We didn’t always get our hair straightened. When I say we I mean myself, and my sister right above me in age. She and I are nearer in age so I’m able to recall our hair stories a little easier, than my other sisters. We got our hair washed with what, I don’t know, but I remember mayonnaise being used as a conditioner. Our scalp was greased with a hair grease called Royal Crown. We always had the cutest little hairstyles with hair bows, and our natural coils just radiating with love. I don’t remember why that stopped. I honestly hate that it did. I say that because of all the damage that was on the horizon for my hair.
Press and curls became like a ritual before church on Sunday. I’m almost certain that you could smell the scent of burning hair, at least a block away. It was never ending as a little Black girl. The culture conversation around Black hair back then was like, let me make you look pretty. That sentiment still echoes in some circles today. Yet, I am fully aware now that our hair was already pretty. We were already good enough.
All throughout my hair journey I’ve always had braids on and off, but I think it was in eighth grade when my already suffering scalp discovered serious harmful chemicals. I got the unfortunate Jerry Curl, activator and all. My uncle’s girlfriend put it in my hair, at my nana’s house. I couldn’t imagine such things today. The irony was that I was getting fake curls that covered up my actual beautiful coils, that had laid dormant beneath all the straightening tools, and now a plethora of chemicals. Harsh brutal chemicals that were just the beginning for my hair. From there, believe it or not I graduated to relaxers.
I don’t even remember the first relaxer. I just recall my hair changing hairdressers and chemicals relaxers like I changed clothing. The worst relaxer that I recollect was something called an Hawaiian Silky, and my hair started falling out, as she rinsed the chemicals out of my hair. Proceeding then to ask me some personal questions as to why my hair was falling out; I told her no, those particular things weren’t going on with my body. Looking back she had no knowledge of the fact that my body was responding to those harsh chemicals, and my hair was already delicate to begin with. It was a finer texture. I found out with a different hairdresser, that it was way too harsh for my hair.
As Black people we've been told for decades that we don’t measure up. Through slavery and colonization the stripping of the natural beauty of Black People, and especially Black women became apparent. Our various textures have been deemed less than, and not beautiful. Our hair has been called kinky, and nappy, even dreadful. Especially, if it wasn’t close enough in proximity to straight hair. Those that had hair less afro textured, had what our community considered “good hair”. This so-called western, or European “beauty standard” is one that Black People will never measure up to, and shouldn’t want to. All the while every BBL, and lip job, lip plumper, and the like has African aesthetics written all over it. I digress, we have been told if we just assimilate and achieve looks that appeal to whiteness then we will look more presentable, elegant, and possibly more beautiful. This white-washed mentality, viewing what’s acceptable, through the eyes of white supremacy, has been detrimental to our health. The need to fit into society, and look more “well groomed” to others in corporate America has insurmountable costs. Self-esteem is one of those costs. I personally believe the cost is too high, and it’s just not worth it. I wish that I had known these things much earlier in life, I wouldn’t be working to yet heal my hair from the damage it was caused, because I didn’t know any better, and simply duplicated what was done before me.
The earlier we teach self love, and self-acceptance in the Black community, the better off we’re going to be. Our people will be healthier inside and out. This will also include reading to our little ones books that affirm their skin, and their hair. This includes products without chemicals. It also includes switching schools if you have to, because your child’s current school, or sports team doesn’t approve of their hairstyle. Above all, understanding that viewing our blackness through proximity to whiteness, is bad for our mental health. All our hair is good. It is all lovely! Every texture, every hue of the human rainbow. It’s time to dig deep, invest in self love, and really love our hair, and all that comes with it.
Well, this one was a deep one, thanks for reading!
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