Cultural appropriation is always frustrating, especially when it involves a white woman making bank off of styles worn by women of color for centuries. This is especially the case when it comes to anything that has to do with natural hair, which is why I was so annoyed when I learned that a white woman has been making bank selling $98 nightcaps, that strongly resemble the silk sleep bonnets that have been worn by Black women for years, and yet has given Black women zero credit for her so-called “invention.” Being a Dominican woman with naturally curly hair (3B to be exact), I know exactly how it feels to be shamed for having textured hair. I know how it feels to be ridiculed for the “work” that goes into caring and styling curls. In fact, the whole sleep bonnet conversation reminded me of my own experience with wrapping my hair in a doobie — back when I would wear my hair straight — and how embarrassed I’d be to step out of my house like that.
Protective styling is tossed around quite often in the world of beauty, but for centuries it was something sacred that Black and Latina women only spoke about amongst themselves. It was also something we didn’t really give a second thought to. If you wanted your ends curled and flipped up, you did anchoas (a.k.a pin curls). If you got your hair blown out or straightened it yourself, you’d follow it up with a doobie — especially if it was humid out. The doobie is a protective technique that has been used by Black and Latina women to preserve heat-treated straight hairstyles for years. Black women often call it a “wrap” while Latinas refer to it as a doobie or doobie doo. It’s achieved by brushing or combing all the hair in one direction around the circumference of the head and securing it tightly with bobby pins. Some women would wear it right after getting their hair blown out, while others would wear it to bed to keep their blowout intact while they sleep, often covering it with a silk scarf or a hair net. But one thing that was always made clear to me was that this was a style you did not rock in the streets.
I remember growing up going to the Dominican salons, and mami only requesting the doobie if we were going straight home from the salon. If we had guests or even a friend stopping by, she’d quickly run to her room and unwrap her doobie. At a very young age, I started to understand that this wasn’t a style people could see her in. Men outside of your close family couldn’t see you like that, women outside of your community couldn’t see you like that, and white people especially couldn’t see you like that. It was a big beauty secret kept among black and brown girls. People don’t get to see the process, just the result. The same way you wouldn’t show people your non-polished toes during the winter, you would not let someone see you with your hair wrapped.
That message quickly started to get to me, so much so, that I started to resent whenever a stylist would ask if I wanted my hair wrapped after giving me a blowout, which was often the case if it was raining out. By the time I was a teenager it had been engraved in me that wearing a doobie outside of the house was “ghetto” and just not something you did. God forbid someone saw you like this.
By the time I was in high school, I had felt a lot of shame around the doobie style and just the concept of wrapping my hair or doing any type of protective style period. Since my hair didn’t really frizz up when I slept, I made a point to only sleep with my hair down for pretty much my entire life — like all my Asian and white girlfriends did. I didn’t want to be that girl who had to do all this extra stuff to her hair before bed and so I didn’t. My mom and my sister would preserve their blowouts throughout the week with their doobies and a part of me envied how unapologetic they were about it. To this day, my sister (who only wears her hair natural) sleeps with a silk bonnet to protect her curls at night. She could care less about what her boyfriend thinks. But it’s always mattered to me because of the negative stereotypes that were associated with doobies and evening protective styles. The dialogue I constantly heard implied was that if you had to do all that to keep your hair on point, you must have “pelo malo.”
Most of my life I wore my hair both ways — curly or blown out straight. But by my mid to late 20s, I was getting my hair blown out almost on a weekly basis, spending $25 dollars a week and spending at least three hours at the salon on a Saturday afternoon. If it rained or was humid out, you better believe I asked for a doobie. I would take cabs from the hair salon to my house with the doobie and if I had plans following my hair appointment, I’d bring an umbrella and hide my ends under a scarf or inside my jacket and hope for the best. Whenever I would see a Black or Latina woman just chilling in the streets with their hair wrapped like nothing I would ask myself, “How are they not embarrassed to be seen like that?” Little did I know, that the one who was free and probably living their unapologetic best lives was them — not me.
When Rihanna chose to wear a doobie as a straight-up hairstyle back in 2013 at the American Music Awards, I remember being so excited about it. I begged my editor at the time to let me write about it. “That’s the doobie,” I remember telling her. RiRi wore it to an awards show when the only public places you’d ever catch me wearing that was at the salon, the corner bodega a block away from my house, and MAYBE the laundromat. But I also remember loving how beautiful and confident RiRi looked in her doobie and feeling like I could finally leave the salon like that without being overwhelmed with shame and embarrassment.
Two curls cuts and almost eight months of not heat-styling or straightening my hair after, the doobie topic has come back up. Because I haven’t been wearing my hair straight at all, I’ve had no reason to even consider wearing a doobie. But the concept of protective styles has popped in my head again with the recent discussion surrounding night bonnets. Whenever I ask a fellow curly-haired girl how she keeps her curls intact at night, night bonnets are often suggested — especially from Black women or Latinas with 4A textures or tighter. It’s never been an option for me. “I sleep with my hair down,” I’d tell them. “Do you suggest anything else?” Most of them would insist that a bonnet or my hair pulled up into a pineapple with a silk headscarf would really make a major difference. But after noticing I wouldn’t budge, they would quickly find themselves suggesting a satin pillowcase, which I eventually did try and does actually work.
But the point is not so much about how I choose to wear my hair at night. I know plenty of curly girls that go to sleep with their hair down and don’t really do protective styles at all. They wear their curls usually down or in very simple hairstyles — it’s no big deal. The issue here is the shame I allowed myself to experience because of all the negative dialogue surrounding protective styles, which speaks to a much larger issue at hand. It’s the reason why so many Black and Latina women get triggered when they see white women not only praised but paid for wearing black protective styles like cornrows, box braids, doobies, or for stealing ideas like the night bonnet or satin pillowcases and then calling it their own.
I remember growing up hearing white girls calling Black, Puerto Rican, and Dominican women dirty for only washing their hair once or twice a week, not understanding how oil travels slower from the scalp to the ends with textured hair. Now almost every white girl I know brags about only washing their hair once a week. That shame of being told that our hair or the way we choose to care for our hair is less than sophisticated really can impact us on a greater scale than we even realize and it certainly did a number on me. But what I’ve had to remind myself whenever I feel any kind of shame or embarrassment associated with my hair is that the idea that textured hair from a Black or brown woman is bad, unsophisticated, dirty, or just isn’t beautiful, is deeply rooted in white supremacy and only gives in to the idea that white Eurocentric beauty is the standard. Feeling ashamed of my hair or how I chose to protect it was me subconsciously giving in to that. There is nothing ugly or ratchet about wrapping your hair. There is nothing ugly or ratchet about protecting your hair at night. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. There is something incredibly beautiful about loving, embracing, and protecting the hair you were born with and maintaining a ritual that’s been passed by your ancestors for centuries. Our hair is beautiful and our rituals are sacred and I refuse to let anyone make me feel ashamed because of it.