Have you ever went natural? Natural hair is a term defined by Urban Dictionary as “-when your hair is in the state that you were born with. Hair that is not permed, dyed, relaxed, or chemically altered”. For many years I can remember having my natural hair altered in some way, shape, or form(and I don’t use that lightly, you should’ve seen some of my hairstyles). Maybe you too have experienced the bi-weekly kitchen meet-ups, you know the ones that involve a stool, pressing comb, and the folding ear technique. Or maybe you’re more accustomed to the pillow on the floor, in-between the legs hairstyles that left you with the neatest kanekalon* braids.
Maybe, these scenarios made me internalize the idea that my hair had to be “altered” to be perceived as neat and presentable. I’ve always felt as if my hair was nappy, unruly, and aggressive to say the least. You may hear many people with 4a-4c hair textures say that they don’t have “good hair”. To a young girl that sends a message that something is evidently wrong with the hair I was born with. In contrast, my peers with looser curls and longer hair never quite could relate to my struggle. Which again facilitated my beliefs about which hair textures are ultimately good and bad. Or relevant to me today, which hair textures are professional and unprofessional.
This inherited bias against my own hair led me to idolize Euro-centric standards of beauty. Which basically meant, that I resulted to having 22” of somebody else’s hair sewn to my scalp. However, this is not to criticize anybody that wears extensions, this is simply an examination of today’s problematic beauty standards. When I began questioning my beliefs about my hair I began to become doubtful about how I really felt. Why isn’t my hair desirable? Why do I need to “tame” my hair to look presentable? What makes my hair any less beautiful in comparison to straight hair? These seeds of doubt I planted in myself made me question the actual root of my understandings.
As I reflected, my speculations came full circle, I then began to wonder why didn’t I figure this out sooner. It was so obvious and so intentional where my beliefs stemmed from. I didn’t look at the picture as a whole, through a new lens I can now see the intersectionality between my hair, socioeconomic status, race, and more importantly colorism.
“My hair had inherited my ancestral struggle of oppression”.
House slavery, field slavery, segregation, color-divisions, and even trivial things like saying “light skin vs. dark skin”, shaped how I viewed my hair. These intentional and corrupt standards of beauty pitted black people as a race against our own. The notion that, the closer you could look to white people the better, upholds the bigoted status-quo. Chemically straightening my hair or getting long wavy extensions showed the structure, that I was assimilating. I didn’t realize that there was and is beauty in my natural curls and kinks.
My hair defies gravity and makes a statement about me before I utter a word. That this kinky, curly, thick mass that sits upon my head is just as worthy of praise as any silky, straight strands. That somehow a strong part of my heritage and culture marvelously sprouts from my scalp. Most importantly I didn’t realize the “political pull”, that my hair magically seems to possess. That my hair directly attacks the classical western values of beauty which continues to devalue my organicness.
In summary, continue to or begin to make it a habit of speculating what it is that you are complying with. Malcolm X said it best,”Armed with the knowledge of our past, we can with confidence charter a course for our future. Culture is an indispensable weapon in the freedom struggle. We must take hold of it and forge the future with the past.”
*Kanekalon hair is synthetic fibers that are used in traditionally braided hair extensions.