“Kinky Curly” Conflicts: On Beauty and Self Love

February 9th, 2011 § 4 comments


Remember this?

Well, I came across another video today, made by a sista who is not feeling the least bit happy about her natural hair. In fact, she’s not feeling it at all…

Just about every black woman who has given up the creamy crack a.k.a. a relaxer, has most likely experienced a period just like the one the woman in the video seems to be going through. After taking the brave step of chopping off the perm it seems as if your hair just refuses to cooperate and no product will tame it. It’s too short. It’s unruly. It’s a little lopsided, and why oh why can’t your whole head look like that small patch in the back that curls up just right?

Transitioning from a relaxer to one’s natural hair can be very difficult. It can be especially hard for women whose hair texture may be more “kinky” than “curly” because let’s be real, few us have the “coveted” bouncy elongated curls worn by so many of the natural black folks in ads, commercials, or in entertainment. I grew out my hair for approximately three months before completely cutting off my relaxed ends. After the dramatic haircut (done in full blown undergrad style, by a cousin in her bathroom) it took only a couple of hours for my excitement to turn into insecurity. At about an inch high, I had never worn my hair so short. Insecure about the length and afraid of looking “masculine,” I wore headbands almost everyday (even though I barely had enough hair to keep them on), started wearing big earrings, and tried on some make-up for the first time. I struggled to find products that moisturized and “defined” my curls and although I asked around and received some helpful suggestions, I eventually found that the only way to figure out what worked with my hair was through trial and error. Those first few months were hell, even with “I Am Not My Hair” on heavy rotation.

I’ve seen this video posted around the blogosphere and a few bloggers ask if this woman (and Black women who think like or can relate to her) is expressing self-hatred. And, it really annoys me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a discussion with “progressive,” “feminist,” “afro-centric” (?!) men who adamantly claim that Black women are shaming themselves by buying weaves or relaxing their hair, but refuse to acknowledge the permeation of western standards of beauty in so many aspects of society–not to mention the ways that they, as men, may be guilty of perpetuating them.

There is definitely a conversation to be had about the ways that western standards of beauty and the historical exclusion of black women from womanhood and femininity have contributed to internalized racism and have produced a culture of self-hatred that is manifested in a number of ways. There is also a conversation that needs to take place about Black women learning to truly love themselves–inside and out–and be comfortable in their skin. But, I think it is very important that the latter be accompanied by the acknowledgment that wearing natural hair is not necessarily indicative of achieving self love. Wearing natural hair does not mean one has overcome socialization. Thinking this way is moot. It’s just another way to tell women what they should be doing and how they should be doing it. It takes black women out of one box and fastens them securely into another. Real freedom from these societal constraints is in the power of choice. Choose what makes YOU feel good. Choose what makes YOU feel attractive. Explore your options and don’t be afraid to try something new.

With that said, I’ve been natural for five years now and my journey has been full of ups and downs. As time progressed from that initial haircut, I’ve learned how to take care of my hair and to love my texture. It has also proven to be pretty low-maintenance and cost-effective (I was on a bi-weekly salon schedule with a relaxer). It took some time, but I really grew to love my hair. I like the way it looks, it makes me feel comfortable and at the end of the day, that’s really all that matters.

So, when the woman in the video says she tried and it’s just not working for her, I can’t even be mad. (G’on head and slap on that wig, girl. DO YOU). BUT, for my sistas out there who have decided against going natural because they are too afraid of the change, I encourage you to give it a try. I can honestly say that though it may not be easy in the beginning, it is a rewarding process and if you stick with it, you will learn so much about yourself along the way. One of the most valuable lessons that going natural taught me, is that my hair is just hair. I can do what I want with it. If I cut it, it’ll grow back. No hairstyle has to be permanent. My hair doesn’t define me. And although there have been days when singing “I Am Not My Hair” wasn’t enough to make me smile at myself in the mirror, I’ve learned to love it in spite of that. It’s a part of me, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

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§ 4 Responses to “Kinky Curly” Conflicts: On Beauty and Self Love"

  • Jillian says:

    Amber, I have so many feelings about this…but I'm definitely at work right now… so those feelings need to wait. BUT I will revisit this!
    Also: http://photos.essence.com/galleries/word_on_the_street_what_black_men_think_about_your_hair#267441

    a friend sent this to me a while back and… well, just look!

  • Ayo says:

    @Amber, Hair has and contnues to be a topic of interest because Hair is not just hair for many cultures. Hair is tied into spirituality, rituals and stories of heritage. Its deeper than we think. Why do you think some people weird about others touching their hair, sometimes energies can bounce off each other. Or when we heard in the news about the schoolteacher who cut off a little girls hair for playing with it. We were livid. If it was just hair, we wouldn't care! Research various cultures who've used hair for deeper spirtual content, you'd be surprised at what you discover. Hairs to you!

  • Amber says:

    @Jillian I'm eager to hear your thoughts! I just peeped your link, and I am seriously disgusted. That is a whole other blog post right there, and definitely adds fuel to this conversation. SMDH.

    @Ayo Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts. I totally agree with you that hair holds different types of significance for different peoples and cultures. In sharing my own personal journey, I in no way meant to trivialize the experiences of others, rather, my goal was to emphasize that for me the decision to wear my hair natural was liberating. It helped free me from many of the societal standards of beauty that I wasn't even fully aware I struggled with. In those first transitory months, choosing to wear my hair short, nappy, and proud was a difficult decision, but it ultimately did wonders for my self-esteem. On this journey, I've grown to love my hair and most importantly I've learned that I don't necessarily need it to look a certain way to feel beautiful, or more accurately, so that others will find me beautiful. So by no means did I mean to say that hair is unimportant–I believe it is just the opposite, it holds a great amount of significance. But I've realized that the way that I choose to wear mine is no one's decision but my own, and I love that I am able to say that today with ease and confidence.

    Again, thanks for reading and for adding to the conversation!

  • Anonymous says:

    This is really well said. There's a lot of judgement that goes on from folks who don't really understand the experience.

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