Being Natural AF, The Beauty in Adversity

In 2012, Gabby Douglas made history at the London Olympics as the first African American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions. Sadly, I don’t remember the specifics because all I can remember about Douglas was her hair. While Douglas was making history, critics back at home hopped on Twitter to throw barbs about her unkempt hair. I went natural my junior year in high school back in 2005; that was seven years before Douglas took the world stage. Back then, people used to yell at me in the hallways of my high school to get a perm. Fast forward to today, my silhouetted afro is a cropped, tapered cut with tight coils and I’m surrounded by natural hair sisters who wear their TWAs (teeny weeny afros), twist-outs, locs, full afros, wash-n-go’s, and protective styles. We’ve managed to usher forward a new era of natural hair. However, for all our progression, natural hair, black hair in general, continues to be attacked and policed.
To me, natural hair is an affront to European standards of beauty; it’s unruly, it’s malleable, and it takes up space; but because of its “oddity,” natural hair is still stigmatized. Every job interview I had after graduate school, I debated whether or not I should at least braid my hair instead of wearing my hair out. I tried to find ways to make my hair neat and presentable because without being overtly told, I knew that my natural hair could possibly cost me a job opportunity. Even when we manage to wear our hair neatly in protective styles such as weaves or braids, it’s still not good enough. Black hair has and continues to come under immense scrutiny. The Kardashians get full editorials over hairstyles that they’ve appropriated from black girls, while black girls get suspended or expelled from schools for wearing those same hairstyles. At one point, the US Armed Forces tried to banned locs and braids; only until recently, they revised their policies on black hairstyles.
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Sometimes the criticism about our hair comes from our own. Although we’ve managed to revolutionize natural hair, black women aren’t exempt from our own implicit and explicit biases. Maybe this is why we’ve become so obsessed with our edges. Every black girl has some unpleasant memory about sitting in the kitchen waiting frantically in a chair as the iron hot-comb is heating on the stove. It’s kind of like the black female rites of passage. We winced with fear as the obtrusive, smoking instrument kissed our baby hairs and hissed upon the contact of heated metal, as kinks miraculously transformed to silky threads. Now, we’ve transitioned from hot-combs to toothbrushes and edge control.
Black people still battle with respectability politics, i.e. whiteness is close to godliness, and this affects how we present ourselves including how we style our hair. Although we’ve made great lengths to make sure natural hair is acceptable, we still struggle with defining acceptability outside of European standards. Search #naturalhair on Instagram and you’ll be bombarded with cascading, bouncy, loose curls. Think Mariah Carey circa her Honey days. We want to celebrate natural hair, but kinkier textures, shorter lengths, and unkempt edges have taken a back seat to the conversation of natural hair.
Recently, I participated in a photoshoot that celebrated natural hair and self-love. We took photos and shared our testimonies about our hair journeys and our forms of hair care. Most of the girls in this group said they’ve been natural for one year or five years. What struck me the most was at that moment of my transition and how uninviting it was as well as how far we’ve come to change our own standard of beauty. Black women, it doesn’t matter how you choose to style your hair. Whether you want your hair permed, curly, braided, or in a weave, how you style your hair is an individual choice. In a world that continuously tries to silence black bodies, especially black women, we don’t need to contribute to that noise. Let’s continue to hold our crowns proudly atop our heads and help each other to hold those crowns. In doing so, black hair will no longer be odd or inappropriate, but beautiful!
What’s your take on the African American women hair?
Eunice Omega is originally from Connecticut and received her Bachelors in English & Journalism with a minor in African American Studies at the University of Connecticut. Afterward, she pursued her Masters in Higher Education and Student Affairs from New York University. Eunice currently works as an Assistant Director of Residence Life at The School of American Ballet, the premiere dance academy for inspiring dancers. Eunice currently lives in Manhattan and on her spare time she enjoys writing for her blog where she takes a critical view on pop culture, shares personal stories, and her adventures traveling. She also loves to explore the city and spend time with her family.
Featured image: @shvny

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