Approximately six years ago, I relaxed my hair for the last time. It was the day before my graduation and wearing my hair natural had been on my mind for several months, as I could no longer justify putting a dangerous chemical directly on my head to straighten my hair for aesthetic purposes while actively seeking to eat organic foods; it was a silly contradiction and I immediately understood it as such.
Almost a year later, I cut off the relaxed ends and wound up wearing a teeny weeny afro that I initially hated. Nothing was wrong with it per se, I just thought my curls would be looser, bigger, more flowing. I wanted my hair to be longer than it was. There were times I’d look in the mirror and cry: what had I done? Why did I do this? Yet, there was such a strong knowing that I was at the point of no return; my last relaxer was the last relaxer. “I’m undergoing a paradigm shift,” I’d tell myself when I needed comforting.
When you begin to wear your hair the way it grows out of your head after years of manipulating it to specifically do otherwise, you’re suddenly confronted with your ideas about beauty in general, your individual beauty, and your people’s beauty.
Many women consider it to be a quasi spiritual experience, and, honestly, that’s no exaggeration. It’s a reawakening. To yourself. To your beauty. To your ancestry. To healthy self-esteem.
Six years ago, I had this reawakening.
Recently, after a failed attempt at growing out my hair from what was, to date, the best hairstyle of my life, I decided to completely shave all my hair off. On an impulse.
I immediately mourned the loss of my hair, even as I was cutting it. My sister watched, astonished, while championing what she considered to be bravery, although I didn’t feel like I had any other option. “I just don’t think I’m cute enough to pull this off,” I told her.
Despite the many compliments tossed my way — “I love it!” “Leandra?! You look stunning.” — I felt pretty insecure. Before, I had my face plus really cool hair. Now, I just had my face. Initially, I wore more makeup than usual, and always wore it. I would say, “I don’t want to look like a little boy,” but really I just didn’t think I was attractive enough to successfully be without hair. I wanted it to be. I wanted to look in the mirror and have that instant knowing of “this is me.” That moment never came for me.
What did come was an understanding that I was about to become really familiar with my face. Because I was uncomfortable, I knew I had to settle into the discomfort and feel it out. Really, what other choice do you have when you shave your head? It’ll grow back, yes, but it takes time. In the meantime, you can attempt to overcompensate or you can decide to get comfortable. I chose the latter.
I’ve returned to wearing my usual amount of makeup, which consists of mascara, and maybe subtle eye shadow and/or eye liner. The darker my hair got, the more I liked it and while I still have yet to have the “this is me” feeling, I know I’m getting there without developing anymore complexes regarding my looks.
The most recent epiphany I had regarding my hair came this past weekend when my love suggested I brush my hair, instead of my usual “do nothing to it wash and go” routine. To demonstrate his point, he brushed it, only for me to confirm not liking how brushing made my hair a teeny weeny afro.
I reflected it on it more and more. Why didn’t I like it?
In a moment of pure honesty, my answer was something like “I look too black.”
That right there let me know I was in trouble. Too black meaning really African, which I’m a descendant of…so what does that mean?
It means even though I was natural, even though I’d began to accept the aesthetics of natural African/African-American hair, I still have some work to do. Everything isn’t for everyone, and I understand that I don’t have to accept every natural look on myself as proof of healthy self-esteem. However, I think self-acceptance is critical to healthy self-esteem and while I may opt not to go after a particular style, strong resistance is a barometer to guage my self-comfort. I don’t have to brush my hair, but if I refuse to, I should look at that.
It’s been a month and it’s still just me and my face, now with a teeny bit of hair. I’m excited about working with and taking care of my hair all over again. Once again, it feels like a reawakening and my life is reflecting that major change.
If you’ve recently cut your hair or embarking upon so soon, realize the opportunity it presents to you to love yourself even more. Being without hair is an opportunity to embrace how you look–now. It’s when we feel most insecure that we require our own bravery to not succumb to using crutches that will only cause more problems down the line. It’s a reawakening. A new beginning of sorts. An opportunity to connect. To yourself. To your beauty. To your people.
That’s how I’ve chosen to use this period.