If there are any two sisters who seem to "have it all" Beyoncé and Solange Knowles would fit the bill. The two have been everywhere lately — Beyoncé at the Grammys, the Brits, and on tour in Europe, and Solange at various fashion month events. But this same visibility that’s afforded them their charmed lives has also made them the subjects of criticism, specifically for how they choose to wear their hair.
Hair plays a huge role in their respective images. Beyoncé often wears a long, blonde hairpiece (wet Grammys bob notwithstanding). Solange’s natural texture has an alternative appeal — it’s perfect for a member of the fashion set, a crowd she’s managed to firmly settle into. Their hair is a symbol of what they represent as public figures.
While the mainstream media generally fawns over Beyoncé, if you scratch the surface and venture into the comments section, you’ll see some unrest that goes beyond just criticizing her style, as so many people do with celebrities. Plenty of women wear weaves, but Beyoncé’s weave gets singled out for being bad for the self-image of little black girls, because it’s too long, too blonde — and because she is too ubiquitous. She’s the biggest pop star of our generation, and she also happens to be black. Because there are so few representations of high-profile black women with the cultural capital Beyoncé has, lofty expectations of representing “blackness” are bound to be placed on her.
“People love to criticize Beyoncé about her hair because they associate her hair choices with trying to assimilate to white culture,” natural-hair blogger Lexi of Lexi With the Curls explains. “Wearing 24-inch, straight blonde extensions, to some, can come off as trying to look Caucasian and trying to stay away from looking too ‘black.’” And Beyoncé’s often pitted against her younger sister for not being black enough. “Solo looks like a black version of Beyoncé,” a commenter quipped at Necole Bitchie on a post about Tina Knowles’s 60th birthday party in January.
But Solange isn’t off the hook either. Her natural hair is probably closer to what types who aren’t too keen on Beyoncé’s look wish to see when they think of beautiful black hair. But even she attracts her share of scrutiny. She has been thrown some shade for not adequately representing the naturals, a tribe for which she is a reluctant representative. But the hair police remain unrelenting.
A video interview with Solange this past September served as one forum for women to air their grievances with her look, and they deemed her recent triangular bob, seen during fashion month, a “fiasco.”
“This [type of criticism] is getting into the inside of the head instead of what’s on the outside of the head,” said Lori L. Tharps, co-author of the newly updated book Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. “It’s unpleasant to see that we seem to have policing and shaming in the natural-hair movement, which should be more of a celebration of people having fun with their hair.”
With more representations of black beauty and black hair popping up these days (see: Lupita Nyong’o’s crop and Olivia Pope/Kerry Washington’s layered blowout), the versatility of black women’s hair is becoming more apparent to the rest of the world. It’s time we stop nitpicking and just embrace it. This is not to say the representation and perception of black beauty and hair in the media is not still narrow. There are plenty of gaps that need to be filled.
Some black women wear weaves, some don’t. Some relax their hair, some don’t. This is a fact that probably won’t change. It’s time to accept this, and individually work on projecting the type of beauty we so crave to see in our magazines, in the movies, and on television. Beyoncé and Solange shouldn’t have to do it for us.
Additional reporting by Cheryl Wischhover.