Written by: Janay T.
The summer before I went to college, I decided to do the big chop. Cut off my hair within inches of the scalp to get rid of the perm and go natural. Transitioning was great as I have naturally curly hair, which I now realize is a blessing. I always wore my hair out, in a fro embracing the tight kinks and coils that that formed under just a drop of water.
My hair brought plenty of attention from white friends and often strangers. They were interested in how the fro felt. While some asked permission to touch, others felt free roaming their fingers carefree through the curls. Comments about how it was so soft would follow. The words: Don’t touch my hair, frequently ran through my mind.
I regret not saying that phrase enough. Not only to the people that touched my hair but those that talked about it.
I cannot pinpoint a time when I was ever teased as a child. I was never bullied for being overweight, or for the color of my skin.
However, I can still replay perfectly comments said by family members about my hair.
“If you want to go out with your hair lookin’ a mess like that, fine!”
“What is wrong with your hair?!”
“You just need to keep a perm.”
In my eyes, hair equated to uniqueness and defined who I was. To have the people closest to me criticize it was devastating. They were touching my hair and making it ugly.
When I was going to a job interview a few months back I was asked, “You’re going to an interview with dreads in your head?!” I was completely thrown off by the question because I forgot that this was relevant to some.
I replied to the question saying that I wasn’t sure if I’d ever been able to work for a company that would have an issue with the way I choose to style my hair. I was blessed to never be put in that situation, but I am aware that others still are dealing with it.
What’s frustrating now is the fact that I can see history repeating itself with my younger cousins. It’s difficult enough to navigate the pre teen years while facing the pressures of peers and society. To receive ridicule from the people who are there to support you is toxic. It is sending a message to my cousins that they are not presentable, beautiful, or able to be accepted.
I never spoke up for myself when dealing with the criticisms. It was easier to suppress my feelings and question my decision. It wasn’t until just recently that I learned I can’t seek approval and find my identity in what others think of me. I’m proud of my hair and how it enhances my beauty.
But finding this truth for myself is not enough. This cycle needs to be shattered within my family. It starts by speaking up. Letting my family members know the hurt caused by their comments. It’s been difficult to bring up because some don’t recognize or admit that it happened. However, persistence in calling out even the smallest denunciations will affect my cousins’ self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-love.
Natural hair gets touched enough, it doesn’t need to be poked and prodded by the criticisms of our family.