Unnatural: Learning to Love Me with My Natural Hair
The television show Black-ish recently did an entire episode dedicated to Black women's hair and spoke about the emotions that we go through when trying to decide how we style and wear our tresses. It was such a powerful and uplifting episode and featured the stories and experiences of other Black women coming to terms with their 'crowns'. The ultimate message was self-love, a beautiful sentiment to be sure.
My joy and excitement was fleeting and was quickly replaced with sadness as I asked myself the same question every week on wash day, "why don't I feel beautiful with my natural hair?" I mean, it is the hair that God gave me and that grows out of my head, so why haven't I been able to embrace the natural hair movement? Some of the issues that I face - and this is absolutely ridiculous - is that I do not feel as though my hair "fits me". I know, I know, you are reading this and shaking your head, thinking, "who else would your own hair fit?!" And from a logic standpoint I get it, but this is completely devoid of logic.
Perhaps there is socio-psychological explanation for it. *Goes to Google Scholar* lo and behold, after typing in "Black hair and self esteem", several articles popped up. The academic in me thought, "there has to be some explanation as to why I feel this way". I see Black women proudly rocking their natural hair and I envy them for doing something so brave and radical. But is it brave to be who you naturally are? Is it courageous to love yourself as you are? For Black women, yes. Tracey Owens Patton wrote, "beauty is subject to the hegemonic standards of the ruling class" (p. 25), which means that within a society dominated by the European/White standards of beauty, non-dominant groups' beauty becomes a practice in comparison. A historical perspective reveals that Black women and beauty standards in the US have been subject to erasure, contempt, and racial stereotypes (Patton, 2006, p. 26). The feeling that I deal with is the comparison of my hair (and my nose, but that is another blog post) to that of more European or White standards of beauty, which actually has been coined, "The Lily Complex". In their book, Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America, authors Charisse Jones and Kumea Shorter-Gooden define the Lily Complex as "altering, disguising, and covering up your physical self in order to assimilate, to be accepted as attractive. [...] As Black women deal with the constant pressure to meet a beauty standard that is inauthentic and often unattainable, the lily complex can set in" (2003, 177). This leaves me asking the question, is my inability to feel beautiful or attractive while wearing my natural hair making me inauthentic?
It is no surprise, well maybe to some unassuming people that know nothing about Black hair, that I wear extensions, weaves, and wigs. I love how they make me feel. I love that I almost exclusively wear protective hairstyles, meaning that I do not damage my natural hair with the harshness of heat or chemicals. I love that I can change my look in a matter of hours with a new hairstyle. I do not think that there is anything wrong with wigs, weaves, or extensions. I see so much creativity from Black stylists like Alonzo Arnold who can make a wig look like it grew from your scalp. And I see so much beauty in the braided styles that Black women have done for centuries. When I see a fellow sister rocking her glorious curl-fro or fresh twist out, I cannot help but STAN for how beautiful they look. And that is where I face the biggest contradiction, I can look at other Black women and see their glory and beauty through their hair but I cannot see it in myself. Maybe this is some deep rooted self-deprecating tendency that I have, but I wonder, if I had a show like Black-ish when I was younger, would I feel better about my natural hair?
I recently recalled to my mother the time when she banned me from watching the Brady Brunch. I was five years old and I was watching the show with my older brother and I made some five-year old remark about how I wanted to have blonde hair (I was ahead of my time) and my brother saw this as a problematic statement. So what does he do? He tells my parents. Now, I did not get in trouble for saying this, but I got a stern conversation on why being Black was beautiful. My mother later told me that she knew my statement was deeper than wanting to be Lil' Kim in the 90s, she knew it was indicative of me wanting to achieve Whiteness. And she was right, I thought if I had hair like one of those little girls on the show that I too would be beautiful. Adult me knows that my Blackness is beautiful. In fact, it is in direct rebellion of what society tells us is beautiful and things are changing. There is more representation, with movies, television, and advertising that features or discusses some component of natural Black hair.
I am embarking on this journey towards self-love through my hair. I have no idea what I am doing when it comes to my hair. But in all fairness, many women do not, but the difference between me and them is that they actually try. I have researched hair products, from Aunty Jackie's, Jane Carter, Deva Curl, Camille Rose, you name it! I have watched hours of YouTube videos on natural hair styles and techniques, attempted them in secret, only to hate the way that I look, scrap it all and put my wig on. The only way that I can get over this Lily Complex is to start looking at myself from a new perspective. This perspective needs to take the beauty and attractiveness that I see in other Black women and transfer it to myself. We need to see ourselves represented in everyday situations and it needs to be celebrated and that needs to begin with me.