I had to be about eleven or twelve years old, watching TV with my grandmother when I blurted out “wow she needs a perm”. We were watching “Girlfriends” and the woman who I believed was in deep need of a perm was Tracee Ellis Ross, star of the show who is still this day known for her voluminous and glorious fro (which I now idolize). But about fifteen years ago within that moment, with my grandmother, that fro in my mind needed more than a few strokes of the almighty, trusty hot comb.
My grandmother reacted to my comment with confusion “Why does she need a perm?" I replied, “because her hair is very nappy.” My grandmother attempted to correct and teach “No, her hair is not nappy, it's within its natural state. Her hair is beautiful”. Her attempt at correction fell upon deaf ears. Now looking back upon this exact situation, I had obtained a brainwashed mindset. My final reply in this conversation was “It’s not beautiful grandma it has to be straight."
A child’s first initial reaction to society occurs at school. Whether it’s day care, pre-k etc. Anywhere children are around other children in a close environment, children begin to explore, observe and experiment. Kids are around other kids, some that look like them, whether it’s ethnicity, race, religion, height, and body structure. There are other kids within the same environment that don't look like them. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with differences, but from a realistic standpoint, where differences are present, comparing and contrasting will also occur.
It begins once children are in a setting that's beyond their immediate family. Perception plays a major role and at a young age, the way you perceive things is immensely simple. My little sister had to be about five years old when she came home from school crying hysterically uttering the words “I want straight long hair; why can’t I have good hair? I hate my hair”. ‘Good Hair’? What is Go- never mind, we will definitely come back to that. But that’s where it begins, kids believe an ideology whether it's right or wrong, and carry it throughout their lives within themselves. That ideology is directly correlated to society.
As I grew older, I slowly but surely deemed that the world was cruel and diminutive within its infrastructure of standards it abides by. Certain elements of life depicted how cruel the world could actually be. I knew that but I didn’t understand or directly feel the intensity of society’s standards until I decided to go natural. I was twenty-three when I realized I just couldn’t take it, braids, twists, weaves, any of it. The rotation of hairstyles and expenses of each trip to the salon was driving me closer and closer to the edge until I finally leaped off.
‘I’m cutting this crap out and cutting my hair short” I screamed into the phone to my boyfriend. He agreed with any decision or direction I decided to make with my hair but always slipped into any conversation pertaining to my hair “It’s beautiful. But your natural hair is just as beautiful”. To my boyfriend as well as myself, being “Natural ‘meant wearing your natural hair with no add-on extensions or weaves. Little did I know being natural opened up a whole new realm of life for me.
When I decided to go natural, I did what any other woman does: go to Target and spend hundreds of dollars on ‘Shea Moisture’ and other natural hair care products. I quickly came to the conclusion that I had absolutely no idea what I had gotten myself into. There were so many methods and techniques of styling affiliated with precise products to get the “perfect look”. There was a variation of occurrences where I literally had to give myself a pep talk not to revert back to relaxed hair. Then I fell upon all of these blogs that embraced natural hair newbies.
The natural hair community is beautiful within complexity, consisting of women with luxurious long healthy locks of hair sprouting from their heads. In all honesty, I felt a bit apprehensive because of immediate thoughts within my head occurred “These ladies have such long hair, they have good hair. We are not in the same lane”. ‘Good Hair’ once again…
Practice definitely makes perfect. I displayed my afro proudly on a daily basis. I felt so closely connected with my culture. I felt powerful within myself and the most beautiful and carefree I ever felt in my life. My boyfriend was very receptive of my hair and loved it as much as I did. But with every beauty there's ugly. Contrary to belief, Caucasian men loved my hair and complimented me upon it numerous times throughout the day. Caucasian women stared at, distasteful stares, uncomfortable stares.
There would be so many times I would be on the train traveling from The Bronx to downtown Manhattan and I could feel the difference within the population of the energy towards me. What surprised me most and always left me completely compelled with astonishment was my own people’s perception of natural hair. They were anything less than embracing. The majority of black men were literally not here for it, they would look and then quickly look away. Black women had more than a few things to say, which were more bad than good within those instances.
The only people who “got it”, who understood were women who were traveling the same natural hair journey. Some woman cheered me on, some thought they were being uplifting, but were bashing me in the same breath.
“Oh no I could never do this, it’s too much.”
“It’s just not for me.”
“It just doesn’t go with different outfits.”
“If I had good hair I would do it, but I am nappy and I hate the nappy look.”
Then they'd have the audacity to ask “can I touch your hair?” Well, I hate the word ‘nappy’. I once had a male scream in front of a crowded train at the top of his lungs because I wasn’t receptive to his pickup line “GET YA NAPPY ASS HAIR DONE”. I was shocked, I thought my Bantu knot afro looked pretty bomb that day! Actually, there are many situations of that caliber that I endured and began to break me down.
Nappy is often referenced to black men and woman hair textures. We have kinky hair which goes back to our ancestors. In Africa, our kinky hair protects our heads from the sun frying our scalps. Know your history before you label an entire ethnicity and people. The good hair that people so often refer to as “not nappy” is loose curly, long hair that most people believe a black male or female can only obtain if they are mixed with another ethnicity. All of this derives from universal thoughts within an unwritten rule book to life that we as a society feed off of, and whisper amongst ourselves. No! let’s speak upon these wrongs loudly and proudly! Let’s speak these truths in front of people so they can feel as uncomfortable as we have to live every day. Things have to change, it is imperative! Society needs it!
Not many of us will admit it, the world’s perception of us can immensely devalue how we view ourselves. Some will consider it weak, I consider it truthful. I felt broken down to an extremely low point when people would stare at me as if I were some wild, filthy animal because my hair differed from theirs. I consistently told myself ‘it’s okay, they just don’t understand. Watch when it grows”. Understand. Understand what? Why should my difference in features consistently be compared to the idolized beauty protocol that America has been so enticed with affect anyone? Why would people think that it is of any type of normalcy to stare at another human being and leave that individual feeling comfortable? Why was my hair not considered “Good”? Because it wasn’t long? Because it wasn’t straight? Because my curls were tight and not loose and flowing? I wanted to know why.
Corporate America didn’t make me feel any better about my natural hair either. How many women would honestly go to a job interview with their hair in a fro? No matter how beautiful you, yourself or significant other deemed it to be, “it’s not professional or presentable.” I have fallen upon numerous articles exemplifying this heinous ideology. I would feel as if I was a walking display case of discomfort very often, unable to make eye contact. Why? Because I allowed them to make me feel as if I wasn't beautiful. Because embracing my blackness made society feel uncomfortable and their energy was surpassed to me…
Society has lied to me as a black woman within the undeclared notion that black women are not naturally beautiful. Society has amplified the notion that black women need the add-ons to resonate as beautiful. Society has amplified the notion that there is some sort of protocol or standard of beauty that black women don’t measure up to. Well, we are beautiful. Society’s fabrication of what beauty is doesn’t measure up to our beauty as a whole. That our melanin endowed skin and our own thick kinky coiled hair does not measure up to society’s standard of beauty.
No one dares to ever say it, but it's indirectly displayed everywhere. You must have lighter skin and softer hair to be deemed beautiful. For instance, Blue Ivy Carter is about five years old and has already been verbally abused by society let alone the media since birth.
“Her parents should be ashamed of themselves, all of that money and they can’t find someone to do her hair.”
“Blue’s hair is so nappy.”
“Blue is ugly & that hair…”
Sadly, I’ve heard these exact sentiments from other races but the majority from my own race. We all must have a different set of eyes, I see a little girl, from day one that has always been beautiful. Her parents want her to wear her hair in its natural state. “I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros”. (2 snaps for Beyoncé). I hate to display a comparison but it’s necessary. North West hair is very often displayed within its natural state, just like Blue. North West hair is usually in an afro, just like Blue. North West usually has little ponytails, just like Blue. But North West is repeatedly displayed as a beautiful little girl, but why not Blue?
My truth as a black woman is I am beautiful. I have luscious melanin skin and thick natural healthy kinky hair to match. I am not only a beautiful black woman; I am a beautiful woman over all. I remember going on vacations to other countries or even anywhere within the US me and my friends would often say “I want to look good; I want to go for the exotic look”. Which in our eyes meant, long Brazilian hair sewn into ours. When all along we didn’t cope with the fact that we already look exotic. We have rich skin and almond shaped eyes; we look damn good already. Natural, organic beauty no preservatives added!
But I will never bash anyone for wearing weaves, extensions, makeup or anything. None of those elements can make or break a woman who is fully aware of who she is. Society’s standard of beauty is idiotic, demeaning and hazardous. Cruel amplifications of black women or black little girls can shatter their interior and cause them to harm themselves. We as humans are responsible as individuals and as a whole for the energy we give off not only in society but the universe as well.
All women are beautiful, every single one of us. Don’t categorize us or belittle us because we differ in appearance. It’s disgusting and immoral. My truth is that I didn’t have to find myself within society, I created myself. I am a strong minded, well-rounded beautiful woman inside and out. No standard of lighter skin or softer, longer hair could ever shatter my self-image of beauty. I wake up full every day, full with the abundance of life. I have ultimately come to terms that I shall not let fear or any form of ideology shame me for being in love with my culture. It’s my birthright as a human. I am now ready to live in all ways possible as a black woman, society can’t take that from me anymore…
Follow Tamara @deartamara_