Image credit: Hulu/Ser Baffo and photo illustration by Keila Gonzalez
“Scandal.” “How to get away with murder.” “Reasonable doubt.” Can you see what these three TV shows all have in common?
Aside from each having a main character with slightly questionable morals, these characters also share another similarity: their laid-back bob hairstyles. While the shows are fictional, the women’s hair is does Echoing a message that is very much a reality for black women in “professional” settings: that straighter, straighter hair is better. But why are bobs so popular?
The official bob can be dated back to 1909 in Paris when Antoni Cierplikowski, known as the first celebrity hairstylist, created the Joan of Arc-inspired cut. Then, “the bob haircut jumped onto the big screen in the 1960s, especially after it was sported by women like Diana Ross,” professional hairstylist Tyrisa Thomas tells POPSUGAR. “It would see a resurgence from 2007 to 2015, when stars like Rihanna and Nicki Minaj had a seemingly endless impact on mainstream beauty trends.”
This is true. The 2010s was around the time when Rihanna, one of the most prominent black women in media, was in her “Good Girl Gone Bad” era, and right when Nicki Minaj was exploding on the music scene. During that time, you would have had a hard time finding someone who could Not have a version of Rihanna’s star tattoo or Minaj’s platinum blonde hair and signature cat eye — that’s how much appeal they’ve had on the beauty landscape. So if both Rihanna and Minaj both tried out the bob hairstyle, it makes sense that the masses would follow suit too.
But the hairstyle may have had a deeper meaning to her, and why it’s resonating with black women so many years later: They both wore it to welcome new eras in their careers.
For Rihanna, her bob came as she tried to shed the demure “good girl” image that seemed to be in the early stages of her working life. For Minaj, it was the look that propelled her from relatively unknown Queens, New York rapper to global superstar. Even Ross wore the look when she first rose to fame as a member of The Supremes. The Red Thread? Bob hairstyles were the look of choice for prominent black women entering the big stages of their professional lives.
Aside from the impact that pop culture has had on black hair trends, there’s another reason black women both on TV and in real life choose to wear bobs in professional spaces. As activists at the federal level have campaigned for passage of the CROWN Act, numerous Black women have disclosed their negative experiences of wearing their natural hair or protective styles in the workplace. Gabrielle Union, for example, was reportedly told on the set of America’s Got Talent that her hair was “too black.” At one point, before she revealed her battle with alopecia, Congresswoman Ayanna Presseley was advised against wearing her hair in Senegalese twists for fear it wouldn’t look “polished” enough. These situations are not uncommon for black women. In fact, the black community as a whole is still trying to heal itself from the effects.
Image Source: Photo illustration by Keila Gonzalez
“Black women are still recovering from the trauma of being told for so long that our hair texture isn’t good enough, like in the workplace or in the ‘professional’ setting,” says Lacy Redway, Dove’s partner and celebrity hairstylist, versus POPSUGAR. “We’re culturally ingrained that straighter hair is just easier to digest in those spaces. As a result, many women have changed their hair textures like this [what they look like] will not become the focus of the mission they are on.”
Although bobs have become a staple as part of the “professional” black women’s uniform, black women, as we know, are not a monolith. Whether the hairstyle truly signifies a change in a black woman’s life, is a symbol of power and strength, or is simply easier to maintain in everyday life than other styles, the fact is: black women have taken the bob haircut and made it mean something. From braided bobs to asymmetrical bobs and everything in between, the hairstyle looks great and boosts confidence. If there’s one thing the world can never have enough of, it’s confident black women.
Credit: Getty/Kelsey McNeal Contributor Ser Baffo/Hulu and photo illustration by Keila Gonzalez