I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but for years, one of my greatest goals in life was to have long natural hair.
In October of 2010, I received my last relaxer ever. I remember that day, because it was also the day that my (perceived) love of my life married someone else. As a jilted ex-lover usually is, I was devastated, shattered. But I was mainly frustrated and exhausted at myself.
Sitting in the parking lot of the salon, waiting for my hairdresser to arrive, I looked back at all the time I had wasted believing myself to be not only a victim in some silly romantic drama, but also a contender. Surely, he loved me! Surely, it was just a matter of time before he would realize the truth–that I was the one for him and he should call off the wedding on my behalf!
I know. I know.
In that lot, I forced myself to come to terms with reality: I had allowed myself to be a pathetic toy, a fun distraction. I had disrespected myself into a silly delusion.
I hated that self. And I didn’t want to resemble that self anymore.
Over the months, I had been lingering more and more on whether I should go natural. That moment of resolve cinched that decision.
With my last relaxer would die the old B. With the new B would come confidence, self-respect, and super healthy, super long natural hair.
It took about six months to grow out my last relaxer, but by May of 2011, I was more than ready to slice it all away. I big-chopped while visiting my sister in Arizona and never once regretted it.
Fast Forward to June 2018
“I think I’m gonna cut my hair.”
I said this aloud as I walked with coworkers from our cafeteria back to the office.
One of my coworkers, a beautiful black woman with her own natural hair in ringlets to her back, turned to stare at me. “Where’d that come from?”
I thought about it. Though we had just passed some random person with a pixie cut, the decision seemed to come from a much deeper spot within my core. Unfortunately, it seemed too existential to explain in the middle of a corporate campus. “I don’t know,” I said instead, and veered the topic back to standard office gossip.
I’d always told myself that, as I aged, I would probably resume managing my hair in an extremely short style. I just hadn’t realized that “age” had arrived so much sooner than I’d expected.
After my BC in 2011, I maintained my hair in a super short style for at least 3 years. In fact, the only reason I started stretching it out was because it started knotting on itself.
It’s been eight years since I started growing out my natural hair. Over the last 3 years, my hair has refused to grow past my bra strap. I’ve tried to be patient with it, avoiding direct heat and playing with temporary, veggie-based hair dyes to assuage my desires to creatively mutilate it. This last year has been especially painful, as I’ve attempted to be dutiful and find the right protective styles that would encourage the long natural hair that I aspired to:
- At least half an hour to prep it before wash.
- An hour and a half to wash and deep condition it.
- Upwards of two hours to style-set it.
- And then there’s daily maintenance of re-setting it every night before bed.
Long natural curly hair is not just a beauty step. It’s a beauty lifestyle.
Long Natural Hair = The Ultimate Female Beauty
I think everyone has suffered from a desire to reinvent themselves at least once. The popularity of fad diets, bold and impossible-in-nature hair colors, and fashion trends are a testimony to that. People want their outsides to reflect what they currently feel, or how they want to feel.
I’ve always had an idealized mental image of myself. As a child, it was as the lost Black Sailor Moon (well, Sailor Mars, actually. She had magic psychic abilities even when she wasn’t in costume). As an adolescent, it was a cross between USA’s La Femme Nikita, Barb Wire, and The Matrix (aka, a shiny black catsuit-wearing badass). As an adult, it was a bohemian renaissance woman with sexy face paint, wooden jewelry, harem pants, and an alluring nose piercing.
And do you know what they all had in common?
As I do when I wonder what the rest of the world is thinking (and are they still thinking what I assume they’re thinking), I performed a random Google search to see what is still deemed “beautiful.”
I clicked on two of the top articles. In the first article, it only took me a second to find the following statement:
The preference for smooth skin and long hair [my emphasis] comes down through the ages with adjectives such as alabaster, milky, and creamy being used when describing someone’s complexion.
(Yes, I could go on and on about the alabaster, milky skin, but let’s save that particular observation for another post, shall we? 🙄)
In the second article, the author covers what different cultures around the world consider beautiful. I’m going to assume she neglected to note what African cultures consider beautiful because, not only did she forget Africa is in the world, she is also severely limited in experience, research capability, and journalistic non-bias and wouldn’t know where to start with the multiple aspects that make African and African-descended women beautiful…but anyway…
One thing that I did notice before I read her article, were the pictures in her article. In every single pic, long, thick hair is highlighted. It’s blowing in the wind. It’s draped over the model’s shoulder. The woman is playing with it. Even if she didn’t say it outright (and yes, she does), it’s obvious what she deemed vital as a part of classic female beauty.
Finding that these results supported my original assumptions, I grew annoyed.
Then, I grew mad.
And, as it usually does when I feel like passively rebelling against the system, it temporarily made me want to re-chop off all my hair down to the very root.
“So I’m only beautiful if I’ve got long, luxurious locks, huh?” I snap, electric razor buzzing in my hand. “Well, then I bet you’ll love this!”
Of course, shaving my hard won’t resolve anything. Somewhere along the journey into my 30s, my goal stopped being about conforming to European, American, Korean, African, male, ageist aspects of beauty. Instead, it has because more of…feeling like myself.
Below you is the puzzle of your life. There is a missing puzzle piece that represents how you identify yourself in this crazy world. You’ve held that puzzle piece in your hand for years. You know where it goes, but you’ve been working on how to make it fit just right.
You carve a little here, paint a little there. You turn it this way, that way. You’re getting close. Soon, it will fit.
I believe we should all go through life being comfortable in our selves. The only way we can get comfortable is to listen to what we really want. That may include getting a tattoo, or a piercing. It may include wearing corduroy dresses. Whatever it is, it should make you smile, feel proud to be yourself.
I always wanted long hair because I wanted to be seen as pretty, desirable. I thought it would make me the ultimate woman. I was willing to put in the time and the effort to gain those results.
But now, as I expand my passions and meet quality friends and colleagues, I’m realizing that the state of my hair will reflect the happiness I feel naturally. If I’m happy, my body will show it. Maybe not with excessive hair growth, but with thickness, vibrancy, and shine. And I’d certainly rather have short, shiny, healthy locks than thin, straggly, heat-damaged strands dangling down to my butt.
So, if the length sneaks up on my hair, so be it. But I’m no longer going to seek it out.
What look or style makes you, you? What makes you feel the most like yourself?