Why Iris West Sporting Her Natural Hair is Groundbreaking for Black Women
07 Sep. 2019

Why Iris West Sporting Her Natural Hair is Groundbreaking for Black Women


We’re still a few weeks away from The Flash’s sixth season, but Iris West and her new ‘do have us clicking our heels in anticipation. 

Season 5 ended on a despairing note, as Barry (Grant Gustin) and Iris’s (Candice Patton) daughter Nora (Jessica Parker Kennedy) quite literally disintegrated into thin air, leaving the West-Allen family in mourning for the upcoming season. Sendhil Ramamurthy (New Amsterdam) has been named the villain for Season 6, and ahead of the finale, Eric Wallace was designated showrunner.

While the prospective season looks very promising, the show’s very own Candice Patton unveiling a new hairstyle for Iris in a future episode is arguably the most exciting news yet, and not just because it strays from Iris’s typical look.

You may wonder why Patton wearing her natural hair for an episode is a big deal. It’s just a hairstyle after all. But to black women, it’s that and more: it’s a commemoration of our natural beauty and heritage, which is often ignored or watered-down in mainstream media.

The cultural significance surrounding black hair and its diversity is huge. Sure, the celebration of natural black hair doesn’t have to be a political statement, but in Patton’s case, it’s both a celebration and a conversation about the need for diversity behind the camera. 

Black women in the workforce who choose to sport their natural hair are often met with backlash and negativity from their management, or even worse, face consequences. They are told to compromise, to straighten their “unkempt” hair to fit society’s standards, causing deep-rooted self-hatred and insecurities. A black student was told she wouldn’t be able to take her exams until she tied her hair up to make it more “beautiful.”

Straight hair is deemed more “professional” in workplaces, which can be chalked up to discomfort with black women being themselves, or blatant anti-blackness. To be frank, if you’re not a black woman, you won’t understand the struggle surrounding embracing natural hair confidently, not to mention the further layered discrimination accompanying various textures of black hair.

Straight hair is typically associated with Eurocentric beauty standards, and while black women straightening their hair cannot be considered wanting to emulate such beauty standards (and is a topic for another conversation altogether), Iris West has been rocking straight hair for five seasons.

Despite Patton doing so gracefully, the choice to have Iris West continuously wear straight hair across various settings, circumstances, and storylines in 114 episodes of The Flash reaffirms the notion that straight hair is more presentable. It enforces the bias that natural, curly hair isn’t “beautiful” or even acceptable enough to be broadcast on television, let alone worn in real life.  

It needs to be noted that the decision to have Iris West sport her natural hair has only come at the agreement of showrunner Wallace, who is also African-American. Patton has previously advocated for diversity behind the screen, including hiring hairdressers who know how to style black hair, and has even requested to wear her natural hair on the show before. It’s troubling to learn that her request was denied under the direction of previous show-runner Todd Helbing, further proof of the need for diversity in all facets of the entertainment industry. 

“Now is the time to hire as many diverse people on the other side,” Patton insisted passionately, adding that she doesn’t want to be labeled a ‘diva’ for requests that make her feel safe as a black actress.

In an interview with TVLine, Wallace shared the news that Iris West’s new look actually ties into a storyline for the episode. 

“There’s a reason her hair is that way in the story, and it has to do with fun, and Iris [West] just being herself,” Wallace said. “It’s about letting Candice show more sides of who she is as a person and as an actress, which is something I support 100 percent.” 

It’s no secret Patton’s role as The Flash’s leading lady has been nothing short of groundbreaking in many ways, even influencing the casting of DCEU’s Iris West, although Patton’s rendition will be remembered for years to come. She has been a source of representation for many black women, including myself. Now that she’s able to rock her natural hair on the show, her depiction of Iris West will no doubt feel more meaningful to her fans.

About the author

Iris West-Allen enthusiast.

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