The Beauty of Black Women Living in Full Color
With the array of skin tones and hair textures Black women come in, there should be no question as to whether or not we dazzle in each and every color of the rainbow. Yet, when we choose to adorn our beautiful coils, curls, and braids with abstract colors, we're either subjected to harsh ridicule or left out of the narrative on hair-color experimentation altogether. Either way we're made to feel as if we don't belong.
This type of rhetoric sometimes leaves Black women wanting to stick to the status quo of what's deemed as "acceptable." We stay inside the box to feel safe, to avoid losing our jobs, to feel as though we won't be stereotyped or judged or underestimated, solely based on the texture of our hair and the color we choose to dye it to best express ourselves.
And while understated looks may be a solution for some, let's make one thing clear: Embracing our colorful coils in the way we feel most comfortable - whether blue, pink, yellow, purple, or green - is not a problem.
Here, we hear from five Black women who wear their natural hair in living color. And we must say, it's truly a beautiful, and freeing, way to be.
Jennifer Lawrence, 25
Hairstylist living in Ajax, Ontario, Canada
I've been natural since 2014. I cut off all my relaxer after my high school prom. My hair was breaking off from perms, and I was having a lot of scalp irritations from the chemicals. I had been doing this since I was eight or nine, so it's pretty much all I had known. But I was like, 'There has to be another way.' I big chopped it on my own before I went off to hair school, so that was definitely a disaster. Then I came to realize they don't teach you about natural hair in hair school, they only teach you straight hair. After that, I started working in curly hair salons to try and figure out what's going on and where the disconnect is.
Once I found out I could color my natural hair and keep it safe and strong, I wanted to do it. I wanted to break the idea that our curls won't look good in color. First of all, who are the people that are saying this and how come it's still being said?
For me, color is one way of expressing myself. As a shy person in new experiences, my hair is an ice-breaker. When I'm out, it will start conversations, people will ask me questions. It's something that will gravitate people to me so I don't always have to gravitate myself to people.
When it comes to Black women having colorful hair, I encourage more people to do it. And now at work, I see more Black women leaving this 'safe zone' of reds and browns. I'm happy for that. There are so many more options out there for us.
Lawrence's Go-To Products
Kierah Hudson, 19
Student at the University of California, Irvine
I was always straightening my hair and it was really damaged. So when I turned 14, I decided to go natural. I also saw my sister with natural hair doing all these cute hairstyles. I was trying to do them, but my hair wouldn't take to it. So I did a mini big chop, then I transitioned for a year or two and learned how to take care of my hair all over again.
Now that I've gone natural, color plays a big role in my beauty aesthetic. I feel like the more vibrant the color, the easier it is to express myself. I even like bright blues and purples and pinks. Right now, my hair is two different colors, honestly because I wanted black hair but I also wanted some color - so I just did half-and-half. I always wanted to try a light, silvery blonde, but I was scared to do my full head, so that's how I ended up with this.
Sometimes, my mom and dad will look at me like, "Ugh, you just had to go and do that to your hair, didn't you?" [laughs]. But I'm expressing myself and I think it's cute. It's liberating. We're always told what not to do with our hair, but when we rock what people tell us not to do, it always looks really great. We deserve to have that type of freedom.
For the people who say Black women should do otherwise with our hair, I'll say this: Anyone can wear their hair any way they want. Just because you have a darker skin color that does not mean you shouldn't wear bright colors - it actually looks good on us.
Hudson's Go-To Products
Nubia Bennett, 35
Diversity and Inclusion Program Coordinator at the University of Louisville
You know how they say everything is cyclical? Well, my mom was the first Black yoga instructor in our city. She did belly dancing - all this artsy stuff that is cool for Black women to be into now. So when we were young, she was like, 'No, you can absolutely not get a perm, ever.' So I actually had locs when I was in middle school in the '90s, but I'm in Kentucky - not Atlanta, not Florida, none of that. Kentucky. And everyone would ask me, 'What's wrong with your hair?'
I ended up taking them down - before it was common knowledge that you could undo locs - around eighth grade and wore my hair natural until I turned 18, then decided to get a perm, because I was 18. I only had it for about four years, it was so much work and expensive. So I started to just grow it out.
During the transition, my hair started breaking off. Then once I was around 22 or 23, I just cut the straight parts off, and now I just go between my afro and braids and twists. I can't dye my natural hair because I'm allergic. When I do protective styles, I tend to play with a lot of color, because why not? And the students I work with think it makes me more relatable, ha!
But when it comes to my own personal beauty journey, I love to explore texture and color. It helps me lean into pleasure, because it makes me feel good to be colorful. This is me doing art, even though I am the installation.
Every aspect of Black womanhood is policed and managed by other people. But I'm one of the most subversive people I know, and being colorful - it is for other people in a way because it brings other people joy, but it is for me at the end of the day. I'm doing what I want to do, and it feels really, really good to me. That's what I'm led by. And if anybody does want to say anything to me about it being 'unprofessional,' just know I'm qualified. Check these receipts, 'cause I've got these degrees. But I don't care anyway.
Bennette's Go-To Products
Gabrielle Smith, 36
Graphic Designer living in England, U.K.
I'm fully natural - apart from my hair dye [laughs]. I originally transitioned in 2006 when I was in university. It was expensive for me to keep getting my hair permed as a student, so I cut my hair off instead. Since then, at first, I was doing mostly braids. Then maybe in 2015, or earlier than that, I locked my hair, and I had locs for six years. Then I decided I was over it, so chopped my hair off and I've kept it low since then.
I'm not somebody who lives by the notion that Black women shouldn't wear bright colors - absolutely not. Plus, I'm a graphic designer, color is something I'm very familiar with in my work and also in my clothes. I'm always wearing bright patterns and colors. My house is decorated with bright patterns and colors. Color is an extension of who I am as a person, it's a part of my identity, as both a Black woman and as a Caribbean woman. So when I see and read comments about Black women, dark-skinned Black women, and how they shouldn't do this or that with color, it's like, 'Why not?' I don't feel like there's any color that's not suitable for Black women. We should be free to wear all of the colors we want.
I like pink in particular, even though it has this kind of 'girly' connotation. I don't see myself as being very girly or very, very feminine, but I feel like pink and different tones of pink are just colors I like. I like how it looks on my skin. I also think it's a color people don't expect Black women to dye their hair. It felt bold, but soft at the same time.
Smith's Go-To Products
Angela Barimah, 36
Certified Child Life Specialist living in Brooklyn, NY
I was not always natural. I had chemicals, I had perms, and they always gave me issues. My hair would break in very specific areas - a patch at the crown or at the back, sometimes down to the new growth. I was heartbroken. I also have eczema, and where I would get the eczema flares, that's where the hair would break off.
When I moved to New York, I started transitioning and was trying to figure out what I was going to do next. I ended up just cutting it off in the shower and I vowed to myself that I would never cut my hair this short ever again, I think that was around 2010. And I've been natural ever since.
I started this colorful hair journey about a year-ish ago. I always did really fun things with my clothes, but with my hair it was always black and neutral. Since we're not really traveling right now, I needed some inspiration, so I thought, 'What can I do to express myself?' I know it's not through clothes, because where am I going? [laughs] So I needed to figure out how I could still express myself in a fun, creative way. That's how I ended up here.
It was a lightbulb moment for me with my hair. I had to realize, like yeah, you can do that with your hair. No, you won't look crazy. Yes, there are intentional reasons why people tell Black women we can't wear certain colors. So I figured I'd just try it, then I fell in love with it. I think when we look back on our time in terms of the big beauty trends - however many years from now - I believe we'll remember hair color, and Black women being able to express themselves in all forms, which is so beautiful.
Barimah's Go-To Products
For Styling: Mystic Essence Jamaican Black Castor Oil Hair Pomade.
Interviews have edited and condensed for clarity.
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