What other research has been done on hair & bias?

A 2016 study by Rudman and McLean looked at black men and women’s explicit reactions to photos of celebrities (famous black women such as Janet Jackson, Viola Davis, Melissa Tyler Perry, Solange Knowles) with natural and treated hairstyles. The study found that overall, participants preferred treated hair, but the black women expressed no preference.

A 2016 study by health researchers found that black adolescent girls (ages 14-17) may avoid exercise due to concerns about sweat affecting their hair.

  • In focus groups, the girls reported that they avoided getting wet or sweating during exercise because their straightened hair became “nappy.”
    • The girls viewed braids and natural hairstyles as better for exercise, but as not very attractive.
  • The girls were shown photos of celebrities with various hairstyles and asked which hairstyle they liked the most.
    • There was a general preference for long, straighter hair. The girls unanimously agreed that that hairstyle would look good on anyone, while natural styles only looked good on some people
    • The girls expressed that choosing to have natural hair indicated a degree of independence and lack of concern about societal preferences.
    • Nevertheless, natural hair was deemed least attractive than treated hair.
  • The girls reported their levels of physical activity. Girls with higher levels of African-American ethnic identification and who reported that they wore extensions reported more days of physical activity.
  • The authors write, “It is possible that this is a concern shared by many women of different races, but for African American women and girls, the process of straightening hair after exercise may be more extensive and more expensive than for other races and therefore, be a greater barrier to engaging in physical activity.

Relevant research articles

Caldwell, P. M. (1991). A hair piece: Perspectives on the intersection of race and gender. Duke Law Journal, 1991(2), 365-396. http://its.law.nyu.edu/faculty/profiles/representiveFiles/caldwell%20-hairpiece_FAED503C-1B21-6206-60CF2A0849028E3F.pdf

Patton T. Hey Girl, Am I more than My Hair?: African American women and their struggles with beauty, body image, and hair. NWSA. 2006;18(2):24–51. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/199496/summary

Robinson, C. L. (2011). Hair as Race: Why “Good Hair” May Be Bad for Black Females. Howard Journal of Communications, 22(4), 358–376. https://doi.org/10.1080/10646175.2011.617212

Rudman, L. A., & McLean, M. C. (2016). The role of appearance stigma in implicit racial ingroup bias. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 19(3), 374-393. http://gpi.sagepub.com/content/19/3/374.short

Woolford, S. J., Woolford-Hunt, C. J., Sami, A., Blake, N., & Williams, D. R. (2016). No sweat: African American adolescent girls’ opinions of hairstyle choices and physical activity. BMC Obesity, 3(1), 31-38. https://bmcobes.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40608-016-0111-7

“We hope to encourage researchers to use intersectional approach to design new metrics, such as the Hair IAT, to drive new and nuanced conversations.”

– Alexis McGill Johnson, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Perception Institute