I recently went completely natural and decided to wear my own hair: length, texture, and all. I nixed all extensions, chemical relaxers, wigs, and hair pieces. All tools I had previously used to hide my natural tresses.
Like a lot of women, I have a love hate relationship with my natural locks. I love that I have hair, I love that it’s thick and full of body, I love that it’s soft and easily manipulated into different styles, I love the length, BUT I hate – until recently – the texture, I hate that it’s naturally dry and requires daily moisturizing, I hate the fact that it’s so fragile and difficult to comb, I hate that it breaks so easily, I hate that it’s high maintenance and requires time, I hate that even if given the time and attention needed it still may not obey, and I hate that as soon as it dries it looks and feels matted and shrinks a 12 inch strand to an half inch.
You see, I have 4c hair. 4C is the coarsest hair on the planet. A lot of black women, and other women of color, have looser curl patterns (generally ranging from 3a – 4a), but not me. There is no such thing as a get up and go style for me, unless I am braided, weaved, or wigged. As a kid, my mom struggled with my hair. Often times hot combing it just so she could get a comb through it, because it was so thick and coarse. I learned to hate my hair very early in life, and associated my natural hair with negativity. Ranging from unattractive, to just plain inconvenient as hell!
I remember getting my first home perm, at age 11. This wasn’t a sign of cultural assimilation or self hate, but rather, my mom just wanted to fix my hair without breaking three “Goody” combs and slapping on globs of “Royal Crown” hair grease to get my coils to lay down. I was tender headed, and combing my hair was like combing wool with a toothbrush – impossible! Each comb stroke felt like my hair was literally being pulled out my scalp. It was painful, embarrassing and one of the most traumatic experiences EVER!
As I got older, my mom allowed me to get braids – usually individuals, to eliminate bad hair days, save on time, and minimize the number of cruel junior high school experiences I was bound to have. But of course people still made fun of my braids and assumed I had no hair because I wore braids 24/7. And when I did wear my hair out for 6th grade photos, I was ridiculed because my medium neck base locks weren’t past my shoulders and bone straight. And of course I looked like I had been in a sand storm by the end of the day because I had no idea how to fix my hair like the other girls with looser curl patterns did. What to do??? I just wanted to blend in. At 11, no one wants to stand out. All my girlfriends wore their natural hair pretty and bone straight or wavy, as was the trend at the time, while I doubled as Moesha and rocked braids until I graduated high school. I never learned how to style my hair, or appropriately manage it. I slapped on MANY relaxers and texturizers throughout my college years, hiding my natural texture, while damaging my follicles.
Many people thought it was my natural texture and never questioned it. But I knew. I was ashamed. I was ashamed that I was ashamed. Through the years I dated guys who didn’t care for girls who had coarse afro hair, or wore weaves, nor did they want a girl with neck base length hair. Long, silky or curly (not coils) hair was the preference, two categories I didn’t qualify for. So I mastered the art of making wigs, and weaves look like my own, in a desperate attempt to hide my coils. So, of course I hid deeper and deeper inside myself trying to camouflage this obvious “flaw” that haunted me in my private moments.
I would often hear guys (all colors and cultures but mostly black men) talk about black women’s natural hair in negative ways, while ridiculing our chemical relaxers, weaves and wigs all at the same time. I used to think, “well damn, I can’t win for losing.” I decided that the REAL me was probably unattractive to most men and that being me, was unacceptable. So the weaves, relaxers, and wigs continued. I watched entertainers do the same, because their entire sense of self was wrapped in dead skin cells, and whether they were straight, and/or long.
I remember dating a guy (white), and almost telling him about my hair, but I chickened out because I didn’t want to see his confused facial expression, or even possibly his disgusted and/or horrified expression. I didn’t want to face it. I didn’t want to answer any questions, which would bog me down in even more shame than I already felt. Perhaps, he already knew! And if he did, I didn’t want to feel the shame connected with the thought of, “you’re not fooling anybody.” But of course, I never gave him a chance, and as a byproduct he never got to know the real me. Another guy I dated (black), actually ‘busted” me out and jokingly told me that he knew. He said he had sisters and understood that women did that. It wasn’t a big deal to him. But instead of making me feel comfortable, it actually embarrassed me. I felt mocked instead of reassured. I think it was because I didn’t bring it up. And also because I fell into an obvious stereotype.
And then there were those who didn’t know (though they may have suspected because their stereotypical beliefs about black women and hair, led them to question the validity of my hair length and texture), but felt it was their duty to investigate with interrogation. “Is that your hair?” “How do you get it like that?” “Are you mixed?” “Is that a weave?” All very inappropriate questions. I often became incensed because black women are believed to have short stiff hair, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. We can’t just wear a style without questions regarding our validity in doing so. Other women of color, and non color, have the privilege to do so. We do not.
All of this strengthened my desire even more, to be my authentic self and bust out of this cocoon…….”GET OUT!” That’s all I could think. But my shame kept me bound. I’ve always been a confident and intelligent woman, but I felt inadequate in this area. It was deep seated shame.
But within the last year, something inside me changed. A feeling of TOTAL self acceptance and love began to develop. It began as looking at myself in the mirror while wearing my natural hair, and forcing myself to confront myself. The first time, I cried. But I cried for a whole bunch of reasons that had nothing to do with shame. But rather, because I felt as though I looked beautiful. I felt as though I didn’t need weaves and extensions. But as I contemplated going to the store in my natural state, I immediately got cold feet, braided my hair up, and put a wig on. I began to cry again. I cried because I felt trapped. I cried because I live in a society that makes it difficult for a black woman to be herself in this way, and I cried because there are a million other young, old, and in between ladies experiencing the same thing.
So after wearing my natural hair around the house – huge accomplishment for me – off an on for the past year, I recently felt it was time to go public. I researched tons and tons of natural hair care methods online and through social media, and was not going to reveal until I was ready and had enough natural hair care techniques in my personal arsenal.
So, last week, I took a deep breath and took a natural haired selfie. I felt as though I should go a step further and put it on social media. Much like I do with all my other selfies. I contemplated for a while. I waited. Prior to posting the pic, I decided to go about my day in the world with my natural hair.
As I left my house, I looked around cautiously to see if any of my neighbors saw me. What if they mentioned it? What would I say? How would I react? I was overwhelmed with anxiety, and I was thrust back into the 6th grade for a few seconds. But suddenly I thought, if I was gonna do this, and be my authentic self, I had to rock the hell out of this look and boldly be me! So, I got in my car, started up the engine and raced off to complete my numerous errands. To my surprise, no one looked at me strangely, no one shunned me, and no one rejected me. I was still me. I was just the authentic me.
After I got home, I posted the selfie on social media. And the support of my family, friends, and colleagues was a blessing. It was nice to know that the feelings I had about myself, transferred to those closest to me. When my Grandmother saw me, she ranted and raved about how beautiful I looked and how she didn’t understand why I didn’t make the change before now.
I know we aren’t supposed to admit we care about what folks think about us, but the truth is we do, and to a certain degree, it does matter. It especially matters what our Grandmothers think.
We all just want to be accepted for being ourselves, but when that doesn’t happen, we hide in plain sight. Whomever I date next, will meet the authentic me. The real me. I hope he likes me, because I certainly do! Inside and out.