By: Arielle Rosemarie
I can remember a time when I didn’t remember what my natural hair looked like. By the age of twelve I had been straightening my hair constantly and vowed that for my thirteenth birthday I would finally get a long-awaited perm. All the adults I knew, including my hairdresser warned me and my sister to stay as far away from what they would have considered to be Satan’s nectar.
On the other hand, my friends were praising this stuff like it was a miracle, sent down to Earth by God himself. Walking into the hair store and seeing the mesmerizing image of the little black girl with smooth hair on the box of those perms and relaxers made the whole idea seem incredibly worth it. Wow, I thought. I could be that happy little black girl for once.
As I approached the ripe age of thirteen, a new thought popped into my mind; my natural hair. Beneath a smooth black sheet was a layer of springy ringlets that I could only vaguely remember seeing once before. My mom and sister complimented one day after washing my hair, but I had never seen anything spectacular about it; they were just shrively curls that shrunk up to my ears.
With much convincing and many YouTube videos, I decided to leave straightening alone for awhile and to wear my natural curls. This was a huge decision for me as it is for a lot of black women who have made the transition to go natural, considering the amount of confidence it takes to ignore the Eurocentric beauty standards forced into society. From this moment on, I realized that black hair was a lot deeper-rooted than being “just hair”.
School became a whole new world. I got looks I had never gotten before and I felt that all eyes were on me, even if they weren’t. My white friends tried their best to compute that I was capable of wearing more than than one hair style and felt the need to touch it because “It just looks so…different”, concluding that overnight I had become ethnic or something, and was suddenly unrecognizable.
The most surprising reaction though, came from my black friends. They would ask me what brand of wavy Brazilian I was using because “no way that is what your natural hair looks like,” and would even bully me because of the way it looked. I didn’t understand. Of all people I expected my girlfriends to be the most accepting of me.
I mean, I had “embraced my roots”, right? What I didn’t realize is that being able to wear my hair in its natural state intimidated a lot of my friends who had chemically straightened theirs and couldn’t revert it back, so I automatically became their target for bullying. I was upset because after months of trying to prove my blackness to my peers it seemed that everything I did, in their eyes I was still having to be initiated.
This puzzling nature amongst my classmates continued, and I remained the topic of negative discussion. Kids would often motion to me to put my head down when they couldn’t see the board, forcing me in a blur of anger to shuffle to the back of the classroom or to at least put my head down so everything appeared sideways.
Even teachers deemed my mane a “distraction” in the classroom, and that I should try to tame it…whatever that meant. Before long I had decided that natural hair wasn’t for me and it was time to go back to straightening my hair, but my mom wouldn’t let me. Despite my anger she uncovered to me that I needed to become comfortable with myself and letting other people’s opinion of my beautiful kinky locks offend me would ultimately wound my self-esteem. This advice was vital to a young me who was still baffled by the way I was being treated, all because of something so small like the way my hair looked.
Through my experience with going natural I realized how my natural hair changed me and how it made others view me. By wearing my curls I revealed a part of myself that I was never confident enough to release, which ultimately uncovered the actual weight that hair holds within the black community. While natural hair may represent a black person accepting their “true self”, it doesn’t mean that having straightened hair equates to self-hate.
Our braids, coils, locs, twists, and curls are just as significant as our weaves, wigs, blow-outs and clip-ins. The black hair spectrum is vast and should be praised as a whole. With that being said, black hair unity is still uncharted territory and there are no guarantees that the style you decide to rock will be accepted by everyone, even your fellow black friends. That’s why it is imperative to love your hair and embrace it! You will be so glad you did.