The pressure on a Black woman to follow widely accepted beauty norms and standards in America is real. Nowhere is that more pertinent than in the discourse around hair.
Society tells us ‘beautiful hair’ tends to look straight and long. Black women across the globe who are returning to wearing their natural hair continue to be questioned and challenged everyday.
The United States Army has even banned a number of traditional hairstyles that women with afro-textured hair tend to wear – including twists, dreads, and cornrows – through its updated regulation AR 670-1.
And just last month, a woman published a petition on Change.org addressed to Jay-Z and Beyoncé about their child’s hair titled “Comb Her Hair.” Up to that time, social media had been abuzz every time Beyoncé released photos of her and her family, with negative chatter about 2-year old Blue Ivy’s hair. Tweeters and petition signers described Blue’s hair as “nappy” and questioned why her parents weren’t doing anything to her hair.
All that pressure to conform hits close to home for me. About two weeks ago, I opened my front door to a close friend. When she noticed my teeny-weeny afro (or TWA, in the natural hair community), she looked at me like I was a zombie.
“Did you cut it?” she asked.
“No, it’s called skrinkage. I didn’t pick it out today,” I responded.
On another occasion she said, “I can’t wait until you start doing your hair again.”
I received the statement as, “You should start relaxing your hair again so you won’t be walking around looking like Celie.” Celie is a character from Alice Walker’s 1982 novel The Color Purple, which was adapted to film three years following its release.
Except I do not feel like I look like Celie. And besides, what was really wrong with Celie’s hair? Her hair grew out of her head that way. This is how my hair grows out of mine. There is no reason I (or any other person) should be criticized for it.
I’ve decided that the reactions of others should not affect the way that I present myself, especially if I am wholeheartedly comfortable with how I look. I have learned to let negative comments roll off my back, but it is not always easy. The media and other institutions of power tend to determine which hairstyles are seen as attractive and which are not. Hair Bullying has even become an issue in schools.
Black women are taught from a young age that afro-textured hair is not pleasant or professional. If you have seen Chris Rock’s Good Hair, you may know that Black women (and men) sometimes relax their hair to alter its texture. The problem with this “solution” is that relaxers contain toxic chemicals that can cause burns and lesions to the scalp. They can also cause hair loss, breakage and have been noted to cause other adverse effects. There is a saying that goes, “Pain is beauty.” I’d venture to disagree, because washing and moisturizing my TWA is virtually painless.
And isn’t just negative comments that irk me. On my trip to my local Whole Foods one weekend in July, the Black male cashier said, “I like your hair.” Those four words let me know there are other people who are comfortable with my hair the way it is – in its natural state, which also happens to be clean and moisturized.
“Thanks for the validation,” I wanted to scream at the cashier to show my appreciation, but I managed to keep calm and reply with a simple thanks.
As he continued to scan my items he asked, “What made you do it?” I answered that I was tired of paying money on relaxers to change the texture of my hair and that I wanted all my coils to be healthy again.
After leaving the store, his question repeated in my mind for the rest of the day. The fact that the question is even warranted terrifies me a bit. It’s almost as if he rarely sees other Black women wearing their hair similar to mine. I think because I seek out natural hair blogs and mostly surround myself with women who consider themselves members of the natural hair movement, I had not noticed the number of other women who do not do the same.
This is not an attempt to dismiss anyone who does not wear their hair “natural.” My desire is for every person to have the ability to accept themselves for who they are, without the media, institutions, or even their loved ones butting in. It’s time to stop pushing societal norms that ought to be long obsolete.
It’s not too much to ask: can you let my coils and kinks be?