My hair has been a source of struggle and confusion for as long as I can remember hearing about it. In a mixed family, difficult hair was not that far fetched but there are only so many negatively descriptive adjectives that you could hear about your hair without internalizing the inadequacy of what you never had control over.
I had my first perm around 8. I was getting ready to go to High School in Guyana and I wanted to be part of the “big girls” group. I tested well so I skipped a few grades during my transition from Trinidad and I was desperate to do anything that would help me look a bit closer to the ages of the children I would be around which was typical 9th grade age range.
You Caribbean folk may remember this.
The malodorous smell of ammonia followed for as long as it took for the scabs on my scalp to fall off but I had straighter hair and I almost looked like I belonged with the older girls with their very well put together looks. All Schools had a uniform so hair was on the few outlets for self expression and we did really take it seriously even if we did somehow have to fit two ribbons into whatever the current style was.
It was one of the few times I remember feeling, at a young age that I was pretty. I thought so only because of my straight hair. It gave me something that being multi-racial in the Caribbean did not; it gave me a definitive position in society. I belonged.
The idea of straight hair being beautiful was enforced by both the Indo and Afro Guyanese communities. Most of the Indian girls were automatically thought to be pretty simply because they had longer hair. Most of the girls of Afro descent were disregarded if they didn’t have a perm or didn’t have the “decency” to at least get a press. Those who did not succumb to the pressure were relentless teased by adults and children alike. No one wanted to be told they had nappy hair or a step above that; picky picky hair.
The straightness of your hair, the shade of your skin and your facial features. These were the only measurements we took of character as we sized each other up. I didn’t know much at 8, but I did know that curly hair was not a characteristic of beauty; unless you were one of the Caucasian girls in the imported commercials that we saw on our three television channels. Straight hair was the aim and the cost was usually high for those of us who weren’t born with it.
Coming to America allowed me to realize that this was not an isolated thought process. The issue of hair as it relates to beauty was a universal condemnation. The world seemed to be clear on this. Long, straight hair is what you should have or desire.
I was fortunate to watch the tide of the conversation change, with the rise of the natural hair movement. I started to see women, girls, men, boys….who had different hair textures. I saw natural hair styles that went beyond corn rows and afro puffs. There was a whole market to appeal to those who wanted to reanalyze why this was important. The rebellion was here.
I wasn’t ready for it. I have only recently started to accept my hair. Finding products; while the market is more varied is still a difficult process. Hair is very much like skin, what works for you may not work for me. This was a hard truth to accept.
I thought that with the rise of the natural hair *raises black power fist* movement, I would be able to naturally embrace my curls but that was not the case. The idea that I was pretty when I had a blow out still lingered. I saw it in the attention I got from both genders. I was acknowledged and considered when I was “pretty” and part of being that was straight hair.
The issue with straight hair? It’s just as much work as dealing with your curly hair in my personal experience. The issue with curly hair? It’s always a lot. There are not a lot of short cuts and I don’t have the correct shaped head for hats. I had to find a way around this. I had to find what worked for me.
I am an occasional user of the creamy crack (hair relaxer). I use it to help tame the thickness of the middle portion of my head. My curls are more dense in that area and is difficult to work with when not going to the salon. ( In fact, I indulged last week. Prior to that I permed my hair last December just to give you an idea of the frequency). Now, I get shit because while I have curly hair still and wear my hair curly (buns count dammit) most of the time…I’m not natural but…I also don’t wear my hair straight most of the time.
So, at 27 I am still struggling to straddle the line between what society deems as beautiful for me versus what actually works for me. I use a chemical straightener so I’m not “natural” and want to be a light skinned, long hair exotic want to be but at the same time I’m not one of the fierce fashionistas that hangs out in the salon. Why is there no harmony in this? Why do I have to choose? Why should anyone get a say in what I do to my hair as long as it’s healthy and manageable?
I will continue to watch tutorial videos for curly hair styles on YouTube and belabor the struggle of having to allot at least 20 minutes to my hair in the morning but the saving grace is that I no longer only feel that sense of beauty when I have a blow out.
I’m growing to love my hair as we grow together. I can’t say that I’m always 100% doing the absolute best thing for my hair but I’m eating better, living better and putting more effort into quenching it’s thirst this summer so that my curls can continue to be happy and healthy.
Next summer, I’m sure I would have learned more about my hair than I have so far and I hope I can get to the days when my curly hair is no longer considered ugly. Slowly but surely, I’m getting there.
This picture above is me, taken at work today. Not sure what my face was doing but it’s a pretty decent shot of my hair. I actually managed to have it down for the entire work day even though it was hot. Progress. This was a fresh wash and the only product in my hair Lush’s R&B moisturizer and grapeseed oil on my ends.