By Rosetta of Happy Black Woman
When I decided to go natural in 2010, it was after many years of thinking about it but being too chicken to actually DO it. After I did my first big chop, I felt free from all the emotional baggage that had kept me from embracing the natural beauty of my hair without a relaxer. I was so happy about finally letting my soul glow that I wanted to liberate everyone else around me from the “creamy crack,” too.
Little did I know that I was about to be stuck in another prison myself.
After my big chop, I soon fell in love with my TWA (teeny weeny afro). It was so…me. But as my hair grew, I started to fantasize about how long it could/would actually get. I began watching Youtube videos of natural hair mavens who talked about achieving their goal of reaching “bra strap length” with their growing locks. I watched as women demonstrated how silky and bouncy their curls could get with the addition of a little product like Miss Jessie’s or Kinky Curly. I started buying oils and puddings and serums in an attempt to replicate the impressive manes I saw on the internet. All the while, my hair was growing like crazy, much faster than I thought it would. It grew long enough to twist, then long enough to braid, then long enough to put into a cute updo. It got so long that even my natural hair-hating aunt began to talk about how pretty it was. I went from having a coarse TWA to a soft mane of twists, stretched out into a big mess of curls as often as possible.
I loved the attention I got from women who stopped me on the street to ask what my hair regimen was or how I went about twisting my hair. I loved being seen as attractive in spite of my natural hair, which many people had tried to convince me would make me ugly.
As my hair grew longer, however, the longer it took to maintain. The washing, conditioning, detangling and twisting began taking up more of my time. Time I would rather spend on my business or on dates or with family and friends. I started to wonder: is this what I really want? To spend an entire Saturday on my hair? I was beginning to resent the burden my hair had become. But when I thought about cutting it down some, I felt afraid of losing the compliments on my appearance. I wanted people to keep noticing me for how long and pretty my hair was.
After a while, I realized how insane my thinking had become. I had given up the creamy crack just to end up getting cracked out on Youtube videos. I was caught up in the rapture of having “good” natural hair. How quickly I had forgotten that ALL hair is good if you truly love the woman it’s attached to. It all depends on your perception of it. And my perception was once again coming from the wrong place: other people.
It took me back to my younger days when I would wear ridiculously long hair weaves and ponytails to look more glamorous than I felt with my shoulder-length relaxed mane. Having (fake) hair swinging all down my back would turn men’s heads and draw envious looks from women who wore their hair in less elaborate styles. But deep down, I knew that being addicted to the attention I got on my hair (and my looks in general) then and now, wasn’t healthy. Last year, I realized that I still needed to do some more inner work in this area of my life and take steps to resolve it within myself.
Here’s how I escaped the natural hair prison:
With the rapid growth of the natural hair community – both online and offline – it’s easy to get caught up in the prison of wanting your natural hair to look a certain way before you really consider it to be beautiful. I remember seeing so many comments from women on natural hair blogs or Youtube channels fawning over the bra strap-length ladies with adoration. “I WANT YOUR HAIR!” they would exclaim, wishing theirs could be that long, that curly, that bouncy.
In most cases though, we’re not really lusting after someone else’s hair. What we, as black women, are really saying is that we want the perceived emotional or social benefits that come from having the hair (because we’re certainly not lusting after the downsides!). At some level in our consciousness, we hold the belief that longer, curlier hair looks better than the hair we have now, which may be shorter and coarser.
Many women have commended me and other naturals for being “brave enough” to wear our real hair. But what I’ve learned is that going natural is just the first step.
The real courage comes in learning to love the hair we have without wanting it to be something else.
No matter how many of us are on the bandwagon now, the truth is that having natural hair does not define you…unless you let it. So if you see yourself in anything I’ve written here, the best question to ask yourself at this point is:
Do you want your hair to define you?
If so, carry on with the Youtube watching and bra strap-length envy. If not, I invite you to plot your escape from the natural hair prison. It’s much better being on the outside.
Rosetta is the author of Happy Black Woman.