Accessory or identity? The expression of self through hair has long been a signature in Black culture. The deep, personal and often emotional relationship between Black hair and self-esteem is evident. Black women have long used their hair to express who they are and to show the evolution of Black culture over time — an evolution that has (thankfully) brought us to a time when more Black women are embracing the beauty of their natural hair. But this was not always the case. Let me take you back through my own personal journey…
Hey little me and Francess (my sister)! My mother did whatever she wished with my head and I did not question it. Moving on.
This was my perm era. I still remember the first time I sat on the bathroom floor (after begging my mother for weeks for a perm, sick of tired of my “naps”), wondering when the burning sensation in my scalp would cease. Wondering if my hair would finally be pretty like the other girls at my predominantly white school. Wondering if I would now have good hair. My mother kept telling me to sit still as she smeared the chemicals throughout my head.
Fast forward a couple of years after having “good hair”—my hair began to break off. Damn.
That’s me on the left, with my friend Conner and my sister Francess. Please note the frizz.
After cutting off the damaged hair from consistent perming, my flat iron and my box braids became my best friends throughout high school. Desperate to achieve the same texture from my perm days, I constantly flat-ironed my hair. When it wasn’t flat-ironed, it was braided. When it wasn’t braided, it was underneath a sew-in. Thus came the bombardment of questions from my white peers. “How does it grow so fast? How do you get it like that? Is that like…horse hair? Can I touch it?” *Insert rolling eyes emoji*.
Ultimately, I just could not deal with my natural, coarse, kinky, 4c hair. I hated how it looked. Mainstream media seemed to have a pretty solid idea of what “beauty” was and I was not included. My mother would tell me that I looked beautiful regardless but I did not want to hear that. So, the damage to my hair continued.
Heey Black queen! Thanks in large part to the resurgence of Black is beautiful and my attendance at my HBCU, Howard University, I finally began to embrace my natural hair. It was rocky at first (and admittedly still is) but I am no longer afraid to play around with my own hair. I’ve dyed it, cut it, twisted it out and slicked it back. I’ve put in countless hours of styling, researching and trying new products to make sure it stays healthy. I now put my hair in box braids and weaves not to hide it but to protect it. I finally accept and adore the coils in my curls, the depth in my skin tone and the plumpness in my lips.
I’ve come to a point where I celebrate the things that make me unique and love every bit of it.
We’re here now. Black is beautiful and Black women are embracing their natural queendom. Black hairstylists and Black hairstyles are being featured in numerous publications. More beauty brands are making a point to sell more products for Black hair.
But does this mean society has accepted and embraced our hair?
That the Eurocentric standard of beauty is no longer THE standard of beauty? No.
Black feminist deities Solange Knowles AND Lupita Nyong’o have both recently been subjected to the alteration of their hair to fit Eurocentric beauty standards. In a cover shoot for The Evening Standard, Solange’s blonde braided halo was edited out. Solange called out the magazine in an Instagram post with the unedited image and a reference to her song, “Don’t Touch My Hair.”
Similarly, in the November 2017 cover shoot for Grazia UK, Lupita Nyongo’s slicked back Afro puff was edited out and her hair was smoothed. The actress also took to Instagram to call out the publication posting a collage of the unedited image in contrast to the photoshopped cover.