Growing up I can remember my mom lining myself and my two older sisters up to do our hair. Each of us had a different grade of hair. My mom had no clue what she was doing. We usually had some rendition of braided pigtails. I remember my middle sister cried a lot because her hair was thicker and coarser. I never cried much because my hair was soft and curly; I would just fidget. I also remember my mom pressing and relaxing my sister’s hair for the first time too, and I remember I wanted in.
You see, I grew up subscribing to the notion that straighter hair meant better hair. Wraps were in and so were bangs and slicked back ponytails. I resented the shrinkage of my curly hair because in my mind I felt I looked “bald” by the standards of the opinions of no name people who didn’t matter. I begged my mom for Just for Me when I was about 8. My hair thinned and fell out and it took forever for my natural curls to grow back in. Yet, I felt beautiful because my twists and braids were visibly longer albeit less healthy.
I remember between the ages of 10 and 14 slicking my hair back into a ponytail and slathering an overwhelming amount of gel in it whilst brushing super hard to eradicate any evidence of waves. I was still obsessed with bone straight hair. High school rolled around and I got another relaxer. My curls were looser, limper and hair straighter. I was able to get the wrap effect I so desired. By my junior year I had stopped relaxing. My curls came back in yet again and I trimmed my dead ends religiously. I was still afraid to have shorter hair or shorter looking hair so sometimes I would wear weave ponytails that didn’t quite match my hair.
I finally discovered the African braid shops and I began to get my hair flat twisted into up dos and wear corn rows. Except the African women would suck their teeth and tell me my hair was “no good” and “too soft” and wouldn’t hold the braids. And they were right about it not holding. $150 here, $75 there and braids would last me all of two weeks. By the time I was approaching Senior year I was pregnant and my hair was growing wildly; so I relaxed it again.
As my pregnancy progressed my hair grew, my ends split and by the time I delivered I had to cut a lot of it off. I went through a lot postpartum. I was struggling hard with depression, I was considerably broker and was at odds with the stranger I had become in my own body post pregnancy. I resorted to letting my daughter’s grandmother and aunt keep my hair braided for the most part because it was cheaper and more convenient.
When I was 3 months away from turning 19 I moved to Philly. New city, new life so I decided to rock a curly Afro puff. I was coming into self realization. I started picking up books and reading about women and hair and India Arie was in constant rotation. Jill Scott existed and her fro was glorious and suddenly I was seeing images of women with all sorts of hair and things began to change for me.
Eventually by the summer I big chopped and I felt ultra liberated. And over the course of a decade I big chopped a million more times, even had a low cut ceasar, grew my hair back and had a wild curly fro and so on and so on. I no longer felt bound by some imaginary law of what a woman, a woman of color’s hair should look like and I’m so thankful for that lesson.
Meanwhile my oldest sister had locs, and I had always admired them and I was convinced that one day I would have them. That day arrived and I loc’d up; for the first time. And then I combed them out after 9 months. Then I loc’d up again a whole 1 year later. I had them for 6 years. And then at the end of my last pregnancy I big chopped again. And now I am currently on my 3rd and last loc journey.
The story of my hair is not unlike many other women; especially women of color. We often feel the need to conform to be acceptable because we are taught so early that which is naturally ours is not good enough. For myself, the older I got the more people of color continued to tell me how glorious it must be to have “good hair”. The amount of times I have been told my hair is beautiful because it is soft or curly is countless. Women have reached out and touched my hair with slight envy, or asked me what I put in it to get it “like that”.
I’ve even been told I don’t understand the struggle of having “black people” hair. Or my favorite “girl what you mixed with” question. But that’s because they didn’t get to see me struggle with my identity, or my hair or my perception of self. So when I settled on locs gleefully it was much to my surprise to find so many people of color who were against it. “Why you wanna loc up that pretty hair of yours” or “Girl if I had hair like yours I wouldn’t loc it that’s for sure” or “ew why you want dreads?”
In my 30s I’m much more sure of self and a lot less here for the the foolishness. Locs are beautiful to me. They are not something to turn ones nose up at, they are not dirty, yes I can wash them, no I don’t feel compelled to not have them because my hair is curly. Yes my hair is actually loc’d and not coming undone. No my hair does not look like everybody else’s locs because I do not have everyone else’s hair. No I don’t want your unsolicited tips, advice or opinions on my hair.
We may not be our hair, but our hair is an extension of us, our personalities, a way to express one’s self. It is so important that we as women stop imposing our thoughts or misguided notions about what is or isn’t beautiful hair on each other. Whether it be weave or a natural…whatever a woman decides for herself and her hair is just fine with me because life lessons have taught me; it’s always a little bit deeper than just hair.