Let My Hair Be!

Charlie M.

Hi all. This week, I’m excited to present our guest writer Charlie Malone, whose article I hope you’ll enjoy. My column returns next week. Show her some love by engaging in the comment box. Have a wonderful week!

By Charlie Malone

Last week I had an interesting conversation with a friend about how people, and particularly women, grow up with a distorted idea of beauty. The distortion gets worse if you are a black young woman raised in Europe, in an essentially white culture and above all, with European beauty standards. I am not talking about anything new here, since there are several videos about diversity that addresses this issue. Also, authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have been writing about black women’s empowerment in the diaspora.

In my case, I want to talk about how I grew up feeling like a pretty-mixed-race-little-girl but at the same time, trying to look as someone I was not. I’m of Spanish and Equatorial Guinea background. My mother was not exactly a specialist in afro hair, since during her youth and part of her adulthood, she wore extensions. She therefore, did not know how to take care of her own afro hair.

So when I was a toddler, my mom relaxed my hair to make it more “manageable.” As a consequence, I grew up thinking that my own hair, my round sponge, was something inappropriate, difficult, complex, unfinished, something that needed to be treated or refined. I was the only mixed race girl in primary school for quite some time. That factor obviously is not anyone’s fault, but it fueled my individuality as a black girl in a white society.

During my teenage years I wore braids, braids and more braids, of different lengths, textures and colors. The braids gave me the freedom of not having to comb my “difficult” hair and at the same time, they were a blessing because when I took them off, my natural hair had grown three or four inches.

Entering into adulthood has meant, among other things, wanting to experiment with my hair. I have worn it short, semi shaved, short with a Mohawk, etc. In my down moments, I went back to the hell of straightening my hair again… and I say hell because it really is. The fact of chemically altering a hair that is genetically opposed to the result you want to obtain is already hell. Not to mention the hours spent in a salon, the money invested, and the crazy strategies to avoid getting my hair wet. As women of color, we know that water undoes what is unnatural as Cinderella lost her attributes of beauty at midnight.

I tell my friends that I am in a phase of acceptance, acceptance of myself, acceptance of others, of those who are different, but not better or worse than myself. I think it was during my stay in New York that I began to value my hair as it is. I lived in the concrete jungle for a few months, enough time to embrace the motto “happy to be nappy” which is nothing more than accepting and loving your hair as it is. I still remember the advice from my own people warning that it would be better to pull back my hair for a job interview.

It is relatively easy to be yourself in your private life, with your friends, with those who love you. But what happens when you decide to be yourself always and in front of everyone? I decided to rebel against the image of beauty that the media always sells.

For quite some time, I have not hidden my hair in job interviews. I wear it with joy and pride instead. Afro hair is a genetic characteristic of black people, as it is the slanted eyes of Asians, or the straight hair of Caucasians. None of those qualities I mentioned are considered inappropriate. Why should our hair be inappropriate then?

Black women have to learn to fall in love with their hair, learn to respect it and take care of it, in order to be able to share that love and knowledge to our daughters. That way, no one will make them feel insecure. We must work to create our own referents and decide who we want to feel identified with, instead of accepting referents meticulously selected by the imperialism of a minority. It is not a fight, but acceptance and self-love.