My journey with my hair has been a long one. As I think it is with many young African children. To me, the “black hair” struggle began the minute I was old enough to have my beloved momma twist my hair into braids and curls. I recall growing up around girls with light skin and pin straight blonde hair. Man, was I jealous.
All I wanted was to be able to tuck straight strands behind my ears like every other little girl. A good friend and I laughed just a week ago about the “T-Shirt-Wig phenomena.” The one where you pull a shirt over your head, the collar like a crown, and the sleeves tucked, just so, behind your ears.
I may be generalizing, but I feel like every little girl with curly hair has done it. The minute I figured out how to use a flat-iron its usage became an instantaneous habit. That’s when it all began. You see my hair was like a mop when straight. Thick and full with no particular direction of where it was supposed to lie. From the eighth to the ninth grade that changed dramatically. My chronically straightened hair thinned out substantially, which at the time I thought was fantastic.
The thinning made it easier to style on a daily basis, and it looked more like the girls who had naturally straight hair, but by 20, it was too thin, and broken, and I had to make a change. I decided to straighten my hair rarely – if ever. When I look back at my hair journey it is saddening and speaks to a much larger story than just strands of protein hanging from my scalp.
Growing up, you don’t want to be the different one. Being half Ethiopian and growing up with less than 10 African students in my school, I felt like I looked different. In junior high school different wasn’t pretty, and I wanted to look pretty. It has been over a year now since I decided to embrace my curls.
With that choice came more interest in my culture and what it means to me. I am lucky to be born with curly locks, but I only discovered how lucky I am after I learned how to truly accept myself.
Why accept myself? Why now?
I work for a children’s charity that serves sick children and there is one little girl that enlightened me on this question. She is seven years old, and battling chronic leukemia. Her mother told me the story of her diagnoses and how after their first experience in the pediatric enology ward her little girl began to ask questions about the children with no hair.
You see, this little girl always had her hair pulled back in the most adorable little braids, curls and twists. However, once she realized that this sickness – HER sickness – had stolen the other children’s hair, she was determined to show the sickness that her hair belonged to her. The sickness wasn’t allowed to steal it. She owned her hair, and no one was allowed to take it away from her.
From that moment on, the little girl wouldn’t let her momma do anything but brush her hair. No pig-tails, no braids, no curls, just wild, wavy and beautiful locks. As I look back at my childhood, my hair was always pulled back, in braids and curls. These styles were lovely, but they never taught me to appreciate my hair in it’s natural, wild, wavy and beautiful form.
Growing up from a child to a teenager, I always remember feeling foolish when my hair was loose and natural. I hated swimming because I’d have to flat iron it the minute I got home. Heaven forbid it rained because then I felt what can only be described as shame for my horrid frizz.
There is tremendous value in teaching young little African girls that their beautiful black hair, is just that, it is beautiful. I rarely straighten my hair, once in the last 9 months in fact, and I don’t think I’ll be changing my curly ways any time soon.
Teach young little African girls that their beautiful black hair, is just that,beautiful