Recently we were leaving a shopping center, and I noticed a well-dressed woman getting into her car. She caught my attention because it’s becoming increasingly rare to see a woman -at Target no less!- exhibiting such combination of femininity and style. Her long blonde hair was also pretty and well styled.
When she turned around, however, I noticed that she was not white as her light blonde hair suggested, but Asian. I didn’t think much of it, but as we got into the car, my youngest child said matter of factly, “That lady would have looked prettier if her hair wasn’t dyed like that.” Rather than verbalize an opinion ( I agreed), I asked my daughter why she assumed her hair was dyed. Again very matter of factly, as children tend to be, she answered, “Asian women don’t usually have such bright hair.”
In that moment I was reminded of an exchange I had with a relative who made the assertion that black women who change their natural hair are engaging in a display of self-hatred. I wondered if anyone had ever accused this woman of hating herself because she chose not to embrace the dark, straight hair that she was likely born with. Or if the Hispanic women who take both blonde dye and flat irons to their characteristically dark, wavy hair are accused of harboring self-hatred. Maybe those women encounter these things, but I doubt it. Our older daughters have a plurality of Hispanic friends and have since high school, and we’ve never heard of it.
Before I go any further, this is not about a defense of weaves, wigs, or relaxers. No one in our house wears any of those things, including me. It has been over a year since my hair has been straight, and my husband’s reaction, contrasted with what we have witnessed from the husbands of friends and relatives, is partly what inspired this post.
Despite the fact that my husband had only ever seen long, straightened hair on me, he has been great about the fact that my hair (not straightened) looks fairly short. Part of the reason is that he is fully on board with the mission to live healthier and also encourage our youngest girls to embrace themselves and who they are as God made them, partly because he is just cool like that, but he also knows if he ever expressed a desire for me to go straight again, I would comply without hesitation.
A couple of other husbands we know, however, have not been as accepting of their wives’ decision to “go natural”. They don’t like the texture (even though it matches their own), they don’t like the perceived length, even though they know if their wives took some heat to their hair and straightened it, it is quite long. Apparently, my husband is a distinct minority:
Men may insist that they prefer natural hair, but many still gawk over women flaunting Pocahontas weaves. Why? Because many men, like some women, have grown accustomed to the standard.
There isn’t a woman I’ve spoken to who didn’t receive a bit of push back from her husband or boyfriend when deciding to take the plunge. I do understand. It’s a drastic change in look for most of us. It’s a change that comes with political implications and antiquated assumptions; a change that challenges perceptions of beauty.
I could run quote after quote detailing the responses of black men to women whose hair is exactly like theirs, but I’ll stop at one for the sake of time and space:
“No not like that, but if they have it slicked down, that’s better. I just don’t like the messiness of the afro or how rough it looks. She can wear her real hair, but just not in an afro or like out sticking up. It has to be permed and laying down on her head.”
You get my point. So is it self-hatred motivating black women to straighten their hair, or just a healthy sense of what they need to do to get the male attention they seek?
The other thing that inspired this post was the reaction of the young white men who work with my daughter as she recently began to wear her natural hair out. They thought it was pretty, that she looked cute, complimented her, and one of them (whose girlfriend is also black) expressed the desire that his girlfriend would shun the wigs she likes because he thinks she looks “much better” wearing her natural hair.
The only thing I can make of all this is that men who are comfortable in their own skin tend to find women who are comfortable in their own skin more attractive. This assumes all the other markers of attractiveness are present: healthy weight, nice smile, pleasant personality, etc.
Where does this leave our daughters, in a culture where everyone is encouraged to be discontented with themselves and everything in their lives, and additionally as a member of a race which is being trained to view itself as inferior? It leaves them with a decision to make about whose voice they are going to listen to as it relates to what they need to do be acceptable, beautiful, and at home with who they are.
None of us decided to go natural because we thought that relaxing our hair was a symbol of self-hatred. But isn’t it funny that on the one hand, relaxing is deemed a symbol of self-hatred while on the other, not relaxing supposedly reduces attractiveness among the men who possess the masculine side of our feminine ancestry? The self-same men then get pretty annoyed when they see a black woman married to a man of another race.
No one is harder on us than we are on ourselves, yet we are constantly told that others are out to get us. They don’t need to be out to get us. We do a pretty good job of beating up on each other over petty things. I’m sure this is a reality for people of other backgrounds as well, but this is about the things I wish I knew sooner so that I can pass them on to those coming behind me.
While standards of propriety and good taste never go out of style, you don’t have to deny who you are or shun God’s original work in order to fit into an increasingly shallow and arbitrary culture. It’s cliche but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true:
You will only be appreciated to the extent that you accept yourself.