12/02/2013

My Hair

I've recently started sporting my natural hair, as I fully shaved my head a year ago, vowing to never relax my hair again. This has been an adventure so far.

The response I have got from family, friends, and acquaintances has been mostly positive, except for the oddball who thinks it's perfectly fine to pet me without asking.

The change in my hairstyle might not seem like a worthy topic to write an article about, but it is, and here is why.

Growing up I always struggled with my natural hair, relaxing it/straightening it/hot ironing it/doing whatever it took to get rid of the kinks. This behavior was reinforced by my own parents, who would always be quick to remind me when it was time to tend to the growth.

Whenever I walked by an Afro-hair salon (whichever country I was in), I'd get shouts from inside "Come get your hair done!" "You gonna do anything with that hair?" "You need to relax it!" - usually making me feel inadequate, or at least slightly uncomfortable.

The few times I decided to wear it short (my big chop last year was not my first one) I'd hear the same comment - "Short hair looks so good on black girls". I still hear that comment, and it's usually from non blacks. No wait, it's always from non blacks. What people don't realize is that every single time I hear this, I feel like I am being reduced to a stock image of a black girl. I am not being seen as a version of myself with short hair, I am being seen as a black girl with short hair, and guess what - it doesn't feel nice.

As you'll have guessed, this article isn't about Afro hair, it's about being a black girl. It's about the fact that being a black girl who leaves her hair alone comes with a full plate of stereotypes to deal with, with a side serving of misogyny.

A classmate asked me if I was going to allow myself to "act a little bit diva" because of my hair - I wasn't even shocked. In the mainstream media, Afro hair on a woman has been used as a prop on sssassy strawng innepennent bleck women - the women being props themselves. Afros basically became parodies of themselves, and still are. If a black person is lucky enough to be granted a role (even the token ones) in a TV show, they'll rarely be sporting natural hair, unless they themselves bring the race conversation to the table. 

Examples - 

In Sons of Anarchy, DA Tyne Patterson (played by CCH Pounder) sports a blonde straight hair wig, which she removes in private while uttering the words "Time to go hood sister", referring to the fact that she is about to play the dirty side of the law. She reveals a more unruly "natural" hairstyle/type. Her hair is being used as a device for her to reveal her "darker" and more "fighter" side. Couldn't she have just kept the wig, or simply not worn one at all? The whole scene was unnecessary, even the line "time to go hood" is offensive.


Oh and remember that one "ethnic" Spice Girl? Scary Spice, so scary with her crazy hair and animal print clothing, terrifying indeed.


The only time Beyoncé ever sported a full blown coarse Afro was to be Foxy Cleopatra in Austin Powers - I guess her own natural hair wasn't "sassy" enough for the character.


I find it sad that these are the only times I can remember seeing hair similar to mine onscreen (outside of Blacksploitation cinema or anything about slavery). The lack of examples available speaks for itself. When Afro hair is used, it isn't being used as just a hair type on a person, it's being used as a prop, which doesn't seem to happen with any other race. They aren't writing strong black female characters with Afros, they're writing black female stereotypes.

For these reasons, until last year, I strongly disliked my hair. Actually, that's a lie, I used to HATE my own hair. I never saw it anywhere outside of myself, so I assumed it wasn't worthy and I would proceed to annihilate it. Today, I love my hair. The more I expose myself to content where my hair is valued and celebrated, and sometimes even (get ready for this) is the NORM, the more I love it, and myself. There is sisterhood in kinky hair, because it is an oppressed hair type. This makes me even more confident, and for the first time in my life, I feel like a beautiful person without relying on extensions.

In conclusion: Don't touch my hair. And if you're gonna do it, don't.

Afro hair baby Naomi not giving a fuck about haters :D


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