There is a lot of pressure in the black community to have long straight hair like the white community. Tons of women weave, use a lot heat, and add chemicals to their hair to achieve that long silky look like Beyonce and Kim Kardashian. However in my family I was the one that refused to get a perm. I didn’t want to do something that would permanently alter my hair texture and actually damage my hair because society wanted me to look a certain way.
However I simultaneously had long straight hair. I made sure my hair was flat ironed to appear straight like my white friends. I let my hair control my life by avoiding rain, humidity, beaches, swimming, and anything else that would make my hair even try to curl. I was avoiding not looking “normal” or “cool” as defined by society. It was almost like I was mentally enslaved to beauty. I needed my hair to beautiful all the time, no matter the cost. My ends would split from the constant heat, but I would not stop until it was bone straight. Going to the hair salon would take up my whole day and the blow dryers were hot to the point where I used to almost cry, but I figure it was worth it. The thing is, even though I achieved the straightness I thought truly made me happy, it could never be good enough, straight enough, right enough, or better said white enough. Even after going to the salon, I would constantly flat iron it at home adding more heat and more damage just to look like everyone else. I even carried a small portable flat iron in my purse.
One day, I had gone to the Dominicans and I got it so straight and flowy that it moved. It literally appeared like white hair, it was so silky and soft it didn’t even seem real. I was at camp and I got so excited that this guy introduced himself. We were making small talk and he asked me a question that started a question internally. He asked “What are you?”
I was confused as I already told him everything I was. I was a sophomore on the school newspaper that loved music with a strong core belief system and a hiccupy child like laugh. He rephrased “I mean what race are you.”
I had never been asked that before. I didn’t have features that looked mixed. I had average brown skin, average facial features, etc. After replying “Just black.” I realized that it was my hair that confused him. That I had straightened my hair because subconsciously I wasn’t proud to be African American, I was ashamed to be ‘just black’. The hair of my ancestors in africa, the same texture of civil rights leaders and activists was straightened to blend in to what all the cool kid’s had, white hair.
After that I started wearing my hair in natural styles for months. It was strange to think that before then I didn’t even know what my own hair texture looked like. I always thought it was nappy and gross as the stereotype of what happens when black people don’t follow the hair rules of society, but it was actually really curly. I sported wash and go hair, twist outs, and dread like twists. I was challenging the ideas of what ‘good hair’ was and finding the beauty in my own culture. However this isn’t the day I felt the most beautiful.
The fact of the matter is I was fighting the power not because I believed in the opposite, but simply to feel like I was fighting the power. I was using my hair to prove a point and to show the world that I was this person rather than being it. Rather than being enslaved by beauty I was enslaved by anti-beauty. The day I felt free was when I realized that I what makes my hair beautiful is doing what makes me happy. I have always loved fashion not for other people, but for myself as style makes me happy. If I want to have bone straight hair one day that’s beautiful to me. If I wear it curly the next that’s also beautiful. If I wear twists or braids or even a fake weave that too is beautiful. This is because of the idea that beauty isn’t defined by how the world sees me, my personal beauty is defined how I see me. I realized I need to wear my hair in whatever style makes me happy. The feeling of free will and fulfilling myself based on my beliefs rather than the beliefs of others is what makes me feel free.