It took me a long time to feel pretty again with my natural hair.
It wasn’t that I felt my natural hair was ugly – to the contrary, I loved my hair texture and I loved my newly acquired dreadlocks. However, others weren’t as certain about my new look, and that kind of bothered me.
Being perceived as attractive is that one area of going natural that most folks don’t want to talk about.
And when those discussions do arise, they are usually beat down in the “love yourself” sermons and other patronization, which some folks engage in when they want to make haste of what can be an uncomfortable topic; but this concept of self-love within natural hair deserves explanation. And while it is true, the primary motivation of any of our choices, including aesthetics, should come from a place of love of one’s self, it is also true that from very early on (some say as young as two, when children manifest self-consciousness, pride and embarrassment), we learn to see ourselves through the eyes of others. So, short of being some total self-aware zen master, it takes most of us some time to reach self-acceptance.
Like the time an associate told me that a crush thought I was cute but was hesitant because my “dreads and stuff look like I was going to have to talk about books all the time.” Or the strange guy who happened to cross paths with me on the sidewalk that decided to comment – loud enough so that I could hear – about how much he hates that “nappy hair s**t.” Or just being at the bar or lounge and noticing that the brothers were not checking for me like when I was rocking the long and silky press-n-curl. When I transitioned from getting bi-weekly press-n-curls into bi-monthly (if even that) appointments for lock retwisting, I expected to maintain my same level of familiarity with the opposite sex I had always known. But when I stopped adhering to one small aspect of the standard of beauty, suddenly, it seemed that I had become undateable – or at least invisible.
Weirder than the lack of physical attention was this newly attributed level of respect that was bestowed upon me. In one aspect, it was the celebration of the end of the endless cat-hissing, booty smacking “hey shawty, come here and let me get your number” mating dance, which was sort of the norm during the press-n-curl era. Nowadays, I am considered “sis” and “queen.” By the switch of a hairstyle, I was all of a sudden anew and virtuous. If I had to equate it to something, it would be like having a second virginity. But fun as it felt to walk around feeling righteous and superior, I didn’t want to be nobody’s “sis” (or as I always felt by extension, their mammies) no more than I wanted to be somebody’s “shawty.” In truth, I’m probably a little bit of both – and so much more other stuff. As a young woman, I wasn’t quite sure if I could handle that.
As more and more women transition, I am seeing similar stories of uncertainty over the natural head around the Internet. Sometimes the doubt is implanted by the words of boyfriends, but more disheartening is when the rejection comes by way of the husbands of these newly transitioned ladies. In fact, despite the rhetoric we see of those dudes who can recite line and verse the points to Chris Rock’s Good Hair, there are a large consortium of men, who are threatening to leave or cheat if their partner doesn’t either put a perm, or a weave, back in that nappy hair. Think I’m exaggerating? Just visit your nearest hair care forum and/or Google to read the various desperate pleas from women who need help dealing with their husbands, who just hate their natural hair.
In an essay entitled, The Reasons I Did Not Want My Wife to Be Natural, Dr. Corey Guyton bravely owns up to his fears of his wife’s transition. He cited his rejection of her TWA (teeny weenie Afro) as a matter of his own insecurity and being blinded by Eurocentric standards of beauty, including feeling like less of a man when his wife no longer had long flowing hair. Dr. Guyton writes:
“I was also blinded by the numerous images of “beauty” that were portrayed in the media. Anytime I would see a Black woman who was in movies, music videos, pageants, or on any day time television, she had long flowy hair. This played into my psyche and caused me to think that these women were the definition of beauty. Finally, I was blinded by my own people (including myself) who constantly displayed self-hate. The men constantly spoke about how women with short hair or non-straight hair were nappy headed and sistas put tons of weave in their head for the purposes of “increasing their beauty”. We created the thought that we were not beautiful the way God created us.”
It just goes to show you the ways in which the brothers internalize these narrow definitions of beauty as well. It is also a reminder of why the embracing of natural hair should not be considered gender specific. I try to keep this in mind whenever I’m passed over once again at a bar for my equally built brown skinned homegirl with the long weave. I want to tell the women it gets better. But only after my locks grew in length did the compliments also increase. And for the most part, my dreadlocks still act as a major repellent in most dating circles, particularly involving some black men.
Also, out of all the preferences to have, loving black men, or another black person for that matter, is not the easiest (intra-racial dating is still considered a preference, right?). There is lots of unchecked baggage, which many of us have yet to overcome. Thankfully, our brothers from the Island, South America and more have been filling in the gaps where some of our brothers stateside have fallen short. And don’t forget the white guys. I see them checking a “sis” out too. If not for the fact that I really (and I mean really) love my locks, I might have shorn them off already and pressed-n-curled what was left. I think that’s where self-love is born: In spite of what some others may think (even the ones who think my hair is cute), I’m going to stand strong in my own personal definition of what makes me feel s*xy, sisterly, and however else I choose to see myself.