Hair for black women is serious business. I remember as a child, Sunday mornings meant one thing. Hair wash day.
Tiptoed on the cracked plastic step stool beneath my tiny feet, I savored as my mother scrubbed my little head full of thick wooly 4c textured hair over the kitchen sink.
Thereafter, I’d be summoned to the floor so that she could comb and twist my damp coily strands. I’d spend the afternoon playing hopscotch with my girls outside as my kinky hair stretched and dried, awaiting the evening reserved for the dreaded hot comb.
For 3-4 hours my mother would pass the scorching metal comb through small sections of my hair; taming my unruly tresses for the upcoming school week.
Remember those days? The sizzle of burning Blue Magic hair grease terrifyingly too close to your ear? Ahhhhhh, the memories.
Between doing my own hair, getting my hair done, or contemplating which weave or protective hairstyle to try next – I must have spent at least ⅓ of my life dealing with matters of hair.
28 years later, not much has changed. Yet again, I’ve recently found myself tormented with this familiar dilemma.
From kinky afros, twist outs, and braids to straightened strands, wigs, and weaves; the options are overwhelmingly endless.
And as if the options weren’t perplexing enough; as black women, we often consider additional nuances. Beauty standards, personal identity, even politics come into play when it comes to matters of hairstyles.
The struggle is real!
Hair is a vast, deep, and complicated topic for black women. And no one black hairstyle appeals to the taste, lifestyle, and values of all women.
So how does one choose the perfect hairstyle?
When it comes to black women hairstyles, I’ve tried them all. Literally all.
The TWA, the full on fro, keratin treatments, blowouts, sew-ins, and lace front wigs (by far the most regrettable). I’ve even shaved my head down to the scalp.
After much experimentation, trial, error, and reflection I’ve compiled a thoughtful criteria that you may find helpful when contemplating what hairstyle to try next.
I hope for you – “the struggle” doesn’t have to be quite so real.
Choosing The Perfect Hairstyle For You
To help you determine what you should do next with your hair, I’ve come up with an acronym for all the elements of the perfect hairstyle. That acronym is BELEF. I’ve tried my best to create an objective criteria. Metrics I feel every woman can appreciate.
1. Beautiful / Flattering – (2 Points)
The appeal of a particular hairstyle depends on the individual woman. Hair should flatter your face and compliment your personal style.
- Is this flattering for me?
- Does this suit my personal style?
- Is this in line with how I want to look?
2. Easy / Practical – (2 Points)
Most women can appreciate hair being effortless to style and maintain. Your hair shouldn’t be a tedious and time-consuming task.
- How much time will this take to style daily?
- How much time will this take to maintain regularly?
3. Lifestyle Friendly – (2 Points)
Hair shouldn’t hinder your lifestyle whatsoever. Your hair shouldn’t interfere with your desire to exercise regularly or swim on a whim.
- Does this fit well with my lifestyle?
- What activities will this potentially hinder in my life?
- What activities will this potentially open up in my life?
4. Economical – (2 Points)
Because would you rather spend $500 on a plane ticket to Jamaica or spend $500 on your hair?
- How much will this cost to maintain?
- Can I afford to keep this well maintained?
- Will this exhaust disposable income that would be better spent elsewhere?
5. Flexible – (2 Points)
Because it’s fun to switch it up sometimes.
- How flexible is this style?
- Can I switch it up easily? Do I care to?
6. Real – (Extra Points)
Every woman has different values regarding hair. What other considerations are important to you when choosing how to wear your hair?
For me, while it’s fun to play with different looks, I value that for the most part and most of the time, my hair is real.
- Is this an important value for you?
- What other considerations do you value?
Hairstyles for Black Women
The following judgments are my own. They are based on my own personal experience, values, and taste. I urge you to create your own bonus criteria and define your own personal pros and cons.
Ready? Let’s get into it!
1. The Low Cut – Bald, Shaved, or Low Fade Haircut
A bald head exudes confidence like no other hairstyle. This bold style contrasts and highlights the feminine features of a woman’s face. This style really suits black women with round or heart-shaped faces and/or bold features.
“It’s a stylish middle finger to beauty standards that deem women with long hair as more valuable and attractive.” – Marquaysa Battle
- Beauty/Looks: A bald head looks stunning on some women. It’s unique.
- Ease/Practicality: This style is a clear winner when it comes to ease.
- Lifestyle Friendly: Winner, winner, chicken dinner!
- Economical: Imagine all the plane tickets you could with all the dollars you’ll save on hair products!
- Flexibility: Very limited in terms of versatility. Besides throwing on the occasional wig, there’s not much else to do without hair.
- I know from experience, a shaved head will come with some stigma. Some people may assume you are a lesbian or some kind of radical.
- It’s not for everyone. Takes an uber-confident woman to pull this look off.
- When your hair finally grows back it will be super healthy.
My BELEF Verdict: 7/10
2. The TWA
The TWA or “Teeny Weeny Afro” describes hair between ½ and 2 inches in length. Typically a transition stage just after the big chop. The TWA is also a staple style for many women. And with good reason.
- Beauty/Looks: Suits the face of many women.
- Ease/Practicality: Easy to maintain.
- Lifestyle Friendly: Lifestyle friendly approved.
- Economical: Winning!
- More “socially acceptable” than a bald head.
- #TeamNatural once again!
- Flexibility: Quite restrictive in terms of versatility.
- Like a bald head, I don’t think this look is for everyone. If you have a small head or funny shaped head (no shade), this may not be the style for you.
My BELEF Verdict: 8/10
3. The Afro
Once a symbol of Black pride, natural hair experienced a resurgence during the Civil Rights Era. In more recent times, the afro is back. More and more black women are making a conscious effort to love and accept the hair as it grows.
- Beauty/Looks: Beautiful and quite “in” at the moment.
- Lifestyle Friendly: Reasonably lifestyle friendly. Can be very time to consuming especially when it starts to get a bit longer.
- Economical: When compared to straight styles, still winning!
- Ease/Practicality: Relatively effortless to maintain, especially in the baby fro stage. This, however, is debatable for sure.
- Flexibility: Can be versatile if you are creative. For example, if have some amount of length, you can straighten your strands and play with partial wigs, braids, and clip ins.
- There can be quite an initial learning curve getting to learn your own hair. Lots of trial and error to ensue.
My BELEF Verdict: 7/10
4. Blow Outs / Silk Wraps / Dominican Blowouts
Promising voluminous straight hair, heat has long been a natural alternative to relaxers for coily and curly hair.
- Beauty/Looks: Looks really pretty when done right.
- Flexibility: Allows for flexibility, with major caveats like heat damage.
- This is a great occasional option, not a default style for the sake of your hair health, and wallet.
- Lifestyle Friendly: Can be a major hassle for up keep and keep hair healthy.
- Economical: Expensive to maintain the aforementioned.
- Ease/Practicality: Very time consuming.
- It’s Real! #TeamNatural
BELEF Verdict: 4/10
5. Relaxed Natural Hair
- Beauty/Looks: Looks nice. Caveats to follow!
- Flexibility: Fair
- Lifestyle Friendly: In large, restricts your lifestyle.
- Economical: Can be expensive
- Ease/Practicality: Time Consuming
- Can be very difficult to maintain healthy hair. Typically, your hair will eventually become thin, brittle and damaged. I don’t care how well you take care of it, this is an inevitable fact.
- Kinda basic.
- Real… you, however, will not be #teamnatural.
BELEF Verdict: 3/10
6. Relaxed Natural Hair with Clip-Ins, Sew-Ins, 3/4 Wig, or Half Wig:
- Beauty/Looks: Looks nice.
- Flexibility: Fairly versatile
- Lifestyle Friendly: Fair. You don’t have to fret terribly sweating in the gym, because so little of your hair is actually out.
- Economical: Can get expensive. Bundles are not cheap!
- Ease/Practicality: Can be time-consuming. Curling, straightening, and styling.
My BELEF Verdict: 3/10
7. Full Wigs and Lace Front Wigs
- Ease/Practicality: Relatively easy. Although, getting the lace just right will take some learning + trial and error.
- Beauty/Looks: Eh. I’m on the fence with this one. Unless you’re an A-list celebrity who can afford the best stylist money can buy, lace front wigs (in my humble opinion) don’t mimic your “natural hairline” as well as some may think. Big budget celebrities seem to get it right. I’m often hard pressed however to find average everyday girls to do the same. I always find myself mesmerized and side eyeing by the obviously visible lace.
- Flexibility: Versatile, I guess.
- Lifestyle Friendly: As a go to everyday style, eh. This in my opinion is also an occasional style.
- Economical: Good units can get expensive.
- Wigs may a place in your hair arsenal for fun on occasion, but definitely not a default style.
BELEF Verdict: 4/10, And half those points are for ease.
Nigerian Author Tomi Adeyemi in what I believe are faux locs, or loc extensions. Although I’m not 100% sure, she looks stunning.
- Beauty/Looks: Beautifully unique.
- Flexibility: Sure, you can style your locs different ways; however as the name suggests, for the most part, you’re locked in (pun intended).
- Lifestyle Friendly: Can be lifestyle friendly. I can only imagine however, that they can be a burden sometimes with ALL THAT HAIR!
- Economical: Fair
- Ease/Practicality: Fair
- Like a bald head, dreadlocks may come with many preconceived notions.
- It’s Real! #TeamNatural.
My BELEF Verdict: 5/10
9. Braided Hairstyles for Black Women
Often reserved for vacation getaways or as a summer protective style, don’t discount braids as a viable everyday hair style. Poetic Justice braids or intricate cornrow styles are as the kids say, poppin!
- Ease/Practicality: Pretty easy to maintain.
- Beauty/Looks: Looks nice, especially when freshly done.
- Flexibility: Fair.
- Lifestyle Friendly: Very lifestyle friendly
- Economical: Fair
- Can be perceived as informal, or casual.
My BELEF Verdict: 6/10
Which hairstyle is right for you?
When it’s all said and done, I’ve come to the realization that no one hairstyle works for every woman. And for any one woman, no one perfect hairstyle exists.
As black women we have the ability to do soooooo much with our hair. I think it’s one of the many elements of #blackgirlmagic. With that said, don’t be afraid to experiment to your heart’s content. Take it from a girl who’s tried it all; it’s just hair, and will grow back.
Personally, I most value practicability, lifestyle, my time, and my money. For my taste, personal style, and lifestyle; the TWA suits me best (for now). I can rock my Teeny Weeny Afro, then once my hair gets a little longer, I’d like to try those beautiful faux locs, or throw on a wig when I feel like switching things up a bit.
Which hairstyle will you try next? Join the conversation in the private Facebook Group.