Black woman with hemiplegic migraine wards off talk bubbles featuring bonnet stigma

Bonnets and Migraine: Challenging The Stigma of Both

I’ve recently seen many discussions online about natural hair, protective styling, and the use of bonnets (a head covering used as a way to protect and cover the hair while at home and running errands) with some pretty interesting perspectives circulating. Bonnets are a head cap that I have used since a very young age and are a popular protective covering in the African American community, a community I am a part of.

The stigma behind bonnets

As someone with very coarse and thick hair, who also suffers from migraine and has worn bonnets for a long time, I was shocked to learn that there has recently been pushback and dissent in popular culture on wearing bonnets outside the home, and it truly saddened me to see.

A sign of laziness?

In particular, it seems as though this head covering is seen by some as a sign of ‘laziness’ and an indication of not making one's hair presentable and ‘low class.’ Not only is there subtext of racism and classism in these critiques (which is pretty awful, and no one should be judged by the way they dress or by the means they have) this sentiment also paints a broad stroke on the use of bonnets in a negative light when, for me, it has been a gem when it comes to living with migraine.

A label already associated with migraine

Sentiments like these can influence a lot of people, including young folks, and can impact self-esteem. For that reason, I wanted to write about migraine and protective hair coverings because they have been so crucial for me and my migraine journey, to educate on one of the many reasons folks might wear them among the also valid and acceptable reasons like personal preference and style and because I think it is important to uplift folks, whether or not they suffer from migraine, who choose to be their authentic selves and wear clothing that has been culturally significant for them when those things are under undue scrutiny. It was especially disheartening to see the 'lazy' comments, as this is an ableist, false, and harmful label already rampant in the way folks who live with migraine are characterized in society.

Bonnets and allodynia

I have experienced lifelong pain from ailments and illness from a very young age, and I have always been what my family calls ‘tender-headed', with heightened sensitivity to pulling, nagging, or pressure on my head and scalp due to migraine. That being the case, bonnets are a relief for me, as they allow me to protect my hair without a lot of fuss while also allowing me to abstain from adding unnecessary pressure onto my head, potentially triggering a migraine attack.

A tool for hair styling that's comfortable

Bonnets are a loose, oftentimes silken, or soft material head covering that can help hair retain moisture, protect coarse hair like mine from pulling, and are a cute way to add flair and style to the hair. Many of the hairstyles that my family and I grew up wearing, such as braids, are no longer a regular option for me as the tension is too tight and cause head pain for me, so bonnets are a tool I can use, and are a treasure when I am unable to comb, brush, or fuss with my hair either from exhaustion or pain. I first started wearing bonnets probably around age five or six and have stuck with them for the past 25 or so years. In the midst of a migraine attack, I and many others in the community have enough to think about without the pressures of stressing over what we are wearing. Personally, comfort is a high priority for me when I am in pain, and I hope others feel free to dress as they please to take care of themselves.

There's already a negative light

There is so much stigma associated with migraine already, and this discourse about bonnets reminded me of the varying ways in which something so useful and significant being characterized in a negative light can add to that stigma for some. There are many unique disparities among folks who experience migraine. What makes us strong as a community is uplifting each of our experiences and holding space for one another to be truly authentic and heard while also sharing our commonalities.

Holding my head high

In the spirit of challenging stigma and taking care of my health by keeping my head free from tension, I’ll continue to hold my head high in my bonnet! I hope that anyone who may have also been privy to these conversations with a similar experience to mine feels confident to challenge that stigma, too. Together, we can facilitate a world where everyone feels accepted, safe to be themselves, and wear what they want to feel comfortable and cute.

Do you have certain routines or tools to limit tension on your head or hair? What do you use? Let's discuss in the comments!

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