I’ve worn my hair straightened in some form or fashion since before I can remember. When I was ten, I got my first relaxer. Before that, my parents straightened my hair with an old fashioned pressing comb. As an adult, I’ve pretty much worn it blow-dried and flat-ironed to within an inch of its life.
Before Covid, I couldn’t tell you the last time I did my own hair. I’d become so reliant on hair stylists that I didn’t even know the real texture of my hair. I literally just never had to deal with it.
Oh, how things have changed.
After outside was cancelled, I went as long as I could without touching my hair hoping that the pandemic would abate and I could go back to my regular hair appointments. One week turned into two then three, then four. How long could I hold out? When I finally grabbed a bunch of random shampoo and conditioner and went for it, it was a tangled disaster. So much so that I had to cut out large chunks with scissors. Seriously. It was bad.
Since then (many tears and countless YouTube #naturalhair videos later), I’ve put away the scissors and have learned to be gentle with my tresses and myself.
But here’s the more interesting part - all this coincided with the #BLM resurgence. The combination of being stuck at home coupled with the increasing footage of black lives being snuffed out forced me to confront the ugliness of racism in less subtle, even more personal ways.
Of course I’ve faced racism. I’m a black woman. It would be impossible for me not to. However, it’s rarely blatant. Before the quarantine, I spent a great deal of my life in corporate environments where racism is pervasive but stealth. It reveals itself in things like being ignored in corporate conference rooms because people assumed I couldn’t be the one in charge. Or assuming that my role was in HR rather than marketing. Or odd compliments like “you’re so articulate, you write so well...” as if somehow I shouldn’t. Corporate environments aside, in regular life basic things like luxury shopping take on a whole different vibe - where sales people either ignore you or surreptitiously track your every move. Honestly, I’m not sure which is worse.
But what's this got to do with my hair? A lot.
Everyone handles racism differently. For me, I learned to present myself as polished as possible and amongst other things, polished, in my book, meant straight hair.
It made me feel more professional. It made me feel a little less “other”. And if I’m completely honest, it made me feel more attractive. Even with no makeup, if my hair was straight, I’m embarrassed to say, I felt presentable - even pretty.
Malcom X asked, “who taught you to hate yourself?”
That’s what I’ve been asking myself lately. It’s one thing to use my hair as a form of self expression. I can wear it how ever I want. It’s my hair. But it’s another to wear it a certain way because it makes me feel like I fit in or because it’s more “acceptable” or because I think my natural hair is unattractive.
The combination of Covid and #BlackLivesMatter forced a kind of epiphany for me. What is wrong with the natural texture of my hair? Why was it so important that it be straight?
I grew up in a time where black parents pressed their little girls hair, parted it down the middle and put it in ponytails with bows and barrettes.
Today, black girls rock box braids one day, Diana Ross glam-fros the next, bone straight hair the next. They go with the flow. They go with their mood. I admire their sense of self and freedom of expression.
It wasn’t like that when I was growing up. Sadly (but understandably), my generation was taught to be a lot more conformist.
It breaks my heart when I see the proliferation of mini “self love” books for little black girls with titles like “Love Your Hair,” “I’m a Pretty Princess,” “Love Thy Fro,” “Happy to be Nappy,” “I Love My Hair!” “My Hair,” “Hair Like Mine,” “Hair Love”. Something is really wrong with this picture. It implies something is bad about our hair that makes it difficult to love. Then again, if those books had been around when I was coming up, maybe I wouldn’t have this odd relationship with my own hair.
Who knows? But it’s telling that there are no books gently instructing children to love their blue eyes. Who has to tell Emily to love her blond hair?
Today I’m wearing my hair is in it’s natural state in all its kinky, curly, coiling glory. I’d say I was rocking’ it but to be honest, I’m not quite there yet. As they say in the natural hair community, it’s a journey.
This is where I am. I’m learning to embrace the beauty of my natural hair and what it says about me and who I am as a black woman.
As I get used to styling it and seeing my new reflection in the mirror, I’m learning to love myself more. It’s awkward and challenging but long, long overdue.
I’ll share more on my IG (@savvyclickchick) as I move forward. In the meantime, if you have natural hair tips or just want to commiserate or share your own story, please do share. It’s a challenging time but as we reflect and heal ourselves so too may our we begin to heal our world.
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