“Good hair means curls and waves
Bad hair means you look like a slave
At the turn of the century
It’s time for us to redefine who we be”
– I am Not my Hair by India Aire
I often joke that India Aire’s, ” I Am not My Hair” is the natural hair anthem.
Women like India Aire have been a great encouragement to me in choosing to wear my hair naturally. I stopped relaxing my hair 3 to 4 years ago. It was a conscious desire to affirm my beauty and challenge the popular beauty standard that often excludes black women. It deprives black women of their inheritance as women. In addition, The “Maafa” – translated The great disaster (Swahili word for the Atlantic Slave trade and colonization) propagated very evil lies about our worth, beauty and humanity. In the past community members have internalized and normalized the idea that kinky coily hair is “bad hair” and curly mixed women’s hair is more beautiful. The darker the person, the more unattractive and the lighter the person, the more beautiful. We have continued to perpetuate and believe those lies allowing these lies to live on today. And as silly as this may seem to some people, wearing the hair that naturally grows out of my head is how I choose to resist and decolonize.
Going natural is helping me confront my notions about “good hair” vs “bad hair”. For most of my life my hair has been a source of anxiety. What do people think of it? Do people realize its longer than it looks? Why can’t I learn to style it? and is an afro seen as feminine? I realize a lot of the anxiety black women feel about their hair stems from consistently being compared (and comparing) themselves to women who look nothing like them. For example, my hair defies gravity and naturally grows toward the sun. So why am I constantly asked how long my hair is as if it grows down. Is that even a fair question? What if I asked people with straight long hair how big or tall their hair could get?
I don’t think I am over reacting because a lot of black women have been made to feel ugly and it’s not right. In all honesty I don’t expect or encourage black women to rely on this society to validate their beauty but instead to find their worth in God, learn to love themselves and work on creating spaces in our community for dialogue and healing.
Similarly, black men need to be included in the conversation of beauty because as someone so beautifully articulated on twitter “the same message black women get that they are not beautiful, black boys get that black women are ugly” and its wreaking havoc on relationships within the black community. We need to do a better job of reminding little black boys they are handsome, their brown hues, rounded noses, naps, kinks and curls included. Thus putting them in a position to love themselves and affirm black women if need be.
Ultimately, as a Christian I understand that beauty is fleeting and passes away. I don’t want to be self obsessed and won’t encourage others to be either. Nevertheless, I realize people have genuine concerns and I wanted to address them. As Marcus Garvey, the famous Jamaican Pan-Africanist said. ” God made no mistake when he made us black with kinky hair… Take the kinks out of your mind not your hair”. Now is the time for us to love ourselves, each other and strengthen our community.
Nana Akua is a 17 year-old aspiring writer and youth organizer. She has pioneered ProjectDreamBig and is passionate about youth engagement, cultural reform and mentorship. She hopes to use her voice to shape culture.