Tatiana’s story is indicative of the struggles with the European standard of beauty that women of African descent are often compelled to adhere to. The daughter of a black father and white mother, Tatiana remembered being taken to a beauty salon when she five years old. When the hairdresser released her hair from the ponytail it was in, her hair became very voluminous. She became very self-conscious as she heard laughter coming from people who were watching the incident unfold. Although most Brazilians are of varying degrees of mixed ancestry, the standard of acceptable hair texture is that of the straight European look. Tatiana’s hair was not straight and she grew up believing there was something wrong with her hair.
As a teenager, she began to straighten her hair and for the first time in her life, she was happy with her hair. But she also noticed the effort it took to keep her hair straight. Everytime she straightened her hair, after a short period, the curly roots would begin to return and she got caught in a sort of tug of war with the curls in her hair. After continuously fighting her hair’s roots, her hair started to fall out. The chemicals she had been using had finally worn her hair out.
After many years of struggle, Tatiana finally began to accept her natural curls. She couldn’t believe how many years she spent in mental slavery, distancing herself from her identity. In the same hair salon where she had been endlessly straightening her hair, she noted other Afro-Brazilian women also assuming their natural hair textures. This process was helped along by the image of actress Taís Araújo who had also adapted a curlier, natural hairstyle in her latest role on Brazilian television.
This story has a few key main points:
1) In Brazil, even women that have what many would consider curly or “good hair” struggle with trying to adapt to the straight, European texture of hair.
2) People continue to look to celebrities as points of reference or even role models. Taís Araújo may not have known it, but her acceptance of her natural locks gave many other Brazilian women of African descent the courage to accept their own natural hair textures.
Where are Angela Davis and Pam Grier when you need them?