I’ve been made to feel both guilty and lucky for my hair.
I was born with 3A hair, a hair type on the hair texture spectrum. Many people commend me for the easiness of my hair, but no one anticipates the negative effects that accompany the relentless confirmation that I was born lucky. Why am I lucky? Because I ended up with my mother’s long curly 3A hair and not my father’s short and kinky 4C hair? I’ve always battled with the societal beauty standard that deemed my hair pretty, but other black girl’s hair unwanted and undesirable. And I’ve been made to feel guilty for being naturally confident in my looks, while also being condemned as lucky for pleasing the majority by coming out “acceptable” on the 50/50 scale that is my genetics.
In the Black community, hair is so much more than just strands of keratin growing out of a scalp. Especially in the age of self-love and acceptance after the countless years of being oppressed and compared to non-black people in regards to beauty. Because of this, black people reserve so much love for themselves, particularly with black hair.
From observing the Black is Beautiful movement, I’ve noticed an abundance of countless articles, essays, and declarative poems that unapologetically deliver the unspoken truths about natural black hair. These works of art show afros radiantly worn like crowns of royalty, kinks and curls short and tight, and tips and tricks on how to maintain such tedious hair. These pieces taught Black women to love and appreciate themselves. But there are rarely any articles, essays, and declarative poems that gratify the black girl who looks ‘different’; no verbal or outspoken appreciation for the black girl who doesn’t look black.
The non-acknowledgment can easily be assumed to have derived from the early negative effects of colorism. But now, within the 360 perceptive spins of society’s views on dark-skinned women and kinky hair, the lighter women with looser curls have often fallen victim to criticisms for becoming a darker black man’s wife, or perhaps the center of people’s admirations. With claims of the black man pursuing the lighter woman because of his own self-hate, part of it may be true, but the internal conflict within that woman is now continuously being resurfaced.
“Did he only show interest in me because ‘I have nice hair for a black girl’?”
“Did I fall in love with a colorist who subconsciously hates his African heritage?”
These criticisms have in their own special way, affected me in regard to my hair. Because I’m browned skin with black hair, not showing any signs of being mixed-race, people find it unfathomable that my hair turned out the way it did. Due to such, my psychological torment flourished from other’s perceptions of me and my worth.
People have placed so much worth on my appearance, without acknowledging my intellectuality or creativity, for a while I believed I was born to be someone’s pretty wife. I’ve always known I was capable of much more than the value of my hair, but every day through my interactions with others, I have come to understand that some people disrespect me based off my appearance alone. While people naturally gravitate to what is aesthetically pleasing to their eyes in terms of a relationship, the men I’ve spent time with have confided to me that they chose me because of my hair, and how they’d like to see our kids with hair like mine. My ex, Claudio, placed his interest in me with the fact that I “don’t look entirely black.” I broke up with him a week later. And now, to my dismay, I find it hard to trust men who show their interest in me because I always ask myself: “Does he like me or my hair?” How damaging.
When I was younger, my family put a lot of worth in my hair. They always warned me not to play outside in the sun too much in fear of darkening my skin, and I’ve been warned not to cut my hair because it was long. And when I cut my hair, my family was incredibly upset with me. My senior photo is now forever “tainted” with my short and curly bob cut. That mentality is damaging and limiting to the black community. Black beauty doesn’t reside in the features that are mostly non-black, Black beauty is appreciating and loving the uniqueness of what is black. Therefore, placing a black individual on a ‘black beauty pedestal’ for looking the ‘least black’ is contradicting to the entire black look. Short hair is black beauty. Kinky curls are black beauty. The outrage my family portrayed was my wake-up call to the generational brainwashing my family has asserted.
The psychological effects can even emerge from small comments.
“Is your hair real?”
“How do you get your hair like that?”
“What are you mixed with?”
These questions mostly derive from white individuals who cannot imagine a black girl with features they do not seem inherently ‘Black’.
I’ve heard the same “glorifying” questions for a span of twenty-two years. It only took a week after getting hired at my new job for a coworker to comment on my hair.
I write of these recurring and small but impactful instances in my life with self-reflection and self-awareness today, however, when I was young and naive, the comments affected my social life. Emigrating from Quebec, I left everything behind when I moved to South Florida, including my friends. Starting anew, I believed I was going to make some great friends but a year later I found myself alone. I was later told by someone I knew in class that this black girl named Jordan Reese spread rumours about me in school. How “I thought I was better than everyone because I have good hair”. How I let my hair out on purpose to “show my hair off.” Being shy and fearful of confrontation of any kind at the time I subsequently began wearing my hair in a bun. It became hard for me to make friends, because I closed myself off to people. The psychological effects of this contribute to my life today.
Being conditioned to feel more superior or inferior to others due to small, meaningless-to-worth, and uncontrollable factors such as skin color, hair texture, and nationality to name a few, defiles the human psyche and sense of self-worth in a devastating way; the black community crumbles within. I believe these persistent validations or lack-there-of, is one of the main causes for future ill-perceived senses of self. We need to love ourselves, every part of ourselves, no matter the hair texture, skin color, or facial features.
REPORTER: Rachelle Barrett
THE VOICE, Gravity Magazine, 2020