9 Things You’ve Always Wanted to ask a Black Woman About Her Hair


Onovu Otitigbe-Dangerfield, Co-Editor-in-Chief

*The views and opinions expressed in the following piece are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The Nest or Albany High School.*

We live in a culturally sensitive era where often it becomes awkward when people of different races pose questions to one another. This may stem from a desire to remain as respectful as possible without being offensive, or because you may not know how to phrase the question. We have all been there, and personally, there have been times where I just don’t ask.

As a black woman, there have been more occasions than I can count where people have asked me about my hair. They have been from people of all races, and in most cases it just comes from curiosity.

Black women are notorious for carrying a variety of styles on our head that comes from years of experimentation teamed with innovation in the hair care industry regarding the best methods to take care of it, and the limitless possibilities of “hair art” that can be produced. 

Here are a few of the common hair questions asked to black women based on a survey conducted by Thought Catalog as well as my personal experience:

Why is it so thick?

Black women can confidently say they have hair unlike anyone else on planet Earth. It comes in a variety of curl patterns that range from 1 to 4c. As the numbers increase the hair travels from straight to wavy to curly and kinky. 4c hair is the hardest to take care of due to its brittle nature, and its difficulty to absorb moisture from products that keeps hair healthy. The curl pattern of one’s hair is something they are born with, and it can be “changed” with the use of texturizer, but this is a damaging chemical that can lead to breakage. Its thickness can vary from how a person takes care of it, to the environment they grow up with that cater to natural hair.

Why do you wear scarves and bonnets to sleep?

Scarves and bonnets, especially satin lined are worn to protect our hair. The cotton material that most pillow cases contain can actually damage our hair while we sleep by pulling on the strands, which can cause breakage. They are also worn to keep styles maintained for the next day, because taking care of black hair is TIME CONSUMING. The stereotype that is projected onto most black women that are seen wearing bonnets in public is one that decivilizes their character. However it is just a tool that we use to protect our crown.

Does the weather really affect your hair?

The cold weather is not conducive for black hair growth. It creates a harsh environment for the hair to grow, and can actually make it dry and brittle, making it harder to retain moisturizers and conditioners. 

Why doesn’t it grow as much as other races?

Black hair grows! You’ve heard, I’ve heard, practically everyone has heard the age old claim that black people generally have shorter hair because it doesn’t grow. That is not true.

Our hair grows, the issue lies in retaining that growth. A black woman’s hair is always “starting over” due to excessive shedding, breakage and dryness according to blackamericaweb. There is actually scientific evidence correlating the iron deficiency found in most African Americans and their ability to retain hair length. 

Additionally, it is not until relatively recent where chemicals (such as relaxers and texturizers black woman relied on to achieve the European standard of beauty (straight hair) have stopped being used, as well as hair straighteners, (which cause heat damage if used too frequently) as the community has realized its detrimental effects. This has led to trends like the “Big Chop” (where all the relaxed ends are cut off and you get a fresh start) to transition periods (where you wait for the ends to fall off naturally) allowing one to start new with their natural hair.

Is that weave or is it real?

This comes full circle to the topic everyone is familiar with. Used for jokes in TV comedies, and insults for playground bullies, society’s interpretation of weave varies. There are some who are completely confused and can not wrap their head around the concept. Others view this method of protective styling as “ghetto” for lack of a better term. And yet there are some who still dare to ask: “Is that your real hair?”

Weave is a hair extension method where hair wefts are sewn onto braided hair and styled into any style. This is different from wigs, which are acquired by sewing hair onto a wig cap and placing that onto your head. They are easy to take on and off, while weaves require you to detach the thread with the weave attached to the braided cornrows that is your natural hair. Then there are hair extensions used for individual box braids or cornrows, that are simply attached to your natural hair to create awesome styles. Now you’ve left with a vocabulary lesson. 

Many also wonder if getting these extensions hurt, and the answer is it varies. But remember beauty is pain, and the pain should not be great enough that it lasts more than three days. If so, the beauty is so not worth it.

As far as whether or not any of these styles are “ghetto” the answer should be obvious. It is a disrespectful stereotype voiced by ignorant individuals who do not take the time to realize or research how beautiful the styles can look- but also how it is part of black culture that has been alive for centuries as a way to protect and beautify ourselves- no different than wearing earrings, or a nice outfit to showcase yourself. Furthermore, unless it is a friend of yours you should never, especially in a public setting question whether or not it is real. 

Thoughts on cultural appropriation?

There have been many social media wars that address the issue of cultural appropriation when it comes to other races adopting what would otherwise be distinctively African American hairstyles.

This is another one of those topics where it definitely depends on the individual. Janikwa Hoke, a junior at Albany High, expressed that “It is frustrating that a negative connotation is associated with black hair styles, but when other races do it, it isn’t perceived in the same light. ”There are others who embrace that others are interested enough, or are flattered by black hair so much that they are motivated to copy it.” There is no right answer.

Why do you change your hair so often?

The real question is why not? One of the beauties of black hair is its versatility. Our hair textures, however they may vary allow experimentation with a variety of styles. New style, new you! And the good thing is that most are temporary so they allow a switch up as frequent as you like. However because of the issue with retaining growth, it is advised not to over manipulate your hair. 

Did you cut your hair?

Jolie A. Doggett claims that: “Without fail, if I go out in public after a wash day, someone somewhere will ask what happened to all of my hair after they witness the incredible shrinkage.” This term, shrinkage, applies to the process our curly hair undergoes after it absorbs moisture. When whatever liquid is absorbed by the kinky texture of our hair, it shrinks. Simple as that. It appears shorter, or that we perhaps cut our hair but its just the science. 

Can I touch it?

No. No, you cannot touch it. Absolutely not. There have been news stories published, songs written, Mo Mo Pixel even designed a video game entitled: “Hair Nah” because it still seemed like people were not getting the message. And yet, here I am mentioning this in an article because someone decided to do so to me last week.

I will not speak for all black women on the issue but the general consensus demonstrates that the answer is no. It ends up being a win/win for you anyway because a black woman’s hair is typically loaded with oil and product that allows them to maintain such beautiful hair. If you’re reading this article and feeling guilty, you’ve done the deed. The good news is, you now know never to do so again. If you ask and the answer is yes, then props to you. But touching anyone, especially a stranger without permission is just bad etiquette.  

Remember it is OK to be curious, but respect is the most important factor to consider!