WARNING: This post contains old, poorly lit, badly edited photos of my relaxed hair. While I am cute, these images are definitely NOT, and are only presented here as a demonstration of how my hair used to be. Viewer discretion is advised.
In the last four years or so, natural hair has gone beyond being a trend. It is now past the point of being a cute look that a few girls have adopted and that fades as the media loses interest. Natural hair, as a concept, as a lifestyle, as a way of being, is now here to stay. It's all over the internet in the form of blogs much better than my own that offer help, advice, and product recommendations. It's in the beautiful black girls I see on the street, who are now much more likely to be rocking their curls and kinks than a relaxer or weave. It's on the shelves of our stores, where whole sections are dedicated to products for our hair, with natural ingredients that cater to its unique needs.
This combined effort from bloggers, YouTubers, haircare companies, and everyday black girls has created an extremely passionate and informed community that we have never had before. From now on, anyone who wants to go natural will have years and years of blog posts, videos, and articles explaining exactly how to do so, and all the options will be presented to them immediately so that they can choose how to navigate their transition. I can't tell you how much I wish this had been the case when I was a kid! If I had known how to do something other than put Blue Magic on my head and put it in a few big braids with barrettes, I probably would have stayed natural and not permed my hair at 12 years old.
However, with all this knowledge and passion comes a lot of negativity. There is so much criticism within our community -- of ourselves, and of others who we feel are not as "enlightened" as us. It's become so bad that the more zealous naturals online have been called "Natural Hair Nazis." I hate this phrase, but I understand the frustration. Haven't we all seen arguments break out in comments and message boards where people who get relaxers or weaves are called "self hating" and accused of wanting to be white?
I'm not going to debate whether black girls who wear wigs and weaves are self hating or not -- for me it's a case by case thing and not something anyone should make a blanket statement about. But all the finger pointing does lead me to a question about myself...
Was I self hating all those years I was relaxing my hair?
If I'm being honest with myself, the answer is yes. Here's why.
I grew up in an upper middle class neighborhood where I attended private school, and I was one of only a few (3 at most) black kids in my class. A lot of the bullying I endured as a kid centered around my race in one way or another. I wouldn't say most of the kids who bothered me were racist --- I wasn't called the N-word or anything that extreme. They were prejudiced because for most of them, I was the first black girl they had ever had to interact with, and everything they knew of black culture was based on things they had seen on TV -- criminals getting chased down on Law and Order, mugshots on the news, rappers and video vixens on MTV. They couldn't understand why I wasn't anything like those images they had seen. Why I "talked white." Why I got better grades than they did. Why I liked to read so much. Why I was so incredibly passive and not "ghetto."
But the thing they understood the least was my hair. Because it was always in braids and kind of shrunken, they thought it didn't grow. And why was it so "frizzy?" Couldn't I straighten it? In class pictures where every girl had long, waist length hair cascading down their shoulders and parted down the middle, my juicy braids and colorful barrettes stuck out like a sore thumb. I felt I didn't belong, and I began to hate my hair.
I hated that it always looked short, even though when my mother helped me wash it, it was halfway down my back. I hated that on the rare occasion it was straightened with heat, using a flat iron or a hot comb, it would take forever because my hair was so thick, and then would revert within a couple of days. I begged my mother for relaxer for years. Thankfully, she waited until I was 12 and didn't put those harsh chemicals on my hair when I was a small child.
For years, I was happy. My relaxed hair was easy to take care of, and stayed surprisingly healthy despite my barely doing anything to it.
But then, in 2010, I started college. My new school was in Brooklyn, which meant I finally had a core group of black friends. And some of those friends were natural. The movement was in its early stages, and there still wasn't a huge amount of info online at the time. One of my close friends had beautiful 4c hair that she always wore natural. She had been relaxed as a child, and transitioned as a teen. She used a combo of her own homemade DIYs and Carol's Daughter products. She was never pushy, but explained the benefits of going natural and said she'd be there to help if I ever decided to do it.
I could have gone natural then, but was terrified of having short hair (I had HUGE hangups about having long hair that I'm still dealing with now), and I wasn't patient enough to transition. In the end, it wasn't until after a couple of years had gone by and I had been through some things that I chopped off my relaxed hair. I was on a journey of self love which I'll probably be on in some form or another for the rest of my life, and loving my hair as it grows out of my head was part of that journey.
I've never hated being black -- my parents made sure I took pride in my history and culture. But I did hate my hair for half of my life. When your only points of comparison on TV, in magazines, and in school are girls who are physically the exact opposite of you, it's harder to appreciate your own beauty. This is why representation in the media, which has improved drastically since I was a kid, is so important. It will be a determining factor for whether or not our little girls grow up with the same insecurities and self hate that some of us fell into when we were young. If I can make the little black girls in my life feel beautiful and equip them with the haircare knowledge many of us never got, then any trauma from my past experiences will absolutely have been worth it.
How was your natural hair received by your peers when you were a kid? Did that determine what you did with your hair when you grew up? How do you feel about media representation for our unique hair textures? Where can it be improved, what work still needs to be done? Let's discuss in the comments here and on Facebook, shall we?