Me, My Hair, and Men

By: Zoe Conley

I remember the first day I decided to wear my hair “natural”. I was almost a year and a half post-relaxer, and seeing that my hair had grown out a considerable amount, I decided it was time. I had spent the previous week researching methods of wash n go’s, twist outs, wet sets, and just about anything else you could think of.

I had been rocking multi-colored singles that went to the middle of my back for a couple of months, and before that, kinky twists about the same length. So it’s fair to say long locks were my signature look and I was a little apprehensive about rocking a small, curly afro for a few reasons.

For one, I hadn’t really seen my hair in that state in a few years so I wasn’t sure of what the length would be like after shrinkage, and beyond watching videos, I didn’t actually know how to do my hair. Regardless, I did a wash n go and it was quite successful! It resembled that of the Youtubers I modeled it from and I loved it.

I was in the mirror feeling myself, dancing around, and showing my closest girlfriends. They all loved it. I was, for the most part, carefree, but the one thing I was, and always had been worried about, was the reaction I would receive from men.

Ever since I became of dating age, I always wondered and worried what guys would think about my hairstyles. Specifically, my afro. I loved it, and as a very young girl, I wore it proudly, but as time stretched on, I began to lose pride in my coily hair.

Like any adolescent girl, I was confused, awkward, and apprehensive. But as a black girl with thick hair, I was especially so. My friends were beginning to get relaxers and had seemingly flawless bone straight hair and would ask ,”Girl, when are you getting your hair done?”.

As they got more and more attention from guys, I tried to stay true to myself, but I craved that attention. My mom was reluctant to let me, and unsure of why I wanted one, but after much begging, I finally got a relaxer, and shortly after, a long weave.

I was getting more attention, notably from men of different races, and more compliments; “everything” I had ever wanted, except pride in my own hair. This isn’t to say that black women who get relaxers aren’t proud of their hair! Because they very well can be. That just wasn’t the case with me. I got one for all of the wrong reasons.

Now in college, after having gotten a much-regretted relaxer at age 16, it was back to its normal state. Even though I loved my hair, a few remnant thoughts still lingered in my mind: As much as I loved my hair in its natural state, would guys feel that way? Would other races overlook me because I didn’t have long flowing hair like girls in the media? Would black men approve? Would I be viewed differently because of my big nappy mane?

I’ve found that some men don’t like girls with afros and will criticize them for it, but some shame those of us who don long Brazilian weaves. In actuality, there’s no right or wrong answer to how you choose to wear your hair.

Now those who say that they don’t care what ANYONE says, are lying. There are some people, who you just can’t help but to value their opinion. My dad was one of those people for me. He is incredibly pro-black, almost to the point of being a separationist and since afros have historically been symbols for black power and pride, I was excited for him to see it. On the flip side, I was also nervous.

Admittedly the style does make me look like a young boy. I have a very young, round baby face, don’t wear makeup, and often get mistaken for 12 or 13 when I’m actually 20. So I was nervous he might say something along the lines of how it was affecting my femininity.

It turns out that I was right. My hair was in a big afro puff bun when I saw him after taking my braids out. Among words of his greeting were, “When are you getting your hair done?” I hadn’t really thought of that at all. I wasn’t. This wasn’t an in between stage; it was a hairstyle. I explained that I was just wearing my hair out of any protective styles for a bit because I enjoyed the way it looked and the freedom I had to style it.

He said that he liked it, but he was weary of what other people would think. He, who once donned a Jackson 5-esque afro and fell in love with my mother, rocking the same style, wasn’t for it. He said that he didn’t want people to have any more negative things to say about me than they already did.

My hair, he said, would only add to that list of things for people to judge me on– notably, it being “nappy”. I didn’t understand what the way hair grew from my head had to do with my femininity

I was finally becoming comfortable with the style and learning how to handle my hair, only to be told that I shouldn’t. Even still, he countered back that he wasn’t comfortable with me wearing my afro because of societal norms of today and how, like I figured, afros weren’t viewed as feminine or acceptable.

I didn’t particularly agree with that sentiment and rocked my big picked-out fro to my best friend’s basketball game. It was at a predominantly white university and the stares I received were laughable. I didn’t mind though. I was comfortable and I was feeling myself. I took a selfie and posted it as my Twitter profile picture thinking absolutely nothing of it.

I was surprised to find a message from a follower of mine who was a white male around my age. We weren’t really friends outside of Twitter so what he said was strange. He said that he had seen me on television at the basketball game and that he loved my hair and really admired me for embracing my roots. I was confused about what he meant and when I asked, he said that he recognized and appreciated that I was now pro-black because of my afro!

Since I can recall, I have always been pro-black. But it is my love of black culture, communities, and music, not my afro, that make me pro-black. It is strange to me that #BlackTwitter has brought him to view natural hair as some revamping of who I am and that it makes me a new person with different views on life. I wasn’t sure how to feel about this encounter, but I don’t think happy or thankful would be an emotion used to describe it.

I wore my hair “out” for a few more weeks and when school started up, I decided to try out crochet braids (which I’m currently still rocking and loving!). Shortly after that, I met the guy I’m dating. He’s what you could consider a “woke” black man, with very intellectual and outspoken opinions.

He asked if the curly shoulder length mane was mine and I of course told him it wasn’t. He asked why I wore it this way and I explained it was just a style to protect my hair from breakage, heat damage, and constant manipulation. I showed him pictures of a my big afro, all stretched and picked out. The next thing he said shocked me.

“I like that. You should take these out and wear your hair like that instead”. So here I was, confused. My father, the person whose opinion I value the most, did not approve of my natural hair texture and advised me against loving it and wearing it proudly, but this new man I was beginning to love, was fully accepting of it.

I didn’t know how to take it, but I thanked him for showing me that there are men who can love a woman for what she looks like in her natural state. Though it’s not as if he’s begging me to wear my hair in an Afro, I realize that his acceptance is nice. But I don’t need it. I am comfortable either way.

Though I have yet to change my hairstyle, I’ve come to the realization that no matter who does or does not like my hair in its natural state and texture, I must always remain happy and proud of myself exactly the way I am. If I choose to get a weave, relaxer, braids, or any other hair style, it should be because that is what I want, not to please someone else.

The days when I feared taking my hair down from braids because of how it would fro up and I might have to wear that outside, in public, for a day before getting my hair done are long gone. I now have no worries about when I take my hair down, other then that wash day is an all-day event for me, as I’m still learning my hair.

However, as I am learning it, I am loving it. From the way it puffs at any sign of moisture to the sleek look when heat is applied, to the wavy look after being braided, I am loving it. I love my hair, and it suits me. I might take my hair down and wear it out for summer, so I’ll need to stock up on some creams.

When I do, every man should know, that I do not wear my afro to prove my blackness, nor do I wear it to appease them or displease them. I wear it because there is no reason to be ashamed of the hair that grows from my head.

Our choice of hairstyle should not be determined by anyone else’s opinion or acceptance. Remember that you should be the only one who decides whether or not you like your hair. No friend, no parent, no man.

I know first hand the struggles of trying to please someone else’s wishes – and it is freeing to feel that I control my own happiness with my hair. The love you have for your hair should come from you and no one else. You don’t need anyone’s opinion to feel happy, validated, or proud of your hair.

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