Our Afro textured hair is so unique that among 100 black women you would find such a wide array of differences that it would cause your head to spin. Our hair in it’s natural state is intriguing and admired by many other cultures. But more than any other people we choose to cover our hair with wigs, weaves and other forms of extensions. There are many reasons that black women feel more comfortable with there hair covered. Some do it out of necessity because they feel there hair is too difficult to manage. Some do it because they are protecting their hair. Others do it for style. But I want to speak about people who do it because of a deep seated insecurity, disappointment and fear of their hair.
Unfortunately our hair has also been deemed controversial. This has literally gone on for centuries. (Check out this article written about women being banned from showing their hair in public). In our time there is a lot of media attention on the ways black women have been criticized or controlled in work and school environments. Many women have had experiences of being humiliated or forced to alter their hair for fear of looking unprofessional at work or fear of being ostracized. Just check out what recently happened in South Africa. But this isn’t unique to some parts of the world, this is an issue where ever black women exist on the planet. Even in a place like Africa where you would expect women to be more connected with their roots…no pun intended, you still witness the affects of colonialism. The negative impact of European beauty standards on black people are far reaching, existing throughout our past and will probably continue on into our future.
Sadly this kind of social pressure to change or alter your natural hair commonly comes from other black people as well. We have generations of women that have grown up brain washed in their attitudes concerning afro textured hair and continue to spread these types of thoughts to their children and little sisters. If you ask women about their experiences with trying to accept their hair you will find as many different experiences as their are hair textures.
So why do so many of us still choose to cover up our hair even though no one is forcing us to?
There are many women that have been raised to believe that their hair is not beautiful. They have been trained to believe that their hair in it’s natural state looks unkept. Some believe that the quality of hair is better if there is some mixture of other races like if you are mixed with white or asian then you will have a looser curl pattern and therefore have better hair. The tighter the coil or lack of curls, the less beautiful. Most of this ideology comes from slavery times and rather than go into detail here about something that many have written about I’ll just tell you that if you are interested in finding more about the history of our problems with our hair check out Untangling our roots This book goes into the historical significance of why some of us struggle with feeling like our hair does not measure up. Several years ago the movie Good Hair was created by Chris Rock as he examined some of the negative belief systems about black hair. His daughter was unhappy with her hair and he wanted to find out why. I was really excited to see this movie but was let down when the focus fell on how many stars wore weave and the dangerous and expensive extents we will go to in order look different. On a positive note it was good to see stars admitting that they to feel pressured uphold a lame standard of beauty. It was good to see that they’re also not perfect.
One of the things that I noticed when I used to work at a black beauty supply store was how ridiculous it all was. It’s amazing how differently you will look at things when you are in a more objective position. I was natural at the time and remember being in awe of how many brands and types of fake hair existed. We can’t deny that the “black beauty” industry isn’t more like “anti black beauty”. Imagine walking into a black beauty supply that sells hair and creams to make you look completely different. We can’t deny when we cover up that we don’t want our hair. At that point it’s not just about convenience it’s about looking totally different. Otherwise we would buy afro textured wigs and use that for convenience…but that’s right, most of us don’t! When I worked at the store natural hair was beginning to get more exposure. Around that time afro textured wigs and weaves began to show up in the stores. The thought that we were now selling us our own hair (and we were buying it) just became to ridiculous for me. That’s when I felt strongly that we needed to wake up. Maybe I should have been happy because didn’t this mean that our hair was more accepted? Was our hair more accepted?
Let’s Get Real
This rejection of our hair as a culture needs to stop. The natural hair movement among many women is amazing but there still needs to be a lot of healing to the general psyche of black women. So many little girls dream of the day they will have their first relaxer only to get damaged hair and then be enslaved to extensions. Or they just wear their hair up in a ponytail for convenience because they never understood the versatility of their hair or how to take care of it. We have been told that our hair is ugly and must be covered or changed in order to be accepted into the norm of society. If you think i’m being extreme watch a few T.V. shows and movies…especially “black” movies. How many leading ladies have dark skin and natural hair? We need to think about what messages we are sending to young girls about who they are. Why are our young ladies in such a hurry to change what makes them unique? Why don’t we as older women, some in their forties, fifties and sixties know anything about maintaining afro textured hair. Why is something that has been with us for decades still unmanageable? Where did these thoughts come from? Maybe it’s because we’ve just started finally learning about the chemistry of our hair after being ignored in the mainstream for so long. Maybe it’s because in the past we spent more time covering our hair instead of learning how to nurture it.
In this post I want to call out ways we have been brainwashed by the standard of beauty that is out there.
10 signs you might need inner healing in regards to your hair
- You wear your hair in extensions, weaves and wigs 90 percent of the time (for non medical reasons or time restraints)
- You think that other people’s hair is better than yours
- You genuinely don’t see anything good about your hair
- You shame others that wear their hair in a natural state
- You’ve never learned how to take care of your hair
- It scares you to wear it out
- You feel more attractive when your hair is chemically altered or you’re covering it up with fake hair
- You feel embarrassed when you see other people with their natural hair.
- This post makes you angry or uncomfortable
- You believe your hair is uniquely difficult to deal with
5 Things we need to do as a people to love our natural hair…
Check out this article that one of my mentees shared with me –Three things that will help you understand natural hair The more you understand the easier it will be for you to make those difficult decisions.
2. Retrain your definition of beauty
Pay attention to what you deem as beautiful. Examine what media you allow to form your thoughts. What images of black women are common? Do they represent reality? How can you surround yourself with more realistic beauty standards? Take in positive messages.
3. Encourage others
Compliment women that wear their hair out and in a variety of different styles and leave room for individuality.
Teach young black girls to value and take care of there hair by showing them book such as My Magnificent Hair and nurturing a respect for their hair.
Teach young black boys and girls not to participate in shaming each other for having black features and afro textured hair.
Practice wearing your hair out. Don’t take the easy way out for social acceptance. Don’t be lazy in managing your hair. Taking care of your hair does not need to take hours. Find what works for you.
It will always be a journey
For some of us accepting our hair will always be a journey. In my book For Black Girls: The Shaping of a Young Woman I write about my own realizations. This was a process for me that took about 2 decades. It won’t be easy, but if you are real with yourself then you can actually make progress. Denial is not going to help us as a people accept ourselves. You can’t learn to love your hair if you refuse to acknowledge what it means to you. Maybe you wish your hair was a little more accepted, or longer, or manageable or curlier but none of your wishes will change your hair. It’s easy to slap on a wig or a weave because you’ll most likely fit into the mainstream standard of beauty. It’s easy to look perfect but this isn’t reality. The best thing you can do is start to show the world what your hair looks like. Style it in a way that allows you to not waste too much time on it and in a way that you can enjoy. I think an important thing to remember is that as you start this journey you still may not always feel empowered and secure. These feelings are a normal part of life and I actually think that not being obsessed with looking perfect all the time and not being able to look perfect all the time builds character. After all life is way more than just what we look like.
In my journey there are times when I feel like I’m having a bad hair day and there are times when I can’t keep my hands out of my hair because even though it’s been fully natural for almost a decade I’m still learning about it and it still intrigues me. Jem Jackson The founder of I’m Still Standing Documentary Series mentioned that she had to learn to focus on what she did like about her hair in order to start accepting it. What a powerful way to live life. Think about how many things you can start doing today to begin to live a more positive experience with you and your surroundings. If that doesn’t work try fasting and prayer. Being hungry has a way of putting things in perspective. I mean, we are here trying to look perfect all the time and people are literally starving and dying all over the world!
I’m not a natural hair nazi!
I grew up with relaxed hair from 6 years old till about 20. I wore braided extensions a good majority of that time too. I think braided hair is beautiful and even though we use a lot of fake hair, the creativity in these styles is also a part of our culture. Sometimes I miss extensions but for myself that was something that I had to give up. So to help keep me on track I think about all of the pro’s. Going back isn’t an option for me. I can wash my hair as often as I want. I can save a truck load of money by not buying fake hair and tonnes of beauty products. I sleep comfortably and I know that when people see me they are seeing me, not an image I’m hiding behind. I hope that you will be encouraged to be free to try different things with your hair but most of all to be you. I’m not saying that everyone should be natural or never wear fake hair…I’m just challenging you to examine the reasons for why and how often you do. Are you brave enough to be seen? Are you comfortable with the messages that you are sending to those that will come after you?
Nana Abraham is a speaker, youth activist and author of For Black Girls: The Shaping of a Young Woman– a handbook for life that discusses relevant issues for young women today.