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Word? Dr. Oz Helps Black Women Big Chop and Embrace Their Natural Hair

9:34 AM

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Article also available on Black Girl with Long Hair!

Another day, another instance of cultural appropriation folks jumping on the natural hair bandwagon to gain popularity.

On May 28th, the popular daytime doctor Mehmet Oz sprang head first into a two-part show segment called Style Your Natural Hair. Here's a brief rundown of parts 1 and 2:




Part 1
  • Dr. Oz opens talking about a "hair revolution" that even Oprah has gotten in on (shows infamous O Magazine cover where Oprah is sporting an obviously overstated textured wig).
  • Marie Simone Smith is introduced as someone "leading the charge" in the natural hair movement (stick a pin riiiiight there), and owner of one of the first natural hair salons in the country.
  • A studio guest Sonya comes on stage, and explains her decision to want to big chop -- among other things citing being tired of the cultural stigma that "nappy is tacky and straight is great".
  • Stylist Marie Simone Smith (with the assistance of Dr. Oz) places Sonya's hair in a high ponytail and chops it, to much fanfare and applauses.
  • Sonya emerges with an almost instant, beautiful stretched fro. Dr. Oz revels in the difference between her thin, relaxed ends and the thicker, more dense natural hair (comparing the densely packed strands to that of a paintbrush).
  • Part 1 ends with an introduction to Lisa, who has been dying her hair blonde for nearly 30 years and is concerned about damage (side eye). Dr. Oz drums up interest for the next section of the segment by introducing "the perfect test" for checking hair damage.


Part 2
  • Part 2 opens with Dr. Oz, Lisa, and Marie Simone Smith. With a sense of urgency, Dr. Oz introduces something that we all must do -- called the"10 Second Healthy Hair Test".
  • Marie Simone Smith proceeds with plucking one of Lisa's blonde, straight hairs and placing in a cup to perform a porosity test (stick another pin there, please).
  • Smith concludes that Lisa's hair is damaged and recommends a simple fix -- when you buy your "mainest" products (another side eye) aka shampoo and conditioner, look for labels that say "deep moisturizing", "deep penetrating moisturizing", or "porosity control" (you guessed it, stick another pin right there).
  • Lisa leaves the stage and on walks Cicely, who appears to be rocking a gorgeous twistout. She gives a moving statement about being liberated and finding herself in natural hair.
  • When Dr. Oz asks Marie Simone Smith about styling natural hair differently, Smith simply draws up Cicely's hair into a half pompadour with bobby pins (one last pin right there, please).


I don't know about you all, but I almost keeled over like five times watching both clips. For the record, I don't have a problem with mainstream publications and programs joining in on the natural hair narrative. But there is a fine line between inclusion and co-optation. This show segment is dangerously close to becoming the later, in the same vein of other habitual line steppers.

The fact that a daytime show like Dr. Oz is willing to yet again talk about natural hair (they did it in 2013 with Curly Nikki), is a demonstration in the viability and power of the topic itself. However, there are so many components of this segment that are problematic and reek of ill-preparedness and ignorance on behalf of the show's producers. So let's run through those pins (I'm not even going to touch the Oprah wig thing, that magazine cover got run into the ground) while I share with you where and why I took issue with several components of this segment:

Who the heck is Marie Simone Smith?

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I don't know about you all, but when someone is tasked or attributed to "leading the charge" of something, most people to a degree know who they are. I'm sure Ms. Smith is a stylist somewhere, and quite possibly one of the first in natural hair. But a leader in the natural hair community or revolution? Leaders in natural hair aren't hard to find. Ms. Smith on the other hand, is. I couldn't find a website, StyleSeat, Facebook, blog mention or anything. Most popular stylists have some sort of online presence, if for no other reason than to draw customers. I'm not trying to shade or discredit her, but there are a lot more trusted names that could have been called on -- and some of the names in this article (like Diane C. Bailey, Anu Prestonia, or Felicia Leatherwood) are just a start. A natural hair professional from a Devachan, Ouidad, or heck, even Miss Jessie's salon would have made a huge difference in lending some credibility to the segment.

TV sensationalism doesn't tell the full story.
In part 1, it is obvious that Sonya has transitioned (for an undisclosed amount of time) from relaxed hair. There was no mention of it, other than Sonya saying she had been waiting for a while to big chop. Additionally, her hair was obviously stretched or blown out in preparation for the show. Once the ponytail was set and chopped, Sonya emerged with a picturesque afro stretched to the gawds.

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I find this problematic for a few reasons. One, it creates an unrealistic expectation for women big chopping. There are enough insecurities surrounding cutting off most of one's hair, and showcasing an aesthetic that is only achieved after transitioning for at least 6-8 months without any mention of transitioning or gradually growing hair out is misleading. Two, what about the shrinkage? Because the hair is blown out, Sonya has no clue what her hair will look like come wash day -- which brings me to my next point. Three, the cut itself. Although there's more than one way to chop the hair, as someone who transitioned then cut, I couldn't help but cringe at the chop Sonya was given. I'm a firm believer in the DevaCut method, or at minimum, the idea of cutting hair in its most natural state. Our hair has all sorts of tricks up it's sleeves -- shrinkage, multiple textures, and varying patterns all on one head. Cutting hair that is completely dry and stretched does nothing to accurately capture how the hair will look during regular styling -- unless it will remain perpetually stretched.

About that porosity test....

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Time and time again, the wonderful scientist Jc of The Natural Haven has debunked and offered sound scientific reasoning behind why the porosity test is junk science. Knowing and learning hair porosity is important, but a 10 second float test in a cup of water won't tell you any more about your hair than a chart with numbers and letters and hair types will. There is no magic bullet to learning and understanding your hair, and no magic potion to correct years of damage and inappropriate care. Both require patience, and trial and error -- but I guess that doesn't make for good daytime TV.

The "Mainest" Products
In addition to mainest not being a word, I found the product recommendations to be completely unhelpful. If someone were truly looking to Dr. Oz for help with natural hair, vague suggestions about deep penetrating and porosity control products would have put them on a fast track to nowhere. Beyond that, shampoos and conditioners related to porosity control are often only found at beauty supply and salon stores, not Target and CVS. For color care specifically, a number of drugstore (Pantene, Tresemme, Dove, L'Oreal) and readily accessible salon brands could have been mentioned -- because color care products automatically attempt to address the porosity issues caused by dying hair. Also, mentions of sulfate-free products, deep conditioning, and reconstructive treatments would have been helpful, but went un-discussed. Good thing we have blogs and vlogs for this kind of stuff.

And the pompadour!

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First things first. I don't know about you all, but I found Cicely's twist or braid out (I can't tell which one it is) to be absolutely stunning. The mix of frizz, volume, and definition looks like something that could only be achieved with day 2 or 3 hair. And then....the stylist Marie Simone Smith goes and rolls all that natural gorgeousness into an updo. If that was my hair, the show would have had to go off the air for a few minutes. When the segment approached styling, a better idea perhaps would have been taking the first guest who big chopped, Sonya, and styling her hair. A twistout demo, an updo demo, or even a wash and go demo. Not pinning up someone else's style that had at least 2 good days left!

To sum this thing up, the segment had potential, but got lost in the shuffle of sensationalizing, gross misrepresentation, and misinformation. The final product showed just how uneducated the producers were on the topic of natural hair. Dr. Oz himself was actually the singular ray of hope in this segment. For me at least, he maintained a respectful distance from the topic, asking questions with what seemed to be genuine interest in understanding. I appreciate his willingness to stay in his own lane, and not commandeer a topic he knows little to nothing about. He successfully avoided coming across as a museum curator, circus ringmaster, or in any form that would give viewers the impression that women with natural hair are a spectacle to behold.

But the show producers? Get your cultural competency weight up -- at least as it pertains to natural hair.

Would you let Dr. Oz big chop your hair, or nah? What do you think of mainstream media outlets talking more and more about natural hair?

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3 comments

  1. Seriously NaturalJune 13, 2014 at 12:08 PM

    Not feeling this at all. Don't use our very beautiful movement to gain ratings without at least allowing the real forerunners of the movement to discuss and work on the models. I don't know who that woman is either and if you are a hardcore natural then you know who is who! they tried...they failed...be better prepared next time.

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  2. THANK YOU!!!!!! I really don't understand the folks that have been very critical of my perspective and called my POV nit-picky. People are saying "at least they're talking about it" --- and I'm like really? So, you don't care HOW you're represented in the media? Just that somebody thought enough to mention you (for ratings)? It's a trip. Thanks for commenting :)

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  3. I just saw this today. It's sad that in 2014, this country is STILL so socially segregated that kinky hair and how it behaves is news. The coverage? Meh, this is how television is. There's rarely any in-depth information. But on the basic level of emotion (which is really the driver of behavior and opinion) it is powerful to show people lovingly handling and styling kinky hair on television. For that, I say, thank you, Dr. Oz.

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