What can you do when all you get are mixed signals?
Being a black girl is interesting, which explains why I wrote an entire play entitled BLK GRL for my senior project. And no matter if you’re from the suburbs or the inner city, black girls receive certain messages about our hair.
- If you have a perm, you hate yourself.
- If you straighten your hair (perm or flat iron), you are ashamed of your natural curls.
- If you wear your hair natural without any specific styling, your hair isn’t done.
- If you dread your hair, you’re dirty.
- If you get a weave or wear a wig, you’re suffering from self-hate.
- If you dye your hair blonde or any other color besides the one that grows out of your head, you want to be white.
- You’re exotic (and more beautiful) if you have looser curls than your kinkier-textured counterparts.
- If you have a lot of hair, you should perm it so it’s more manageable.
- “Good hair” translates to looser curls and waves, where problem hair are the kinkier textures.
- Straightened hair is more professional.
The more I began to grow up and out of some of the detrimental things we learn as black girls growing up, I realized how absolutely ridiculous it was to think this way.
It seems absurd (or at least, I hope it does), when you lay it all out on paper, but these are actual things that people think when it comes to black women and how we style our hair. In middle school, girls who we thought had weaves were made fun of and called ghetto. If you straightened your hair, you ran the risk of being teased for it being too short (and I say this from experience), but at least your straightened style was better than a full-blown afro or afro puffs. If you didn’t wear your natural hair in certain “controlled” styles, you were wild. Black girls are taught that if our hair is going to be natural, it must be in some kind of style, like braids or cute puffs, but to wear it out with nothing restraining it is a problem.
We’re teaching our own community basically: “Love yourself, but make sure your hair is a certain way or you’ll be perceived as dirty, filled with self-loathing, or, god-forbid, wild.”
I’ve never gotten a perm, mostly because my mother told me from an early age that she wasn’t putting chemicals in my hair, so I just never thought of it as an option for me. But even to this day, when I go to hairdressers and they see how much hair I have, they and other customers ask: “Have you ever thought about relaxing it?” First of all, my hair doesn’t need to relax and it never will. Second of all, no shade to perms, but what does it say when other black women see a lot of hair on our heads and think it needs to be tamed to be more manageable?
Up until last July, I never had a weave or even thought about having a weave. I would never have considered wearing a wig. And this is because I had internalized the idea that women who did this were 1) suffering from self-hate and insecurity issues and/or 2) ghetto. I correlated a hairstyle with self-hate, as if a person rocking a full-blown afro can’t also have some internalized anti-blacknessin other areas.
From my junior year in high school until last past May, I always kept my hair in protective styles, mostly box braids. I was most comfortable with a hairstyle that gave my hair the appearance of being straight even though I didn’t have a perm or straighten it. I wanted my hair to fall, not defy gravity. To let my natural kinks loose came with a certain stigma, certain stares, and the fear that I would be mocked and ridiculed.
Until I started researching the natural hair community on YouTube, I thought “going natural” meant that you wore your hair out all the time without the help of any protective styles. I falsely boasted that I was “going natural,” when, in all reality, I’ve always been natural since I’ve never had a perm a day in my life. For me, “going natural” just meant I was no longer convinced that in order for my hair to be considered done, it had to be in a (certain and respectable) protective style.
To put it simply, there’s a lot of misconceptions and untruths about the decisions we make when it comes to our hair. A black woman choosing not to wear a weave or a wig or straighten her hair does not make her better than the person that does. A woman choosing to perm her hair does not mean she has self-hate issues. Just like the rest of our body, what we do with our hair is our choice. And what another black woman does with their hair is their choice and does not determine their worth as a person. Black women get enough flack for just existing, and our hair is still being debated and analyzed. Just a few weeks ago, Lupita N’yongo spoke out about how a major magazine company edited out her kinky hair texture and completely erased her afro puff for the cover of their magazine. I know of a girl whose manager told her to take her box braids out because her hair was seen as too urban for the image of the place she was working. At the end of the day, I’ve realized that no matter what we do or what we say, someone is going to have something to say about it, so just do what you want. Wear your hair how you want because someone’s going to have a comment either way.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!
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