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Hair Harassment in Urban Schools and How It Shapes the Physical Activity of Black Adolescent Girls

Abstract

Hair harassment can be defined as the direct or indirect unwanted, unwelcomed, and offensive behavior made either explicitly or implicitly typically towards women or girls of African descent, based on the texture, look, or subjective assumptions of their hair. The purpose of this investigation is to explore the hair experiences of adolescent girls of African descent in physical education class, and how these experiences shape their decision to participate in physical education class. Thirty-seven adolescent girls of African descent attending school in an urban, low-income community participated in focus groups and follow-up interviews relating to hair experiences. Strong themes of hair harassment emerged occurring socially via peers, physical touching of hair, and verbal comments regarding their hair during physical education class, and society-imposed harassment stemming from pressures to constantly have straight or neatly styled, non-sweaty hair. During the stage of adolescence, girls are exploring their identity and making decisions about who they will be, how they should look, and behave. Findings from this study suggests harassment and bullying policies in schools should extend to include hair harassment for its propensity to influence the self-image of girls and their decisions to participate in physical education class.

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  1. The terms African–American, Black, and African descent will be used interchangeably throughout this paper.

  2. The terms White and Caucasian will be used interchangeably throughout this paper.

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Correspondence to Patricia O’Brien-Richardson.

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O’Brien-Richardson, P. Hair Harassment in Urban Schools and How It Shapes the Physical Activity of Black Adolescent Girls. Urban Rev 51, 523–534 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11256-019-00500-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11256-019-00500-x

Keywords

  • Hair
  • Harassment
  • African–American
  • Girls
  • Physical activity