I’ve been made to feel both guilty and lucky for my hair.
I was born with 3A hair, a hair type on the hair texture spectrum. Many people commend me for the easiness of my hair, but no one anticipates the negative effects that accompany the relentless confirmation that I was born lucky. Why am I lucky? Because I ended up with my mother’s long curly 3A hair and not my father’s short and kinky 4C hair? I’ve always battled with the societal beauty standard that deemed my hair pretty, but other black girl’s hair unwanted and undesirable. And I’ve been made to feel guilty for being naturally confident in my looks, while also being condemned as lucky for pleasing the majority by coming out “acceptable” on the 50/50 scale that is my genetics.
Stock Image of 3A-3B hair
In the black community, hair is so much more than just strands of keratin growing out of a scalp. Especially in the age of self-love and acceptance after the countless years of being oppressed; being compared to non-black people in regards to beauty. Because of this, black people reserve so much love for themselves, particularly with black hair.
From observing the Black is Beautiful movement, I’ve noticed an abundance of countless articles, essays, and declarative poems that unapologetically deliver the unspoken truths about natural black hair. Beautiful afros that are radiantly worn like crowns of royalty, kinks and curls short and tight, and tips and tricks on how to maintain such tedious hair. Written works meant to help the black girl and woman love and appreciate themselves. But there are rarely any articles, essays, and declarative poems that gratify the black girl who looks ‘different’; no verbal or outspoken appreciation for the black girl who doesn’t look black.
The non-acknowledgment can easily be assumed to have derived from the early negative effects of colorism. But now, within the 360 perceptive spins of society’s views on dark-skinned women and kinky hair, the lighter women with looser curls have often fallen victim to criticisms for becoming a darker black man’s wife, or perhaps the center of people’s admirations. With claims of the black man pursuing the lighter woman because of his own self-hate, part of it may be true, but the internal conflict within that woman is now continuously being resurfaced.
“Did he only show interest in me because ‘I have nice hair for a black girl’?”
“Did I fall in love with a colorist who subconsciously hates his African heritage?”
These criticisms have in their own special way, affected me in regard to my hair. Because I’m browned skin with black hair, not showing any signs of being mixed-race, people find it unfathomable that my hair turned out the way it did. Due to such, my psychological torment flourished from other’s perceptions of me and my worth.
People have placed so much worth on my appearance, without acknowledging my intellectuality or creativity, for a while I believed I was born to be someone’s pretty wife. I’ve always known I was capable of much more than just being pretty, but to then be sought out purely on my looks by men at a cafe or a bar, just to hear remarks such as “Oh, I didn’t think you were so smart, you don’t look like it.” after a ten-minute conversation has turned into one of the main causations of my short temper in regards to the beauty bias. While people naturally gravitate to what is aesthetically pleasing to their eyes in terms of a relationship, the men I’ve spent time with have confided to me they chose me because of my hair, and how they’d like to see our kids with hair like mine. My ex, Claudio, placed his interest in me with the fact that I “don’t look entirely black.” I broke up with him a week later. And now, to my dismay, I find it hard to trust men who show their interest in me because I always ask myself: “Does he like me or my hair?” How damaging.
When I was younger, my family put a lot of worth in my hair. They always warned me not to play outside in the sun too much in fear of darkening my skin, and I’ve been warned not to cut my hair because it was long. And when I cut my hair, my family was incredibly upset with me. My senior photo is now forever “tainted” with my short and curly bob cut. That mentality is damaging and limiting to the black community. Black beauty doesn’t reside in the features that are mostly non-black, black beauty is appreciating and loving the uniqueness of what is black. Therefore, placing a black individual on a ‘black beauty pedestal’ for looking the ‘least black’ is contradicting to the entire black look. Short hair is black beauty. Kinky curls are black beauty. The outrage my family portrayed was my wake-up call to the generational brainwashing my family has asserted.
The psychological effects can even emerge from small comments.
“Is your hair real?”
“How do you get your hair like that?”
“What are you mixed with?”
These questions mostly deriving from white individuals who cannot imagine a black girl with ‘pretty’ features I propose to myself as I answer the questions with annoyance and vexation.
“Yes, my hair is real.”, “I just brush it.”, and “No, I’m black.”
I’ve heard the same “glorifying” questions for a span of twenty-two years. It only took a week after my hiring for my coworker to comment on my hair while also unnecessarily tarnishing the natural and common look of the black woman’s hair. In that very short conversation by my control, my coworker, who is as black as my hair, found the time to call his black ex-wife all sorts of stereotypical names. “Ghetto, ratchet, loud, aggressive, and not elegant.” All terms repeated by so many people, it almost sounded like a scripted mantra dedicated to diminishing the black lady without any real thought or any true meaning. Being his true colorist self, my coworker also made clear to praise his new wife who is Italian. He also excitedly displayed to me pictures of his beautiful, mixed children whom he loved dearly. He did mention his first kids with his black ex-wife, but he didn’t show me any photos of them. It was discouraging to hear as a black woman. I may not be the typical black woman, but I am black no-less, and to hear such nasty, and derogatory words come out of a black man was nauseating. I do not understand how, as a black woman, I’m expected to feel proud or flattered by such spiteful comments.
I write of these recurring and small but impactful instances in my life with self-reflection and self-awareness today, however, when I was young and naive, the comments affected my social life. Emigrating from Quebec, I left everything behind when I moved to South Florida, including my friends. Starting anew, I believed I was going to make some great friends but a year later I found myself alone. I was later told by someone I knew in class that this black girl named Jordan Reese spread rumours about me in school. How “I thought I was better than everyone because I have good hair”. How I let my hair out on purpose to “show my hair off.” Being shy and fearful of confrontation of any kind at the time I subsequently began wearing my hair in a bun. I became enclosed in and addition to people believing I was conceited and a colorist of sorts, it was much harder for me to make friends. The psychological effect turning me into a loner, even today.
A film with a similar situation that unfolds with added exaggerative yet plausible effects is the movie Honeytrap. The film centered around the psychological effects of colorism for fifteen-year-old Rebecca, played by light-skinned and natural-haired actress Jessica Sula, details the self-infringement such judgments have on a person, let alone a developing adolescent. Through clear envious bias, Rebecca gains the attention of some bullies who constantly feed her the video vixen dream. Rebecca begins to believe that her dreams of becoming a video vixen were legitimate as she attempted to fit in with her bullies. This leads to her entire life taking a tragic end when she attempts to fulfill the colorist role she was appointed by her bullies and the boys in her life. Rebecca was unsure of herself, as most teenagers are, however, the constant labeling assured her confusion and doomed her for life.
Unlike the tragic unravelings of the film, I blatantly resist the back-handed “compliments” people tell me. I also find myself heavily devoted to the Black Lives Matter movement in regards to black beauty and representation, not to prove a point to others that I’m black, but to show that black beauty is that of being black, not looking the least black.
The paradox in speaking on the troubles of a 3B hair-textured girl is laughable, however, there is trouble on both sides of the hair texture spectrum. Some are more apparent than others, of course. Being conditioned to feel more superior or inferior to others due to small, meaningless-to-worth, and uncontrollable factors such as skin color, hair texture, and nationality to name a few, defiles the human psyche and sense of self-worth in a devastating way; the black community crumbles within. I believe these persistent validations or lack-there-of, is one of the main causes for future ill-perceived senses of self. We need to love ourselves, every part of ourselves, no matter the hair texture, skin color, or facial features.