Friday, February 24, 2012

My Daughter's Natural Hair Joys

My daughter took my phone tonight and posted this picture of herself on my facebook wall. She captioned it to show how much she loves her hair. "Oh lawd, these curls are ridiculous".

She has never had a "relaxer" in her hair. Down here, it's de rigueur for "Creole" girls to wear their hair straight and long, even if that's not how their hair is naturally. If a girl has what would be considered "light-skin", then she should have the straight(er) hair that accentuates the European part of her heritage. I can't even count how many times people have told me or my daughter that "she'd be so pretty with straight hair".

Hearing that makes me angry and disgusted, because of the implications of that assertion. It's still remarkable to me that there are so many people who ignore the way it makes little girls feel when they hear that kind of criticism disguised as a compliment. Even in 2012, Creole society reeks of so much class privilege that I refused to even refer to myself as Creole until the past couple of years.

I had to chemically alter my hair all the way until I reached college. My mother said that afros were too radical for a Christian to wear. Yes, I do realize how silly that may sound, but her reasoning was that Christians should not seek to draw attention to themselves. Trying to stand out was akin to attempting to reject and upset the purported "oneness" of the church body.

My mom finally consented to my desire for synthetic braids. After a year and a half of that, I tried wearing my hair in an afro, but it was so drastically different from how I was used to looking, I quickly got a relaxer put in my hair again. The societal messages were strong enough to make me want to relax my hair again, even though nobody was directly demanding me to do it.

I had a teeny weeny afro when I was going through chemotherapy and most of my long tresses fell out. My mom took it harder than I did. I liked it. When it grew back, I did get relaxers again. However, I've never been the kind of girl who likes fussing with my hair, so I went natural again a few years ago. It's a lot easier to deal with. I don't need to sleep with hair rollers or bother with curling irons. I can put a little pomade or mousse or hair lotion in it and I'm finished. Sometimes, I'll put a headband on it to add some color.

Before my daughter was born, I made up my mind that I wasn't going to put her through the endless routine of sitting at the hair salon for hours every week, just to make her hair conform to societal expectations. I was determined to teach her to love herself just as the Creator made her. I was often pressured to relax it, but I managed to resist it. That was probably my first real independent decision as an adult.

In elementary school, she was the only girl of color who didn't have relaxed hair. She had a few girls do cruel things like pour milk in her hair and call her "nappy-headed". It only takes a couple of bullies to make a kid's life really miserable.

During her middle school years, I remember an incident where she was at a sleep-over and called me up crying her little heart out. The girls were playing in each other's hair and one white girl who she THOUGHT was her close friend made a nasty little comment about how my daughter's hair would break her flat-iron and that it wasn't meant for "that kind of hair". Nobody stood up or voiced any problem with the comment. She was the only girl of color at the party and it made her feel really horrible and alienated from the girls. I wanted to scoop her up, immediately, but she wanted to stick it out and try to enjoy herself.

That's more than any little girl should have to endure. The teasing and bigotry that she experienced were the only things that made me question whether this endeavor was really something worth sticking with.

When my daughter got accepted to the big fancy high school here, there were about a half a dozen girls there who also wore their hair naturally. When she reached tenth grade, a bunch of other girls told my daughter that they were about to do it, too. It's now considered pretty fashionable among that hoity-toity crowd. Go figure! If you wait long enough, every style will become fashionable again.

I'm a bit of a natural hair advocate now. I feel very strongly about my decision to look like the Creator made me. It means that there are certain jobs I could never get hired to perform. White America still isn't ready to fully accept the features of people of color as a part of what's "normal". However, I think that choosing this road through life has made me stronger and helped me make my daughter stronger than most children her age.


Rootietoot said...

I have naturally very straight hair. For years I kept a perm, so it would have tight curls. I have a friend who wears hers in a short afro that forms these "ridiculous curls" like your daughter's and I want to play with them. They are amazing to me, White Woman With Stick Straight Hair. I guess your (and your daughter's) experience is more of that White Privilege thing people like me just never consider.

Anonymous said...

Love, love love. Your daughter is amazing. And you are as well. I remember my own hair struggles (and trauma) and looking back it sometimes seems silly--until one off hand comment sets it off. Which is really all it takes, ya know? Thank you for this.

If I had a daughter, I'd have her read this post.

Anonymous said...

When "black is beautiful" first entered our nomenclature I (a young white woman) really had to rexamine my definition of beauty.

I never fit the societal beauty image: always a little over weight; acne, etc. So I was challenged by the phrase. I began to look at pictures of women of all hues and cultures, really study them, their features, their hair. And I had a breakthrough.

I began to see the real beauty in women of diverse ethnicities. I was amazed at how my mind had beel closed to their beauty by setting such narrow cultural norms.

A magical thing happened. I, for the first time in my life, began seeing my own beauty, accepting myself for who I was/am... and became all the happier for it.

Thanks for this post. You truly are a beauty, inside and out.
Much love

bint alshamsa said...

Rootie, you're not the first person with straight hair who has told me about how they preferred the curly look at certain times in their life. It makes me think about that old saying about "the grass is always greener on the other side". I'm always looking at women with curves and nice rounded bodies and imagining how nice it would be to stop being on the verge of starving to death every time my stomach goes through one of it's lupus flare-ups. When I look at myself, all I see is angles and it's not what I associate with beauty. LOL

I'm a work in progress. The goal is to stop looking at other people and comparing myself to them. Since I'm convinced that you have the direct line to God's personal cell phone, maybe you could keep me in your prayers. ;)

bint alshamsa said...

nunezdaughter, you are so right. I get annoyed with myself when that one comment from some jerk makes me self-conscious about my hair. I'd be lying if I said that it doesn't affect me anymore. At least I've gotten to the point where I can control my feelings enough that I can deny them the pleasure of seeing that what they said bothered me.

In the Bible, Samson's strength was inextricably tied to his hair. I know that's not the point of the story, but whenever I read that account, I'm pretty glad that the Creator chose hair as Samson's secret connection to accessing his God-given power.

bint alshamsa said...

Cilla, thank you so very much for that contribution. It's wonderful to know that the "black is beautiful" message also benefited others who aren't black. It's a great reminder of the reality that very few women match our society's traditional definition of what should be seen as beautiful. So why should any of us buy into it?!

With over six billion people on earth, it's silly to think that there aren't lots of people who find a particular body type or feature to be the height of beauty. Not only are you beautiful to yourself, you're also beautiful in the eyes of many, many others. That includes me, of course. *hugs*