up a great point when you stated, “Although, I’m not sure if all of it is her real hair or not, and I guess the fact that that thought occurred to me is interesting”. I feel that a majority of the time plenty of people do not question the authenticity of hair on people of different ethnicities, but when it comes to African-American women (more so than men, not to completely negate them from the topic at hand) people are more prone to wonder if it is ‘real’ or ‘fake’. As I was talking to my girlfriend, who happens to be African-American, I asked her why she liked to get her hair relaxed (which I’ve done for her once…most nerve-wrecking experience!) and she mentioned that it was easier to tame. But why the need to tame it? I, for one hand do nothing to my hair, I wash it let it and let it air dry, don’t even comb it 98% of the time without having societal implications. But there lies the problem; I’ve never had to deal with the stratification of hair, she has. In a society were aesthetics is one of the most dominant identifiers of a person, hair seems to say a lot. She mentioned to me, as well as what was stated in class, that when one wears there hair natural in the African-American community they are seemed as unruly and not put together by those who cannot wrap their minds around different hair types. I do feel that Western standards of beauty are dominating and can be intimidating. Another student in class mentioned that a speaker told her in a different course, that African-Americans should relax their hair, straighten it and put it in a bun. It’s such a sad reality, in a time where jobs should not judge on gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc. – we, as people, are judged on looks. A little backwards if you ask me. After watching Good Hair, it’s important to note that hair is a statement and mothers are starting their children off young with relaxers in a way to subconsciously protect their children from issues they may run into in a way. I, for one, love natural and fake hair! I admire people who are bold enough to wear their hair in any matter that they please to do so – not feel forced to. As a society why truly struggle with acceptance on various levels and acceptance starts with oneself – embrace your hair ladies and gentlemen! It’s easier said than done, especially because of socially embedded ideas but to end the vicious cycle we have to start somewhere right? That’s where I think Lauryn Hill comes into play, she’s revolutionary not only in her music but in how she shows people that she can perform at her best level even when her physical appearance changes, whether it’s the hair or clothes. I feel that hair, just like tattoos, piercings, height, etc. does not make one of a less active participant of society or do poorly in their job, but we are taught that appearance is everything. Again, I do note that I cannot fully understand what it must be like to have African-American hair, or even mixed-hair for that matter, but having a partner that does deal with this makes me feel very passionate about the subject and can only hope that the drive to make people understand that contradictory messages are being sent out: be you, be unique but try to not to look like x, y, and z.

  8. Adding to a previous comment, Black women have always made grand efforts in manipulating their hair and doing various hairstyles such as adding mud to it, as previously stated. The invention of the perm was an accidental innovation by Garrett Augustus Morgan,Sr. and just gave a new means to wear ones hairstyle. I understand that some might view the usage of perm as a means to manipulate natural texture.But in many ways we humans use products and procedures to manipulate our natural being, therefore, the criticism against the usage of this product on African American women. The next form of hair manipulation that is sometimes criticize is the usage of hair extensions. Interestingly enough, these methods have been utilized for centuries, and was first utilized by both Egyptian men and women for cosmetic adornment as well as to avoid infection of head lice. Further on these extensions were widely popular during the Romantic era when women and men wore copious amounts of fake hair in “Appollo Knots” . For that reason again, Its remarkable to me that when African-American women wear these extension , there has to be a inward reason for such application. While I do believe the hair extension industry is quite massive and a bit ridiculous today , I do believe that the argument that Black women want to be seen as more cultured or mainstream through the usage of hair extensions is quite profane. Yet, undenieably there are individuals who cannot be seen without these extensions, in that cases, its a discussion of esteem rather than a certain message.

  9. I think that we should take into consideration the lyricism behind this song in order to address Lauren Hill’s fashion and use of hair to portray a certain image. There is a line that specifically addresses hair:

    “It’s silly when girls sell their soul because it’s in
    Look at where you be in hair weaves like Europeans
    Fake nails done by Koreans
    Come again”

    but as a collective this song really is about challenging the authenticity of those in the black community. She does a good job of comparing the styles the 60s and the 90s with good reason. in the 60s you do see a lot of conformity with hair and fashion on a large scale. the 90s there is a but more freedom with hair and clothing that comes of a more natural… but she also does some play with the over sexuality of fashion of the 90s as well: which is something else she criticizes as well in her lyrics.

    There is a lot to take in when watching and hearing this video, but I do believe that lauren Hill wore here hair the way she did as a sign of empowerment for African Americans. That is what she embodied as an artist: but I also believe that with or with out her natural hair she still provoked a positive symbol (she wore weave and wigs in later performances too)

  10. The class on the film Good Hair was really interesting, and the ideas and motivations the film discussed behind why someone would want to get weaves or get their hair relaxed were much more complex than one might initially expect. There is so much more to the fashion of how a person of color chooses to wear their hair than simply how it looks. There is a multitude of things that hair can signify and Lauryn Hill is a really interesting example. Wearing one’s hair relaxed may, in some ways, signify something about white privilege, that the hair typically associated with white people is the dominant fashion.

    With the example of the Lauryn Hill music video where she wears her hair in a full afro, I do think she is attempting to signify something about race. While the choice to wear one’s hair naturally or relaxed and the reasons behind it are different for each person, this example, especially in the context of the song, seem to suggest something more political. The other video where she switches between a relaxed hairstyle and wearing her hair naturally seem to suggest a political message. One could interpret this difference as simply a look at changes in styles, but it seems to say something more about what it means in our society to wear one’s hair naturally.

  11. I agree with one of the above posts about how it is important to take into account what Lauryn Hill is saying. It’s interesting that it seems the black community does go through these phases of what’s in (of course just like any other cultural community) but over the past few years, there have been a growing number of heads with more kinkier and curlier hair styles. Companies have noticed this and now you’ll see more hair products for black hair care, specifically natural hair. I think it’s important to note that no matter how your hair style is, one shouldn’t be judged accordingly. Though this does happen more times that not. I remember when my mom went back into the corporate world years ago after being a stay-at-home mom and she permed her hair. Her reason however is that it would be easier for her to deal with in the mornings when getting ready for work. Even I went natural for 2 years and then decided to get a texturizer (a more mild relaxer that allows me to still keep a curl pattern when not straightened). The reason for me going natural in the first place wasn’t to keep up with the “trends” but to make sure my hair was healthy…it had become overprocessed. While I was in the process, I was wearing many weaves while keeping some of my hair out but for the most part, I just really was confused by my hair. I didn’t know how to do it!

  12. When I sit and think about African Entertainers, I can only think of two singers off hand who don’t wear weave or wigs. I think that this alone raises questions on whether or not women in the industry are open to accepting their real hair. When it comes to Lauren Hill, I believe that she makes a statement saying that she will embody her hairstyle no matter what and realize that she is beautiful either way.The film “Good Hair” made me wonder a lot about what people consider or view to be good hair. I honestly have been one person who has been sucked into the societal views of “good or managable” hair and never stopped and realize that virtually all hair is considered to be good. I rememeber one of the stylist that was interviewed in the film said that as long as women can keep their hair healthy, then everyone can have “good hair”.

  13. You brought up a very interesting point about Lauryn Hill’s Doo Wop video. I think that this video depicts one popular style of dress during the 1960s that black females adapted to. Immediately I think of Diana Ross & the Supremes when I see the video but I still think the statement she attempted to make was powerful nonetheless. During the 1960s there were serious social, economic and political challenges faced by African Americans and some blacks used their style of dress and the way they wore their hair as a means to visually express their unappreciation towards oppression so wearing the afro was considered revolutionary at that point in time. But in this video, you see a one-dimensional view of African American womens style in the 1960s because there were blacks who wore their natural hair texture to signify their resistance towards assimilation and oppression. But many women continued to straighten their hair and wear styles that were considered “white hairstyles”. With her comparison of the 2 decades, the 60s and the 90s, I think this video creatively yet intellectually illustrates what society was like during each of those times, despite leaving out some other key social aspects. On the Doo Wop side you see Lauryn singing whereas on the 90s side she is rapping. This video also shows how women has made a transition in society as well with their styles becoming less conservative as time went on. For example, the Doo Wop side shows all the women in modest length dresses but on the “That Thing” side women are wearing shorts, short skirts, pants, and exposing their midriffs. I’m rambling now but I do believe that this video is a really good example of how black women in particular has used fashion to make political statements and it also has implications of third wave feminism, which began in the 1990s.

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