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Personal Grooming versus Identity Alteration, Part 2

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As I mentioned yesterday, Over the next few days, I am going to post some of the responses to a question I recently posed to a few of my readers. Here is the question:

What is the distinction between grooming and identity alteration?

Meaning, where is the line when personal grooming / hygiene changes into something that potentially alters identity?

Here’s a response from Charlice, an Assistant Professor and highly intelligent, intellectual (and kind) woman, wife and mother:

Hi Tina,

That’s a tough question. My first reaction is to think that the line between grooming and identity alteration is defined by mentality, by the reason behind the person’s choices. I used to believe automatically that black women who got relaxers were seeking to downplay their black identity. But I’ve met too many socially conscious black women comfortable in their own skin who happened to wear relaxers to make that assumption anymore. I’ve worn my hair natural for over 20 years and still occasionally consider getting a relaxer just to get a different style option. Yet, at the same time, I do believe our hairstyle choices are nearly always an effort to define and express our identity to some extent; not just broad racial identities, but also professional, gender, socioeconomic, and idiosyncratic identities. When I think about relaxing my hair, it may not be because I want my hair to look more like a white woman’s, but it is often because I think I would look more professional or socially acceptable with a sleeker style. So, in that sense, it would still be a case of identity alteration. And maybe, beneath all those arguments about professionalism, it really does boil down to wanting to look more like a white woman since that really is how a “professional” look is defined. I always have to check myself by asking, “What’s so unprofessional about nappy hair or hair that stands up? Who decided that?” As it stands, my choice to wear my hair natural is certainly not just a matter of grooming. It is definitely a political and a social statement. In my case, it is now also about my daughter having one person whose hair looks and feels like hers in a setting where there are few others like us. I think that’s important.

Charlice, thanks for such an honest and insightful commentary. What do you all think? Please share your thoughts! J

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