People say everyone can not wear short or rock natural hair. The truth is – if someone decides to do it, it is their choice and it is up to them to decide if they like it or not. I know we value our looks and looks are important, but when someone makes a decision that affects them, then that is their decision. If a person wants short hair, who are we to tell them it doesn’t look good because we don’t like it. At the same time, I have learned that when you make a change to your appearance you have to be aware that everyone is not going to accept it. I am a strong believer in not putting too much thought into what anyone thinks. As an adult, you have to realize that you can do whatever you want with your hair. Whatever you choose will come with a price literally and figuratively speaking, but it’s your choice.
Challenges of being natural
My decision to go natural was very simple. I didn’t like perms so I stopped getting them. I explain all of that in this post. The decision to become natural was easy, but I faced many challenges. I battled with my self-esteem, other people’s negativity, and battled with my hair itself. Yes, you read that right I battled with my hair. One thing you learn as a natural is you have to work with the hair because fighting it only leaves more frustrated. Don’t fight the hair – more on this in another post. As liberating as being natural can be, there are internal and external struggles that many women go through.
My Inner Struggle
When I first went natural I was in middle school. I got a lot of braids and I would get someone to do natural styles for me. Originally, I thought I had loose curly hair, what I considered at the time was “good hair”. I didn’t think this randomly. My grandmother and my great aunt had looser curls. When I was younger I had a looser curl pattern myself, so I thought everything was still the same. When I realized that wasn’t the case I was disappointed, but I didn’t go back to a perm.
When my hair reached a certain length I cut off the perm. I remeber plenty of times I would look in the mirror and hated what I saw. I was still the same person on the inside, but I remember feeling just plain ugly because of the way my hair looked. My pre-teen logic told me that being ugly means your worthless. I literally had to rewire my brain to change the way I thought about beauty. With the support of my family, positive role models, and positive messages I was able to learn the truth. The truth is there is a standard of beauty, but just because you don’t fit in to it doesn’t mean your worthless. You can even be called ugly, but that doesn’t mean your worthless. This took time to learn of course.
Over time I also learned that there are different types of beauty. Even though “beauty standards” exist I see it as a trait. Just like someone can be naturally talented or athletic. I see beauty the same. Everybody is not going to be the “standard”, just like everyone is not musically or athletically inclined. Just like not being athletic or musical doesn’t take away the value a person has. Not being beautiful to the majority doesn’t take away your value as a human. Life is more than beauty. I know this is not the typical everyone is beautiful opinion, but this is what help me accept who I am. I had to accept my hair and skin for what it was. I had to accept that even though I prayed for lighter skin and pretty hair, that I was never going to get that. Yeah my hair is course,but it’s mine. Yes my skin is dark, but its mine. These things don’t determine the effect I will have on the world. Accepting myself was and still is a daily choice. It’s a combination of knowing that everyone will not accept me and being ok with that. It’s not comparing myself or wishing I can change something that I can not. It’s about taking what I have and making it work for me. I overcame my internal battle with my natural hair by changing my perception.
I had to literally look at myself in the mirror, natural hair freshly washed, and tell myself “this is me and this is good”. This is what I mean when I say rewire my mind. I think a lot of women struggle with their natural hair because they have the idea in their mind that it is bad. This notation of “good” hair and “bad” hair. I had stop telling myself that I had “bad” hair.
The External Struggle
Another problem I faced going natural was negativity from others. Apparently, people had a problem with the texture that grew out of my scalp. My styles were seen as unkempt or nappy. My peers and other adults, including family members, always had something to say about the way I wore my hair. The worst part is that I went through these struggles at a time when other people’s opinion about me was important. Even though I received backlash about my hair, I had a good support group and good role models. They are what kept me motivated.
I think High School was tough because of the negative comments I received from students and adults. Again, lucky for me I had a lot of support where it mattered, so it wasn’t so bad that I wanted to change to appease others. I was hurt by comments and I felt unaccepted, but I would just tell my self the truth, their opinions do not matter. The truth didn’t make me feel better, it just help me see past their words. I still cried at night. Then, I would wake up in the morning and be motivated by the sounds of Lauryn Hill. Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, India Irie, just to name a few. I wish I could find my old playlist. I had the basic iPod shuffle and there were songs I listened to in heavy rotation. One of those songs “Lost Ones” from Miseducation of Lauryn Hill really pumped me up and made me feel ready to start the day.
I can name plenty of times when I was hurt by someone’s words, but one time sticks out in particular. The day I decided I would rock my hair in an afro to school. I wanted to do a social experiment. I was rebelling against what was acceptable hair. I was silently protesting those that told me I needed to get a perm. I wanted to make people as uncomfortable as I felt when I first went natural. I wanted them to come face to face with what they consider as ugly and realize “it’s not that bad”. Anyway, that didn’t go well for me. I was called anybody with an afro, the worse being Ben Wallace, the basketball player with the crazy fro. I wasn’t expecting everyone to accept me for who I was. I just wanted to step out and show people that you can be comfortable and feel beautiful with natural hair. I got too much negative attention and not only from students, but from teachers as well. I was actually expecting to go unnoticed, but instead I got the opposite. I have never been one to want to be in the spotlight. So that was the first and last day I did that. Even though I got a lot of negative comments, I still got positive feedback from some of my peers.
In the summer right before my junior year in High School, I started my locs. I remember right before I did I got my hair straighten and I was literally praised for finally doing something with my hair. A boy actually said to my face “ it’s about time you did something with your hair”. Little did he know that was temporary. I didn’t keep it straighten for long because I didn’t know how to style it and I remember my mother was upset because she paid so much for it. From that experience I can relate to new naturals because they are so used to permed styles and are trying to figure out how to style the natural hair. I was so use to my kinky hair that I didn’t know what to do with straight hair.
I was at war between the real me and the me the world told me I should be. I didn’t want to be rejected, but I also didn’t want to go back to the breakage perms caused. I didn’t want to go back to the burning I felt when I had to get a perm. So I chose the path of the most resistance. In the end it turned out to be worth it. I overcame those obstacles by understanding that everyone was always going to have an opinion, but my opinion of myself was the only one that mattered. I learned that no one needed to accept my hair but me and once I did that, people’s negativity just rolled off me.
One flaw in the natural hair community is this idea that going natural means that you automatically accept who you are and everything will be perfect. What no one tells you is that you may feel ugly when you look at your kinky hair but you have to be smart enough to know that it is a lie. You can feel ugly, but you don’t have to tell yourself you are ugly. You don’t have to think that your ugly. You don’t have to tell tell yourself that you have “bad” hair. We go through enough struggle with the hair on it’s on then to have to fight with our inner thoughts telling us it’s not good. Add on other people’s negative opinion and you have a recipe for going back to the perm. I understand those that want the convenience of straight hair, however, you can’t discredit natural hair if you didn’t kill the white noise. I’m talking about the negativity coming from within and from others. Once you overcome the negativity having natural hair becomes just a little bit easy. There is still the battle with the hair itself which I will touch on next week.