FINDING COMFORT IN MY ROOTS
As a woman, hair is something that is very important to me. But as a black woman, hair is something I have always struggled with. Society tells us that our hair should be long, straight, and bouncy. Of course, this is only possible when you are born with a particular texture of hair. This stigma then creates tension within the black community, because of the expectations and societal pressures. There is always constantly a debate about having “good hair”. Chris Rock even made a whole documentary about this, aptly titled “Good Hair”. (A must watch for everyone of all backgrounds).
Though it appears black hairstyles are more accepted and celebrated now, this debate continues every day and has been going on for centuries. Protective and natural styles such as braids, dreads, and bantu knots are seen more frequently on red carpets and in photoshoots. But throughout the years, these hairstyles continue to be banned from schools and workplaces because they are viewed as wild or unkempt. So, to appease the masses, we use things like perms/relaxers and flat irons to straighten our hair, which actually results in long lasting damage. Because black hair is so thick and coarse, when heat is constantly applied to it, it gradually gets weaker and eventually falls out.
In the late 1960’s Angela Davis and Pam Grier’s afros were considered non-conformist behavior. Even when Cicely Tyson wore her braids on the cover of Jet magazine it was met with controversy. Afros even became somewhat of a symbol of rebellion and braids are always looked at as “ghetto”. However, this is the just natural texture of our hair and the styles that work best for us. It’s pretty wild to think that wearing our hair in it’s rightful state is automatically seen as a “political statement”. Sure I guess it could be considered a statement because we are opposing the standards forced upon us. But this is how we were actually meant to wear our hair. If there weren’t rules specifically meant to discriminate us, we would’ve been wearing natural afros and braided styles regardless.
From as far back as I can remember, hair has always been an issue for me. My mother permed my hair at a young age and would put it in cornrows for the summer. To her this was normal, her mother did the same thing. Even all of my cousins, would show off their cornrows every summer. During the school year, it was easier for me to feel like I fit in with the white girls because my hair would be permed and straightened.
But once the summer came, so did all the questions about the “new” style of my hair. The corn rows on my head seemed like such an alien concept to them. My hair had been in all sorts of braid styles since I was a baby. Hell even Allen Iverson was rocking the straight backs at the time. But still they were so fascinated. Little do they know, people have been rocking all different styles of braids and cornrows for thousands of years. (Yes, THOUSANDS! It didn’t start in 2013 when the Kardashian’s started wearing them.) When I would go to camp, the constant questions and attention would make me SO uncomfortable. It was like they needed to make a point that I was indeed, different. I never understood why, because at the end of the day it’s just hair. But eventually I would let it get to me. And after my mom spent HOURS doing my hair the night before, I would come home with my braids all taken out. Needless to say she was pissed.
I have a LOT of hair, which makes it hard to manage. So my mom thought the best thing to do was to perm it. Eventually my hair broke off from harsh relaxers, so I moved on to wearing weaves to try to protect my hair. It felt amazing to finally have long hair down my like the white girls, but I became so addicted that I stopped giving my own hair the attention it needed. I was more focused on “fitting in” than the health of my hair. To this day, I still deal with aftereffects of wearing such tight weaves. I have developed a type of psoriasis that only occurs on my scalp and have to use a special shampoo once in a while to avoid hair loss. Regardless, I doubt I would have been able to wear any sort of natural styling because our handbook emphasized anyone wearing any outlandish hairstyles would be penalized. I recall teachers going up to the black boys and telling them they needed to get a haircut ASAP to avoid getting a DP (disciplinary point). And god forbid a black girl wear box braids or dreads, I don’t even think I ever saw any girls attempt it. However by the end of our time there, we were all either wearing weaves or suffering from heat damage. The sad part is, I was willing to let the hair on my head suffer just to avoid being the outcast.
For the past few years, I’ve been rocking some natural box braids (Poetic Justice braids as my dad calls them). My hair hasn’t been this healthy since I was about six years old, which is sad. It’s sad that for years I willingly let my hair suffer just because society has some vendetta against black hair. The irony of it all is that they take so much sh*t and make all these discriminatory rules, and then turn around and appropriate the same styles!
It’s upsetting that black women have to put our hair through so much just to fit societies standards. Though there are still cases where children are reprimanded for wearing natural styles at school, we have certainly come a long way. Many black celebrities are able to wear natural styles without getting called out. (Like that time Giullana Rancic said Zendaya’s dreads looked like they smelled like patchouli oil… yeah I didn’t forget b**ch!) It is always disheartening how styles that have been around for thousands of years are still met with judgement. And for virtually NO real reason. If these styles are so “bad”, then why aren’t they bad when Kylie Jenner turns around and wears them to coachella? When it comes to black women’s hair there have certainly been plenty of strides in a positive direction. But I feel like part of the acceptance is only because white women are wearing the styles themselves. I hope we reach a point that black women are able to celebrate our culture through hair just as it was intended and not just because society has suddenly deemed it acceptable.