By: Angel Dawson
I have been Team Natural all my life. Perms and relaxers have always been the enemy. We’ve had the Batman and Joker or Superman and Lex Luthor kind of relationship since the beginning of time. Growing up the almighty afro was my go-to hairstyle. I remember days where I found myself envious of other black girls around me with perfectly “relaxed” straight hair.
Girls who wore the wrap hairstyle that framed their faces. My hair was sometimes seen as being too bold and big. I didn’t realize it was my statement to the world. I was saying “look at me and my blackness”. I was just a young girl with fluffy hair. I wore what was easy to style. My picked out hair with a headband pushing it back from my face.
Non-natural relaxed girls would claim “if my hair was as good as yours I would rock the fro too” or “I don’t see how you deal with the kinks and naps”. My favorite comment was “you must be mixed with something. Are you full black?”. I could never quite understand that one, as if to say black women couldn’t have beautiful hair. When I was in middle school and later high school, I began to notice that most people around me only knew me for my afro hair. It felt as though my identity was my hair and my face beneath was often forgotten.
Growing up, 3 of my 4 sisters all had relaxers and their hair seemed easier to tame. However, I also watched all of their hair break off and fall out. My mother only allowed me to hot comb my hair because of how my sister’s’ hair was destroyed. In my family hair was always a hot topic of discussion. It was a subject more popular than Kim K. and her sisters growing up.
We gave power to the idea of hair. Hair had to be stylish, long, shiny, beautiful and define who you were as a young black woman. As we all grew older we learned the freedom of styling our own hair. We learned how our hair made us individuals.
What I have noticed among black women, is how much effort it takes for us to love our natural hair. We manipulate our luscious locks to emulate what doesn’t grow from our heads. I never understood why we try so hard to look so different. Now as an adult it isn’t often I wear my afro anymore. However, today being “natural” is the “in” thing. Some of us are now using exotic over priced oils, mayo and eggs to moisturize our hair. Others are putting themselves through the emotional “big chop” to give their hair a new beginning.
Why does hair need to be defined as if it’s almost a person? We use hair to define ourselves just because it is one of the first things someone sees. If you tell someone you’re a natural girl, they begin to think they know a great deal about you, all over your hair. Really?
I recently moved back to my hometown and a lot of friends and associates from high school simply remember me as “the girl with afro”. Not the politically and socially conscious, self aware individual I thought I was back then. I recently found my senior class hoody and the back reads “Afro Angel Class of 09”. In college I had the similar reputation of my hair being seen before who I am was. It didn’t help that I was an activist on campus and in high school for that matter.
I often wonder how I would define myself even if I were to shave my head bald. Would I then be the bald black girl with glasses? I understand that it’s human nature to define a person’s appearance by what you see however, what I found in black culture is that we then use hair to define a woman’s character.
For example, if a woman wears a weave, I’ve heard that woman being called fake and misleading. In a number of rap songs that subject is often times brought up. Why is hair given that power to identify who we are as a person, as a woman? What products we use, if we use heat or not, towel drying vs t-shirt drying, natural vs everything else all defines who we are according to societal and cultural standards.
I recently decided to make a change. No, I did not chop off all my hair. However, I now mostly wear my hair pinned down. It is my attempt to get people to see me first. I want to be understood as unique by my awesome personality not just my “awesome hair”. Hair is only scalp deep.