Tag Archives: hair

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Going Natural When the Relaxer is Enuf

23 Jun

flickr photo used under a Creative Commons License by malik ml williams

First, if you’re currently considering doing the big chop and you’re not sure–I say, go ahead and do it. As I always tell myself while I’m sitting in the barber’s chair: it’s just hair,  it’ll grow back soon enough, and by that time you’ll be used to whatever state it’s in anyway. So do it, cut it all off.

Of course, I’m sure you remain unconvinced by my goading, since you live in the real world where it’s not “just hair,” but something you’ll be judged on by every one who encounters you. Folks will pull out their best Def Comedy Jam material on you, (you look like Celie from The Color Purple)  and ask you annoying questions about your hair.  Even the ones who think you look great may assume that you are some sort of India Arie cultist. And you rightly want to avoid all that grief, because with relaxed hair you can look presentable, “appropriate” and attractive. In short, you can be normal, without anybody making assumptions about you, for example, that you are weird and Afrocentric.

So why do it? I can’t answer for every woman, but I’ll tell you why I initially did it: because of somewhat immature political convictions. I thought that relaxing my hair was “trying to be white,” and that wearing my hair natural was the only true way of owning and loving my blackness.

Collective internet eyeroll.

I sincerely believed it then, but this mentality is so obnoxiously  “more conscious than thou,”  it unnecessarily divides black women into natural hair Erykah Badus and Yaki Pony/Lace front Beyonces. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t something to be said about the value of critically examining where our preference of super straight hair comes from. To be sure, there are a lot of ugly racial politics which influence what is beautiful and normal in this society. But I feel like as symbolically powerful as it may be , a hairstyle alone can’t singlehandedly rectify historical injustices.  Especially if like me, you wield it as a weapon.

For a while after I shaved all my hair off,  I was buoyed by the feeling of superiority I felt as I walked past other girls and their unbeweavable hair. I’d think that I alone was doing the tough work of uplifting the race, (it’s just me and Malcolm baby, me and Malcolm) and that everyone else had sold out. Consequently, I was very defensive about my hair, and assumed that anybody who asked me about it did so because they had a problem with me and my unmitigated blackness. So I proselytized, and condemned those who didn’t get with my gospel to the same purgatory for non-practicing blacks that Clarence Thomas was sent to. And I judged. And judged. And judged.

But during this whole time, I never actually felt  good about myself. I was still defining myself in opposition to women with relaxed/straight hair, and was frankly envious of the acceptance that those women got. I felt like while women with long, straight hair were presumed to be attractive, I had to consciously work to prove that I was feminine, confident and frankly, not a weirdo. And it’s hard work trying to prove you don’t care what people think, while also yearning for their acceptance. As a result, while I was lauding the virtues of my nappy, oh-so-African hair to anyone who would listen, I was simultaneously becoming more inward and less confident.

And so, six months later, I fell off the wagon, and got my hair straightened again. While I was immediately disappointed with myself for conceding, I’m now glad I did it, because it allowed me to slowly let go off the whole “conscious thing.” It was a relief to not feel like my little inch of hair was single-handedly waging a racial jihad. And it allowed me to ease back into natural hair when I felt ready, not because I felt I had to make a statement.

Two years later, after meandering in an unruly ‘fro, I finally chopped it all off again. It probably didn’t hurt that because of all the “natural” shampoos I’d been concocting on the advice of anonymous people on the internet, my hair had started to take on the look and feel of steel wool.  So, on a punishingly hot summer day, I sat in a barber’s chair while two cute boys my own age waited to get their hair cut just like mine. I felt horribly unfeminine as these boys watched me lose my hair, a stark contrast to the two younger girls with bouncy, shiny curls who sat in the adjacent salon. They would get the boys, I thought, while I had become one of the boys.

But as my hair fell on my neck, I shook all the self-doubt away, and marveled at myself in the mirror after the barber was finished.  That’s really the best part of a bald head, seeing your face anew and learning to be comfortable with whatever character reveals itself. I love touching my hair as it is growing out, and feeling the grooves and bumps of my naps. And I love getting up in the morning and realizing that what I look like when I first wake up is basically how I’ll look when I’m “ready.” There isn’t much one can do to improve a head with no hair.

Of course, this self-esteem boost is partly a result of the fact that short, natural hair is definitely having “a moment.” Everybody and they mama (literally) is rocking it right now, from Solange Knowles to Chrisette Michelle. And of course, (as the two previous singers learned) you can’t go short without inviting comparisons to the definitive bald-headed girl, Amber Rose. Just call me when BeyBey, the Lace front Queen herself, finally decides to go natural.

Even now, when people are suddenly so effusive with compliments about what was formerly derided as “slave hair,”  I’m trying not to base my own self-perception in a fad.  Because we haven’t heard the last from the Yaki Pony lobby, (ha!)  and Amber Rose may decide that the look is played out, and move on to a weave just like any other starlet. Which is fine, because I’m at the point where my feelings about my hair are mostly dictated by me, and the two of us have a pretty uncomplicated relationship.

So I say to you sister-friend, with all the sincerity that the internet will allow me to convey: do it. Not to sink this post with any more platitudes, but cutting it all off will teach you so much about yourself. Not having any hair (and having your own real hair for a change) destabilizes everything you think you know about what makes you beautiful. It will expose your vanity, bring out your worst anxieties, and force you to reconsider your own femininity (if that’s something you’re even invested in to begin with). You will learn to be more confident, and of course not to put so much stock in how you look, which is always a good thing. It won’t all be Chicken Soup for the Black Woman’s Soul, of course. It takes time to adjust to a new length and new texture of hair, and it’s frustrating to have to (re)learn how to style your hair. And yes, all the horrors about the awkward growing out phases are true.  But then, you’ll have really satisfying moments that will really carry you through the day, like when a man on a crowded street yelled “You wearing that cut, sister!” at me, the day after I got my haircut. Or when you meet other women with natural hair, and you give each other a knowing nod or smile of appreciation.

If I may, I’d like to leave you with a little advice based on my own experiences: Don’t let people fetishize you, and force you to enact their most primitive fantasies of a “natural, Nubian princess” (unless of course, that is your thing). I have been there, and the amount of effort I spent trying to prove I was an Earth Mother type was simply exhausting. Your hair should not box you into one persona, that of the hyper militant conscious girl.  Moreover, don’t let them goad you into declaring yourself an enemy of women with relaxed hair. It only entangles you further in the complicated racial politics of hair, the navigation of which will distract you from more important things. Like living your life, getting your swerve on, and most important, being an ally to women, regardless of the texture or the “realness” of their hair.

Because despite  the miserable racial history and the obnoxious standard of beauty, you hair is just hair.  You should feel free to decide what to do with it, and how to feel about it.