Dealing With Comfort in Your Hair Texture, Black Girl Edition
Expanding on Cheyenne Cochrane | TEDxBeaconStreet A Celebration of Natural Hair
I learned at a young age how big of a role the texture of my hair would play in confirming my ethnicity, but also that it would play a key role in how I’m viewed by others in society. At a very young age (around 7), my Haitian mother subjected my scalp to harsh straightening chemicals that would leave me with fresh cuts and burns.
This would result in hair loss for many reasons, like going to the pool when you got your hair chemically done a week ago. The chlorine caused extra damage so you couldn’t even enjoy your childhood; you had to care for your hair because your mom “said so.” Some girls and women are even left with permanent damage like bald spots, breakage, thinning, split ends, dry/brittle hair and scalp infections. To really restore your hair, you’d have to shave it all off.
I grew to despise my hair without it being straightened because it was unmanageable, time-consuming and unpleasant to look at. My hair was always seen as something to be “tamed.” I remember buying hair products with girls on the packaging whose hair looked nothing like mine, thinking that if I bought that product, my hair would magically look the same. I was eager to try new straightening chemicals where I wouldn’t feel a kink or a coil anywhere on my head after the process. I was beyond excited to rid my hair of what it did naturally and transform it into what I wanted it to do but most importantly–what I thought it should do.
While growing up in a household where all the women straightened their hair, it was the norm. If it wasn’t straightened, it wasn’t complimented or told to be straightened. A life long cycle of being white washed combined with a lack of representation in media and all around you, affects you more than you realize. I wanted to look like other girls. I wanted to look and feel beautiful.
In post-Civil War America it was the hair of an African American male or female that was known as the most “telling feature” of Negro status, more so than the color of the skin. Our dependency on tools and products like the hair relaxer and the hot comb were more about our survival and advancement as a race in post-slavery America.
The longer, the looser the texture of hair, the more beautiful it is. There is a cultural obsession with the idea of having “good hair” most popularly known in the Black community: “Yeah girl, Ricky’s daughter is Brazillian and Trinidadidian, you know she got that good hair with that mix!” – a sentence from an actual conversation. We let these false beliefs conquer our perception of ourselves, and that is the main problem.
I fried my hair regularly on my brand new, almost $200 Pretty Little Thing flat iron at 450 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain my straight locks that never grew past my shoulders. However, I mostly went to the Dominican Salon every two weeks. Dominican salons are extremely popular, an essential need in the Black community.
Today the typical ideal vision of a professional Black woman, especially in corporate America, tends to… look like this:
rather than like this:
Our hair styles tend to be too Afrocentric, pro-Black, urban, scary or intimidating. These words are ones that are too often associated with the stigma attached to natural hairstyles.
What was so ugly about our hair? The way it looked? The way it had to be managed? The texture? What was so unacceptable about it that we felt like our life was ending if it wasn’t straightened before we went outside of our home? The fear, the judgement, the comments, the remarks and reactions waiting for you that weren’t waiting for “pretty” loose hair. Hiding what’s underneath, fearful of what the world might see and what they’d think. This was for numerous reasons: It’s conditioning, it’s for our professional advancement, it’s a survival tactic more than it is for beauty.
“Know that making the decision to stray from the norm does not define who we are, but it simply reveals who we are.” Cheyenne Cochrane
We wear wigs, weaves and protective styles to maintain the fro underneath and to express our individuality and experience feelings of empowerment by experimenting with different hairstyles regularly. So when you see a woman with braids or you notice your co-worker who has stopped straightening her hair to work, do not approach her and ask her if you can touch it. Admire it from afar!
For my natural girls, remember that kinky and coily stand for: