But my hair? It wasn't bone straight. It was nappy. Never long and flowing, always too much to deal with. So in late elementary school, I got my first relaxer. I can still remember that it felt like my head was on fire, but I knew that I was going to be one step closer to having good hair. I could curl it and wear it in a ponytail! I could wear it down and look my white friends! Except not really. My ponytails didn't quite swish in the wind, and I still had quite the love-hate relationship with my hair. For sixteen years, I made my quarterly trip to the salon to get the creamy crack, always trying to allow the chemicals to work their magic, even if it meant I came home with a headache and a scabbing scalp. It was worth it to get that illustrious "white girl swish."
Let's just skip over middle school, because that was an awful time. I'll just sum it up by saying that I wasn't too happy about my outward appearance at that time. High school wasn't much better. Hair just wasn't really my strong suit; I also didn't really know how to do makeup. Ok let's be real, I still don't quite know how to do my makeup.
Too much of my time in my teens and early twenties (ok, the mid-twenties, too) was spent wondering what the opposite sex thought about me and wanting to fit in with my peers, who were mostly white. A boy most assuredly wouldn't like me if I had nappy or kinky hair.
The standard of beauty which we all hold is influenced by many factors- our heritage, our culture, our preference. The prevailing beauty standard for hair in the United States for women is long, flowing hair. As I began to think about the choices I made regarding my hair, makeup, clothing, etc., the Lord began to show me that I wanted to cover up the parts of me that made me me. I did not want to be different from those whom surrounded me, so my choices reflected what mainstream culture said was beautiful instead of embracing just who He made me to be.
I don't think it is a sin to relax your hair if you are African American. Sin finds its root in the heart. Always. For me, I have a desire to not want to ruffle any feathers and to fit in; never would I want anyone to think I was "weird" or "different." But there was something stirring within me as I considered the reasoning behind my choices. I began to see that I just wanted to be like everyone else- I wanted my hair to lay flat and look "cute." People unknowingly (and unfortunately, sometimes knowingly) inflict judgment with derogatory comments that use African American physical stereotypes as the punch line. Why would I want to give anyone material to use in their arsenal?
When I met Rory and we began to get closer and closer, I introduced him about the world of black hair, and he was so confused. Poor thing. He always encouraged me to wear my hair in styles with "more volume" and wondered why I would chemically straighten it. I brushed him off, even getting angry sometimes and saying, "You just don't get it." But he had spoken right to my heart, and I knew it. I just wasn't quite ready to accept the natural me yet.
In reading The Honest Life by Jessica Alba last fall, we both talked about ways to be more natural in other aspects of our lives- food, cleaning products, medicinal treatments, etc. I was challenged once more to think about why I was hanging on to my relaxed hair. Although it had been about six months or so since my last relaxer at that point, I still wanted to blow dry and straighten my hair to get it as flat as possible. I wanted a little bit of volume, but not too much. Didn't want to look too Black.
Rory challenged me, but so did the Holy Spirit. Did I have to have relaxed hair to be considered beautiful? Why was my day slightly altered ruined if I had a "bad hair day?" Who says whose hair is "good" anyways? Why did I "need" a relaxer or straightened hair to make me "feel" beautiful?
Here's the root of my problem: I wanted to look to others to assign to me my worth. No more. So last Friday morning, I chopped off all of my relaxed, straight, dead hair. I looked in the mirror and saw a woman with an afro, and I was proud. I was excited about all of the fun styles I can try now and all of the fun hair accessories I can buy. I was pumped about the money I would save by not going to the hairdresser as often. Instantly, I felt completely exhilarated and lighter. If God wanted me to have straight hair, He would have made me with straight hair. And one day, Lord willing, if we have daughters, I want them to be bold and confident just as they are. Curls and all.
We Each Have Our Own "Becky with the Good Hair"
New Natural Hair Magazine Sets A New Standard For Black Women’s Beauty
10 Natural Hair Bloggers Who Will Unleash Your #CurlEnvy
And last but not least, this spoken word poem by the beautiful Amena Brown Owen.