White beauty standards are putting Black women in danger

Racism kills, and a new study on the potentially harmful effects of chemical hair straighteners has shown the paradox many nonwhite people face when forced to conform to white beauty standards. 

Late last week, the National Institutes of Health released findings from a study that suggested women who use chemical hair straighteners could have a higher risk of developing uterine cancer than those who do not use them.

As NBC News reported: 

Women using chemical hair-straightening products are at a higher risk of uterine cancer than women who reported not using them, a new study by the National Institutes of Health found. Researchers noted that Black women may have a higher risk because they are more likely to use such products more frequently. A group of researchers with the NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences looked at the hair care habits of more than 33,000 women and found that those who used chemical hair straightening products at least four times a year were more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer.

Studies like this are precisely why activists and lawmakers have been demanding full passage of the Crown Act, a federal bill that would ban discrimination based on hair style and texture. The House passed the bill in March, but the Senate hasn’t yet voted on it.

Conservatives like Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, who mocked the Crown Act as the “bad hair bill,” have, ironically, made the argument for its necessity with their insulting actions. 

Rest assured: Many Black people know not to take style advice from oppressive white folks like Boebert. But because people like her wield outsize influence in American society, many Black folks are forced to conform to a look they wouldn’t be caught dead wearing otherwise, just to gain access to jobs, competitive schools and anything else that could be kept from them.

It’s what inspired me, in 2019, to create Black Hair Defined, a multimedia project designed to celebrate Black hairstyles, highlight their cultural significance, and encourage the Black people wearing them to reject claims about these styles’ inferiority.

Mandating or encouraging Black people to comb out their hair kinks could put them in harm’s way — both mentally and physically. Ultimately, it’s a sick offer to make: “Black folks, you may be accepted into our exclusive groups if you agree to cover your head in cancer-causing chemicals. And to our liking, please — you know how we feel about frizz.”

This new study reinforces the very real dangers posed by hair discrimination. The Crown Act is needed now more than ever. 

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