Monday, May 3, 2010

Am I My Hair? Perhaps...

The ever beautiful India Arie wrote a song called "I Am Not My Hair". It's a beautiful empowering song and if you haven't heard it, then you need to book it over to iTunes and download it. The more I hear this song and the more I think about my own kinky mane. I begin to ask myself more and more, am I my hair?? India's song speaks of true inner beauty and how what's on the inside is much, much more than what's seen on the outside. She sings about the common stereotypes of African hair and how women with kinky curly hair try so hard to conform to the mainstream idea of beauty and beautiful hair (nothing against my straight haired sisters!).

I can recall a time when I was living in England with my parents. I was about 6 years old and my mom and I were shopping in London and we passed by a black woman with a huge beautiful Afro. It was like a perfect beautiful kinky curly halo framing her face and head. She was stunning!!! She carried herself with such happiness and confidence, as if she were Miss Universe. I was in total awe of her, in a trance if you will, as she walked by. But suddenly, my mother's voice broke my trance as I heard her say, "She needs to do something with that nappy head of hers." The look of disgust on my mother's face matched her tone. My eyes fell to my mother's Jeri curled hair and and then turned back to watch the woman with the halo continue to walk down the sidewalk. And slowly the realization came to mind that natural hair was unclean and disgusting, and yet I still wanted that beautiful mane of hair. It was the spring when this happened. That summer my mother took me to the salon and transformed my naturally kinky curly hair into an oily mess with a Jeri curl. Thus began the years of hiding my true self and complete agony.

Much like India's song I spent years wearing weaves, curling, relaxing and damaging my hair in attempts to be "normal". After all, I was an Army brat that spent most of her life in Europe and areas where there were very few other black girls and most of my friends where of non-African heritage and had beautiful flowing hair. I wanted that!! But, year after year (thanks to harsh chemicals and damaging styling) my hair became worn, weathered, and damaged and I STILL didn't have the flowing mane my friends did. I remember when I was a little girl tying a big fluffy towel around my head pretending it was my hair and tossing it over my shoulder as if I were Cher (I even ran around the house with a hairbrush singing Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves). In a way, I did become my hair. I was oppressed, damaged, angry, disappointed and hidden. All until one bad chemical treatment left me with burns and handfuls of hair missing back in 2006. The breakage was so terrible and I had to cut my shoulder length hair into a short pixie cut. Talk about a shocker!! That's when I decided I'd had enough. That I was not going to be my hair anymore, at least not in that state. So in came the braids and with every new set I cut off small amounts of the relaxed ends. Slowly, my natural hair started to come though and on 28Feb2009 I took out my last set of braids and cut off the last 1/4 inch of relaxed hair. Suddenly, there she was. The woman in London walking down the street with her beautiful halo of natural African hair. Only this time she was in my bathroom mirror.

Since that day, over a year ago, I've learned new ways to love and care for my natural hair. In short I've fallen in love with it and have come to the realization that in some ways I am not my hair. I am not the unclean, radical and unprofessional stereotype that natural hair has had bestowed upon it. However, in many ways I AM my hair! I am strong, vibrant, versatile, healthy, beautiful, unique, and I'm growing. I AM the woman confidently walking down the sidewalk with beautifully natural kinks and curls. Yes, I am my hair and I love every minute of it.