Growing up I wanted have hair like my mother. Her hair was long, golden brown, shiny, and beautiful. She had a few black and white pictures of herself from Haiti and while she studied at university, and as a child I looked in awe how beautiful she was, not only her hair, but she had clear skin, slim figure and narrow waist, full bosom (yes my mom had big boobs, not weird to acknowledge it!) and the cherry on top, her beautiful long hair. At a young age I didn’t look to magazines of photoshopped models, or TV dramas and movies to have learn what was beautiful because I had examples of women in my family. My mother, maternal and paternal grandmother all were beautiful and had long hair. Yet, the only traits I seemed to inherit were their clear complexion, slim figure, height, and voluminous hair that didn’t retain length past my shoulders. Maybe it was because I received my first chemical relaxer at a young age, but when it was natural it did show potential of length, and I was so happy to receive compliments when people said I had hair like my mother, because that meant I was beautiful.
What is beautiful hair?
Is a woman’s hair her crown and glory? Or one of her most feminine characteristics? It depends on the type of society a woman is living in. In the US, if you look at magazines and models it’s clear long, shiny, straight, and voluminous hair is the most beautiful hair that exemplifies a woman’s femininity. A woman can have a simple face, but if she has full long hair, it can definitely transform how beautiful she is to society. Example, Sarah Jessica Parker from Sex and the City, or the Jonas Brothers (quite basic looking, but all have really cool hair), Beyonce (sorry Beyonce fans), all are quite simple looking, but their best physical trait is their hair. For religious societies, married women cover their hair to preserve their most visibly beauty trait for their husbands, i.e. married orthodox Jewish women wear wigs or scarves to cover their hair. And Muslim women at all ages (depending on the location, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria, etc.) wear headscarves or the hijab, single or married, for modesty, privacy, and not to be seen for their beauty but for their personality to be their focus (really debatable if it’s a choice, but I won’t get into that). In Asia, skin: complexion and youth, are the primary markers of beauty, but for hair, long, shiny, and voluminous hair is also the standard of beauty.
Black American, Caribbean, Afro-Latino, African, Afro-European, and curly hair women hair
I received a chemical relaxer because I wanted my hair to look like my mother’s hair (plus being the youngest of 4 girls it would be easier to manage and save my mother time). I liked braids, twists, and wearing my barrettes, but I felt left out when my mom took my sisters to the hair salons to get their done while I was stuck with childish hairstyles. Finally it was my turn to get my hair chemically straighten, and I imagined myself swinging my hair from side to side, and running my fingers easily through my hair like my friends at school, except all my hair fell out. My mom took my 3rd oldest sister and I to some “hole in the wall” salon where the hairdresser was overwhelmed with clients and left the perm in our hair too long. Before I knew it, my full shoulder length hair was washing down the sink when the hairdresser stupidly ignored my cries that my head was burning and itching. A traumatising experience at a young age, but not unique, for many Black girls who too want beautiful hair. That night I vowed to myself that I will not get a chemical relaxer again and will stick to my childish hairstyles of braids and barrettes.
Of course I did attempt to get a relaxer again, but by a hairstylist that was respect and knew what she was doing, and for a few years I embraced my straight hair look. My hair looked like my moms hair, but it never reached passed my shoulders. Now, for many Black women: American, Caribbean, European, and Latino, length retention is the biggest challenge to achieving long hair. Our hair grows, just like all other women’s, but afro-textured hair is more fragile, so hair manipulation (braids, hair extensions, etc.), chemicals relaxers and harmful ingredients, and excessive heat damages our hair to the point it breaks and sheds faster than it grows. Thus, many women with afro-textured hair (and even curly hair) have short, thin, and lifeless hair. Of course there are exceptions, and times where chemically treated hair is healthy, but not for the majority who continue harmful practices that will cause permanent hair damage.
Before I go any further, it’s important to note there are historical and political reasons why American Black women continue to use chemical relaxers (many have stopped!) and if your interested to learn more please read HERE, HERE, and HERE. Also, Black women around the world are not the only ones to wear hair extensions, many women do, the primary difference is because the hair extensions don’t look like our natural hair texture and we spend a lot of money buying hair and maintaining our own hair, please read more HERE, HERE and HERE.
Ok, the hard part is out of the way, over the years, the beauty and length of my mother’s hair slowly deteriorated because of these harmful hair practices, and so did my grandmother’s hair. Yet, both are still held at a higher beauty standard because of their once upon a time long beautiful hair. Now fully natural and loving it, what I didn’t realise was that my mother and grandmother didn’t start using chemical relaxers until their twenties and if I truly was going to attain long hair, I would have to go au natural.
My natural hair journey: 8 years later
For those that are not familiar with the story of my natural hair journey I’ll tell you that it began out of frustration of not knowing how to do my natural hair and I wanted hair like my mother. Once I got to university I had the opportunity to learn how to do my hair, look like a mess as I was trying to figure it out, and from this journey was inspired to help other women achieve healthy and beautiful hair. However, what many people don’t know is that it was a long and emotional journey.
“Why would you do that to your hair?,” “Your hair looks like a mess, fix it!,” “Good luck finding a man with that type of hair!” “I love my relaxers, I’ll never go natural!” These are some of the remarks that I got from family and friends when I returned back to my natural hair. You’d think people who are close to you would be happy and excited for you when you try something new! Despite the animosity and little support, I found a community of women online who were also embracing their natural hair, no judgements, no negativity, rather they offered great advice, stories, and their experience to embrace their natural hair. This community I discovered back in 2009, and has changed into a global movement of YouTubers, bloggers, writers, hair guru’s, and entrepreneurs thanks to technology and social media, who have turned their hobbies into a profitable business. From this community I learned that hair length is not the marker of a women’s beauty and femininity, hence why I had enough confidence to shaved my hair, “big chopped” my hair twice, and learned how to make homemade hair products.
What’s the most interesting part of this 8-year long journey is my biggest critics are now my supporters and people who turn to me for advice to have healthy hair. Now, when family members see my hair, its praise, admiration, and envy because I’m the one with long, full, shiny hair. I’m now the one who has hair like my mother and grandmother’s, and a slim figure (I was mercilessly teased for being skinny growing up). My sense for adventure and curiosity to see the world is “bragged about” by my mother to her friends and church community. I would have never guess simply embracing my natural hair would transform my life in such a positive way.
Healthy Hair is Beautiful Hair
I find it ridiculous how beauty and femininity are so narrowly defined and published throughout the media for young impressionable girls to achieve. Short hair, curly hair, kinky hair, fine hair, and straight hair are all beautiful! What’s important that your hair is healthy, and once you have healthy hair, you have beautiful hair!
Thank you all for reading, stay tuned for next week! As I’ll write about returning back to work!
Check out a few pictures of my hair journey below :) Many of these pictures are from my scrapbook which was one of my favourite hobbies before smart phones and digital era lol!