People say everyone can not wear short or rock natural hair. The truth is – if someone decides to do it, it is their choice and it is up to them to decide if they like it or not. I know we value our looks and looks are important, but when someone makes a decision that affects them, then that is their decision. If a person wants short hair, who are we to tell them it doesn’t look good because we don’t like it. At the same time, I have learned that when you make a change to your appearance you have to be aware that everyone is not going to accept it. I am a strong believer in not putting too much thought into what anyone thinks. As an adult, you have to realize that you can do whatever you want with your hair. Whatever you choose will come with a price literally and figuratively speaking, but it’s your choice.
Challenges of being natural
My decision to go natural was very simple. I didn’t like perms so I stopped getting them. I explain all of that in this post. The decision to become natural was easy, but I faced many challenges. I battled with my self-esteem, other people’s negativity, and battled with my hair itself. Yes, you read that right I battled with my hair. One thing you learn as a natural is you have to work with the hair because fighting it only leaves more frustrated. Don’t fight the hair – more on this in another post. As liberating as being natural can be, there are internal and external struggles that many women go through.
The Internal Struggle
When I first went natural I was in middle school. I got a lot of braids and I would get someone to do natural styles for me. Originally, I thought I had loose curly hair, what I considered “good hair” at the time. I didn’t think this randomly. My grandmother and my great aunt had looser curls. I had a looser curl pattern when I was younger which made me feel like it would be more accepted. That wasn’t the case and I was disappointed. I still didn’t go back to a relaxer.
When my hair reached a certain length I cut off the relaxer. I remember plenty of times I would look in the mirror and hated what I saw. I was still the same person on the inside, but I remember feeling just plain ugly because of the way my hair looked. My pre-teen logic told me that being ugly means you are worthless. I literally had to rewire my brain to change the way I thought about beauty. With the support of my family, positive role models, and positive messages I was able to learn the truth. The truth is there is a standard of beauty, but just because you don’t fit into it doesn’t mean you are worthless. You can even be called ugly, but that doesn’t mean you are worthless. This took time to learn of course.
Over time I also learned that there are different types of beauty. Even though “beauty standards” exist I see it as a trait. Just like someone can be naturally talented or athletic. I see beauty the same. Every person is not going to be the “standard”, just like everyone is not musically or athletically inclined. Not being athletically or musically inclined doesn’t take away the value a person has. Not being beautiful to the majority doesn’t take away your value as a human. Life is more than beauty.
This is not the typical ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ opinion, but this is what helped me accept who I am. I had to accept my hair and skin for what it is. I had to accept that – even though I prayed for lighter skin and pretty hair – that I was never going to get that. Yes my hair is coarse, but it’s mine. Yes my skin is dark, but its mine. These things don’t determine the effect I will have on the world. Accepting myself was and still is a daily choice. It’s a combination of knowing that everyone will not accept me and being ok with that. It’s not comparing myself or wishing I can change something that I can not. It’s about taking what I have and making it work for me. I overcame my internal battle with my natural hair by changing my perception.
I had to literally look at myself in the mirror, natural hair freshly washed, and tell myself “this is me and this is good”. This is what I mean when I say rewire my mind. I think a lot of women struggle with their natural hair because they have the idea in their mind that it is bad. This notation of “good” hair and “bad” hair. I had to stop telling myself that I had “bad” hair.
The Outward Struggle
The internal struggle was all about what was going on in my mind, the outward struggle were the things out of my control – negativity from others. Apparently, people had a problem with the texture that grew out of my scalp. My styles were seen as unkempt or nappy. My peers and other adults, including family members, always had something to say about the way I wore my hair. The worst part is that I went through these struggles at a time when other people’s opinion about me was important. Even though I received backlash about my hair, I had a good support group and good role models. They are what kept me motivated.
I think High School was tough because of the negative comments I received from students and adults. Again, lucky for me I had a lot of support where it mattered, so it wasn’t so bad that I wanted to change to appease others. I was hurt by comments and I felt unaccepted, but I would just tell my self the truth, their opinions do not matter. The truth didn’t make me feel better, it just helped me see past their words. I still cried at night. Then, I would wake up in the morning and be motivated by the sounds of Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, and India Irie, just to name a few. I wish I could find my old playlist. I had a basic iPod shuffle and I had the neo soul in heavy rotation. One of those songs “Lost Ones” from Miseducation of Lauryn Hill really pumped me up and made me feel ready to start the day.
I can name plenty of times when I was hurt by someone’s words, but one time sticks out in particular. The day I decided I would rock my hair in an afro to school. I wanted to do a social experiment. I was rebelling against what was acceptable hair. I was silently protesting those that told me I needed to get a perm. I wanted to make people as uncomfortable as I felt when I first went natural. I wanted them to come face to face with what they consider as ugly and realize “it’s not that bad”. Anyway, that didn’t go well for me. I was called anybody with an afro, the worse being Ben Wallace, the basketball player with the crazy fro. I wasn’t expecting everyone to accept me for who I was. I just wanted to step out and show people that you can be comfortable and feel beautiful with natural hair. I got too much negative attention and not only from students, but from teachers as well. I was actually expecting to go unnoticed, but instead I got the opposite. I have never been one to want to be in the spotlight. So that was the first and last day I did that. Even though I got a lot of negative comments, I still got positive feedback from some of my peers.
In the summer right before my junior year in High School, I started my locs. I remember right before I did it, I got a blowout and people started to compliment me. A boy actually said to my face “ it’s about time you did something with your hair”. Little did he know that was temporary. I didn’t keep it straighten for long because I didn’t know how to style it. I remember my mother was upset because she paid so much for it. From that experience I can relate to new naturals because they are so used to permed styles and are trying to figure out how to style their natural hair. I was comfortable styling my kinky hair that I didn’t know what to do with straight hair.
I was at war between the real me and me the world told me I should be. I didn’t want to be rejected, but I also didn’t want to go back to the breakage perms caused. I didn’t want to go back to the burning I felt when I had to get a perm. So I chose the path of the most resistance. In the end it turned out to be worth it. I overcame those obstacles by understanding that everyone was always going to have an opinion, but my opinion of myself was the only one that mattered. I learned that no one needed to accept my hair but me and once I did that, people’s negativity just rolled off me.
One flaw in the natural hair community is this idea that going natural means that you automatically accept who you are and everything will be perfect. What no one tells you is that you may feel ugly when you look at your kinky hair but you have to be smart enough to know that it is a lie. You can feel ugly, but you don’t have to tell yourself you are ugly. You don’t have to think that you’re ugly. You don’t have to tell yourself that you have “bad” hair. We go through enough struggle with our hair just trying to style it. We can make it easier on ourselves by not accepting negative ideas associated with our hair. Once you overcome the negativity having natural hair becomes easier. There is still the battle with the hair itself, but at least you don’t have to battle your own thoughts.