Harvard Square is unfamiliar to me. T0 many, Harvard and its surrounding area are the locus of education, student life, tourism, and good times. Many revisit to relive their glory days, soak in the colonial architecture of the Yard, or learn about scholarship of the past and innovations of tomorrow. But I have come to this place, met with some of the world’s brightest minds, next world leaders, dreamers, achievers, changemakers — and to me it has never been more than a place without the beauty supply store.
And yes, I know, it sounds really shallow.
I sit in my childhood home and from every window in every direction I can tell you of a beauty supply store — affectionately known to me as the hair store — that is not more than 10 minutes away. They are staples in the communities that surround them, suppliers of all things hair and personal care, but mostly, it was the place where I went to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be.
I now look out the window from my Harvard dorm room, and when I search for the road to myself in every direction, I don’t know which way to go. And I yearn for a reminder that I belong here.
The beauty supply store is a place not just about sales, but also about learning respect for, love for, and agency over my own body — starting from the very roots that grow from my head. It was there for me before Solange rejected having her hair touched over a neo soul melody, before Beyoncé declared she liked her “baby heir with baby hair and afros”, before Miranda Bailey taught Derek Shepherd about Zola’s kitchen on Grey’s Anatomy, before pulling girls’ weaves and “yaga”s became pop culture phenomena. It was always the place where I could go to find the supplies that would nurture the expression of my soul.
For Black women, hair has always been serious business. Historically, it’s a sacred cultural and spiritual symbol. We fashion our hair for more than just style, but rather as demonstrations of our individual essences and signifiers of Black culture. The appearance of our hair is often taken as a statement about who we are, who we think we are, and who we want to be. And like many other things tied to Black culture, Black people’s — particularly Black women’s — hair is knotted and tangled in issues of race, politics, popular culture, history, and questions of self-worth. And it’s no secret that eurocentric beauty standards for hair — long, thick, straight or particular forms of curly— have for generations been deemed the adequate down payment on the American Dream. Because in America, to fit into a cherished ideal is to fit into normative white perspectives and aesthetics on what’s professional, or better yet, what’s beautiful.
But a neighborhood that lacks convenience for minority hair care products is one that I believe has failed its inhabitants. It insinuates that there is no importance in predominantly-white towns being able to provide minority residents with daily essentials that meet our own personal preferences. What’s more, is that it pushes forth the narrative that people of color — most often Black people — must compromise their identity to satisfy others. It’s a microaggressive way to emphasize our ever-standing position as central to American culture whilst perennially marginalized by it.
The hair store is more than a store. It’s more than just beauty supplies sold in the name of vanity. It is a cultural and community center. It is a place with the power to create and support important foundational experiences — from finding oneself in the ’fro, to falling in silky love with yourself under a new hair scarf or bonnet, to choosing the right style and colors for your next braided hairdo, or maybe picking up the right brand of deodorant, body wash, hair mask, or lip gloss. Trivial as these moments may seem, it’s in those instances that Black women have the access and ability to exercise agency over the way we choose to express ourselves, and with which styles, products, and personal care we intend to do so.
A hair store could make Harvard feel a bit more like home. At the very least, it would let me know that there is some semblance of belonging for those that look like me in the surrounding community, after all.
I hope to see a beauty supply store make its way into Harvard Square sometime soon. Put it on the short-list of Harvard Square community necessities — right next to a McDonald’s.
Kyla N. Golding ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a History of Science and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality concentrator in Adams House.
This piece is a part of a focus on Women’s History Month.