"If you think my hair is beautiful, just say that. Anything more, you can keep to yourself."

Chelsie DeSouza
Jan 20, 2021 @ 4:34 pm
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Credit: Chelsie DeSouza, HelloGiggles

"Inclusivity" may be a buzzword, but for anyone who has ever felt left out of conversations in the beauty space—it's so much more. In Shades of Melanin, we celebrate Black beauty, support the brands and founders that are fighting for inclusivity in the industry, and unpack the issues that still need to be addressed.

I can't count the number of times I have been asked if my hair is real. It sits halfway down my back, so people ask me this with fascination, curious if a Black woman could have naturally long hair. When I was younger, I saw nothing wrong with questions about whether my hair was real or not, but that changed as I got older.

I attended a predominately white private school in New York, and I wanted to fit in. At 15, after months of pleading, my mom finally gave in and let me straighten my hair to liken it to the hair of my peers. The compliments and astonishment from them led me to abandon my natural curls. The clear praises I received with straight, long, thick hair, in comparison to my big kinks made me believe it was my calling card of acceptance into white spaces.

In reality, their praise was racial microaggression veiled as complimentary.

My mom always told me how beautiful my natural hair was and my dad would always ask why I didn't wear it curly—I shrugged them off. The outside world used words like 'wild,' 'big,' and 'unruly' to compare my natural tresses to a lion's mane, but would then tell me my hair was beautiful and look on in amazement when it was straightened. With this in mind, why wouldn't I develop a complex about how I wore my hair and continue to think my beauty was dependent on it? At some point, I wanted a bob, but people told me I'd be crazy to cut my hair and how lucky I was, as a Black woman, to have long hair. In thirty years, I've had maybe three professional haircuts as I was so obsessed with maintaining my length.

For decades, the lack of representation in the media-fueled a clear misunderstanding and discrimination of Black hair. Until recently, we were only ever given a few harmful depictions of Black women, which created many stereotypes. From television to movies and even advertisements; we typically have only seen Black women with either 'short, unruly, and unprofessional' hair in its natural state or straight, white-washed hair, and these characters were often given absurdly different personalities. Braids and short hair were reserved for characters that were "ghetto" and straight hair was given to upper-class Black characters to make shows more marketable to a white audience. This speaks to the racism built into the beauty standards of our society and the distorted way this country views Black women.

Our hair has always been so deeply personal because it's always been so uncontrollably political.

As we take back  the autonomy over our hair and how we choose to wear it, by taking actions such as pushing to pass the CROWN Act, the details shouldn't be anyone's concern but our own (and our hairstylists). There is immense pressure put on Black women to alter themselves to fit into a world that doesn't view them as beautiful or acceptable as they are.

In this time when accountability and ally-ship seem to be gaining overdue momentum, it's important to abandon all unconscious biases and do the work to dismantle the prejudicial systems that have oppressed Black people for so long. The stereotypes and misrepresentation have led many to believe myths surrounding Black hair, from the idea that it can't grow and that it's unmanageable to the notion that it lacks versatility and is always short. Simply put, it just isn't true.

A big reason so many people assume that Black hair can't be long is because of shrinkage. Shrinkage, for those who aren't familiar with it, is the term used to describe the loss of length when hair is in its natural state. While oftentimes, you may see someone with tight kinks and curls, Black hair can stretch and elongate many inches. Ultimately, whether a woman has length is of no consequence because long hair does not equate to beauty.

When you ask me about my hair it not only taints the way I view you but also alters my relationship with my hair.

When I have responded that my hair is real, more often than not I've gotten a slew of different follow-up questions. 'What are you?' 'You must have some Indian in you!' 'So you have no extensions in?' I've had it grabbed, pulled, petted, and everything in between. It's unacceptable, uncomfortable, and racist. If you're having trouble grappling with that, let me use an analogy. Would you walk up to someone and ask them if their breasts are real? How about their lips? Would you ask someone if they had work done on their nose? You wouldn't. So why is my hair any different?

For centuries, the world has come to think through learned behaviors that they have a right to an opinion on everything about Black and Brown women. It's time to mind your business and understand that our image is not for you to question. My hair is not for your viewing pleasure.

What you think of my hair is none of my business and the intricacies of my hair are none of yours.

Whether Black women wear weaves, wigs, braids, curls, Bantu knots, whether they straighten their hair or wear it in its natural form; they are all worthy, beautiful, and a personal choice that needs no explanation. If you think my hair is beautiful, just say that. Anything more, you can keep to yourself.