What is it with black women and wigs?

What is it with black women and wigs? All over the internet ads now appear for ‘wigs for black women’ aimed at an African American audience. Even Google has got in on the game. Right across West Africa today, the majority of women wear wigs or weaves as part of daily life. And the same is true of black women in the Caribbean and parts of Europe, making wigs for black women big business for someone.

Wigs for Black Women
One of the many ‘Wigs for Black Women’ advertisements online.

My own mother wore a wig for all 47 years of her life in England. I still for the life of me can’t understand why. Why at twenty-one years old she would suddenly decide to hide her own natural hair and start wearing any one of a dozen Winnie Mandela-style curly afro wigs in public?

It wasn’t as if she didn’t have hair to style in a reasonable fashion. For in the early years, at least, before too much wig wearing ate away at her scalp like cancer, she had a head full of “good hair.” But the more she wore wigs was the more she grew wedded to the idea of never being seen in public without her “hat-on,” as she called it.

What is it with Black women and wigs?
Double Act: British actor Carmen Monroe (circa 1970s).

Growing up in my mother’s house, there was always the faintly musky whiff of real human-haired wigs in the air. I developed an aversion to false hair early. “Work with what you’ve got,” I’d tell her. “What are you ashamed of?” But she wasn’t one for hair salons or other vain excesses; she’d have you know. She had two kids to feed and a mortgage to pay all on her own, and the state of her hair was hardly the most important thing on her mind.

“Look how great that lovely actress Carmen Monroe looks,” I’d plead. “And she’s practically your double. Try a crop.” But we spent years fighting that particular battle, my mother and me. And still, whatever argument we got into, invariably ended with me trying to persuade her to dump the wigs, and free her mind. What are you ashamed of? But it never worked. As the years rolled on, she grew to despise my dreadlocks even more than I still hated her ‘real human haired’ wigs.

Then after cancer took hold, and the chemotherapy had taken its toll, she became even more psychologically dependant on the wig as a kind of crutch to feign normality, while she laid up in bed wasting away.

We even buried her in a damn wig in the end. Against my better judgement, it was, but “Sis” begged and persuaded me that “the mum we knew and loved, wouldn’t have wanted a seat on the right-hand of God, without her hat on.” Too true, I suppose.

African American Full Lace Wigs on Sale (Ego Extensions)

So, there you have it. My mother, wigged-out all the way from England to the grave. I wonder how many other sons or daughters have said as much. What say ye?

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