"Now, who told her it was ok to walk out of the house like that?"
I turned the TV volume to hear the new Hannah Montana episode and tune out my mother's commentary. My aunt and grandma huddled around her phone as she showed them photos of celebrity wig fails, gossiping as the show's theme song began to play.
"She has no real friends," my aunt said while laughing. "Now cut it out, you two," my grandma said as the laughter faded.
This wasn't the first time I heard conversations like this during my childhood.
I remember outings when my mother would take my sister and me to a local donut and ice cream parlor. During the short walk, we would laugh as my mother discreetly pointed out "bad wigs," the ones where she could easily see someone's natural hair poking out from underneath the wig cap.
I usually shrugged these comments off or tried to change the topic. Maybe I awkwardly laughed or even agreed. I didn't think much of these exchanges at the time, but they shaped my ideas of what Black hairstyles should — and should not — look like. I never hated wigs, but as I got older, I began to side-eye the women I saw wearing them. My family's opinion on wigs slowly morphed into my own, and this mindset went virtually unchallenged.
In April 2020, I opened TikTok for hairstyle inspiration since my regular stylist wasn't available. The app's For You Page showed me a video of #Wigtok hair influencer Brittney Rose discussing how a headband wig could promote hair growth and double as an easy "COVID hairstyle." I was instantly intrigued. I had never heard of a headband wig, and the style looked easy to replicate.
My initial excitement about the style quickly morphed into doubt. I remember wondering where I could get a headband wig and worrying about my family's reaction if I attempted to wear this style. Still, Rose's content entertained me, so I went down a TikTok rabbit hole, watching dozens of her videos about how to style wigs, hair growth tips, and easy natural styles.
I clicked on the #Wigtok hashtag I saw on Rose's video, which led me to another page filled with Black woman creators. The #Wigtok hashtag has over a billion views on TikTok. Most of the content is about wigs, and even though I knew I wouldn't try to replicate the wig hairstyles, I was still interested in the videos. Before I knew it, the day turned into night, and I spent hours watching #WigTok videos on the app.
I'm not the only one who has been sucked into the world of #WigTok. Like me, Leenika Belfielt-Martin, a writer who found #WigTok videos during the pandemic, was immediately intrigued by the hair-related content. She was immediately drawn to the content and amazed to learn about the effort it took to wear and maintain a wig. She enjoyed learning about wig hacks and the terminology. "I was obsessed with #WigTok when the pandemic hit," Belfielt-Martin says. "I would go down the rabbit hole and watch videos for hours."
Like my family, Belfielt-Martin recalled hearing how her family wasn't too fond of the hairstyle. "For most of my life, I've always been intrigued by wigs, but I never dared to wear one, especially after growing up and hearing some of the comments my mom would make towards women we'd see wearing wigs and weaves," Belfielt-Martin says. "My mom had much to do with how I viewed the style."
She also didn't want to be a "Black girl who wore wigs." This mindset within the Black community stems from the negative connotation surrounding Black women who decided to wear wigs, weaves, or hair extensions. Black women have been scrutinized for wearing these styles, and they are accused of "hating" their natural hair, being bald, or incapable of growing (or caring for) hair at all. In some cases, if a Black woman wears a wig with straight hair, they may even be accused of trying to "act white."
With all the stigma around wigs, Belfielt-Martin didn't get the courage to wear a wig until she was in college. She ultimately decided to try the hairstyle out because she was bored with her natural hair and couldn't go to her stylist.
"I didn't feel happy with my hair, so I started wearing wigs. I got a lot of my wig inspiration from TikTok, Pinterest, and social media sites," Belfielt-Martin says. "I started having fun with it by experimenting with different hair lengths and textures.
Belfielt-Martin noticed a shift in her mood when she began to wear wigs. She noticed that doing her hair became less of a chore and more of an activity she enjoyed, and her hairstyle choices became another way she could showcase her creativity.
Ashley Townes, a popular #WigTok creator with over 350,000 followers, has garnered almost 8 million likes on her videos on her TikTok channel, Ashleythemogulbu. Townes' wig journey began out of her frustration with styling her natural hair; wigs offered a quick and stylish alternative.
"I have natural 4C hair, and it's a lot to manage sometimes," Townes says. "It's not that I don't love my hair, but I can wear the wigs longer than I can when I style my natural hair."
Townes went viral after sharing a storytime video about her experience meeting a celebrity while wearing a "bad" wig (the circulated clip is no longer available). Townes' storytime video was posted on The ShadeRoom, and other celebrity news outlets. Her sudden popularity resulted in people commenting that she was "bald" and couldn't grow hair.
Townes didn't let those negative comments get the best of her. Instead, she decided to channel that energy into her Ashleythemogulbu TikTok page, showing people how she grew her hair and teaching others how they could.
Townes caught the attention of wig brands like Crown Collection Hair and Geeta Hair. Soon, they sent her wigs to use for her videos, cementing her into a #WigTok influencer.
As her platform continues to grow, so has the backlash. "I do get more love than hate, but there are those— especially men, older Black women, and White women—who will comment and ask why I don't wear my natural hair or tell me to love myself," Townes says.
Despite the occasional negativity that comes from being a Black woman online, Dr. Johanna Lukate, a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen, Germany, believes that the community within the hashtag is a great way to represent different types of black hair.
Lukate's research from 2018 focused on the importance of Black hair and how it operates as a form of non-verbal communication. "It's showcasing Black beauty and all its facets, and that's important, especially for younger people," Lukate says. "Those kids are now growing up with so many role models and people to look up to and give them advice, aside from their aunt or mother who may only know how to style afro-texture hair by doing limited styles."
Wigs are a protective style; they can promote hair growth and offer freedom to change Black hair without damaging it. Most importantly, wigs can serve as a form of personal expression.
Like Townes and Belfielt-Martin, Lukate agrees that wigs can be a beneficial hairstyle for Black hair. A wig can offer the freedom to change hair without much effort or harmful chemicals. "Styling certain hair textures can be very intense, so a wig can be an easy alternative if you can't afford to sit there for hours and style your hair," Lukate explains.
Beyond easy styling, wigs allow Black women to embrace their identity and culture.
"For women of color, hairstyling from chemically relaxing to covering your hair with a wig or deliberately wearing it in an Afro is about managing a marginalized identity," Lukate says during a TedTalk about the psychology of Black Hair. "It's styling your hair with the understanding that you're not just judged by what is in your control, but by physical attributes given to you at birth, such as the color of your skin or the texture of your hair."
More Black women on TikTok and elsewhere are speaking out against hair discrimination in personal and professional settings. Across the United States, legislation, like the Crown Act, has also been introduced to help protect Black women from hair discrimination in work and educational settings.
My views on wigs have changed, too. I thought wigs were a lazy hairstyle or a way to compensate for not having hair. But when I found the #WigTok community, I saw things differently. Wigs are a protective style; they can promote hair growth and offer freedom to change Black hair without damaging it. Most importantly, wigs can serve as a form of personal expression.
My family's attitude towards wigs has changed, and I've noticed the difference over the years. While I don't know the reason behind this shift, like me, they have seen that wigs aren't such a bad thing. Like braids and weaves, wigs are a protective and stylish way to style your hair.
I'm still working up the courage to wear a wig. While I've watched many #Wigtok videos and know the dos and don'ts of wig-wearing, I'm still scared to see how I would look with a wig on, and I'm even more terrified to be judged for it as I used to do to others.
My family's attitude toward wigs helped me gain the courage to wear a weave for my college graduation. I wasn't scared of their reaction because I knew they would support the style. I worried about other people realizing I was wearing a weave. I ran through possible rebuttals I could say in case someone questioned me about my hair.
When my graduation day came around, I wasn't even concerned about my hair or what others may say about it. I was focused on receiving my degree and celebrating that milestone.
I've always heard the phrase, "Black hair is beautiful," but as I walked across the stage with my weave flowing beneath my black graduation cap, I felt a special connection to that phrase for the first time.