By: Pamela E. Williams
“I can’t be black, fat, and bald-headed.”
This comment was part of a discussion that involved having natural hair and being plus-size. As the words came out of my coworker’s mouth, I had no judgment, but wondered just how many Black plus-size women who are natural feel this way. Even people I admire in the blogosphere who celebrate their own curves — and those of of others — struggle with having short natural hair on a full-figured body. CeCe Olisa of the Plus Size Princess blog once wrote “While, I’m super happy with how they (SistaLocks) turned out, I was surprised that having “short hair” made me feel more vulnerable about my weight. In the past I’ve always added the hair I wanted for my ideal length with braids, weaves, etc. but I never thought about hair as part of my body image until I started rocking my natural hair at its current length.”
And yet CeCe and my friend aren’t the only ones. Being plus-size with short natural hair was something I thought I had resolved, but if I’m truthful with myself it is still a struggle. The quest for bigger, longer hair is a constant for many. Short natural hair on a big girl is not often seen as the ideal of beauty. Look at any fashion/lifestyle magazine and I bet you’ll find at least one that contains an article detailing the aesthetic desires a man has in a woman and I’ll wager again that on said list there will be some reference to long flowing, straight (read: European) hair. I probably don’t need to remind you of the husband who hated his wife’s natural hair who appeared on the Steve Harvey Show. It is no secret that the African American culture has embraced the Westernized standard of beauty, including many of our men.
As a Breast Cancer survivor, I ditched the relaxer in favor of my health and embracing my natural hair as it grew back after chemotherapy. My only problem is that it is taking its own sweet time to grow. In the meantime, I watch as thinner black women rock the short natural styles with ease. Lupita Nyong’o can do no wrong with her hair. Things are not all hopeless, as I have examples of full-figured divas such as Chrisette Michele doing the big chop and Jill Scott as she rocked her TWA on the cover of Essence, but I am sometimes a little self-conscious when I wear my own kinky 4c TWA.
The thought that short natural hair can make a woman appear less than attractive and, dare I say it, less than feminine has presented itself on more than one occasion. I had a little over an inch of hair when I was hit on by a lady at the gas station when I went out with my sister to run some errands and didn’t put on any make-up or my signature statement earrings. After politely letting the lady know that I wasn’t available or interested, she finished pumping her gas said goodbye. My sister laughed until she cried and then questioned flatly if I would now “perm” my short kinky curls. It hurt my feelings at the time, but I realized that this is what many go through.
We are told, or have somehow gotten the impression, that TWAs and other short natural styles will not look good on our plus-size bodies; that they will make us look bigger, or, to some, like a lesbian. If the self-esteem plummets, one may consider grabbing a box of Dark and Lovely, a wig, or some weave, often times to cover those insecurities about our weight. So where did the myth that big girls can’t rock short natural hair styles come from? Felicia Leatherwood, Celebrity Natural Hair Stylist, Educator & Expert believes that this mindset is cultural. In my conversation with Felicia, she said a person can only know what they have been introduced to.
“In America, many in the African American culture are focused on outer beauty. When I travel to Africa all the young girls have short hair like mine. They cut it off there because in some parts of the continent, they don’t want the girls to be focused on beauty, but on education. Here in America we are constantly fed certain images and told that is healthy. I mean you can clearly see their bones and ribs coming through their skin. In Africa the focus is on the inside. When you know what is beautiful about your insides, it creates a confidence that is unmatched. If all the black women who were curvy and considered to be overweight by doctors standards were all confident and just doing themselves that would infiltrate everything else…including their hair and the world would see that. If it was taught at a young age and preached and confirmed, it would become a lifestyle for Black women and our girls of color would grow up differently. Their body imaging would be so different.”
Felicia noted she starts any consultation with her clients by addressing the conversations in their head, where they originate, and why they feel the need to still hold on to those negative conversations. When considering going natural at any size Felicia gives the following advice:
- Locate three photos online that you find attractive; that raise your vibration and take them to a stylist who sees your beauty, gets it, and can break it down. Meaning the hairstylist will say “yeah, this will work. This can definitely happen. I can hook this up, add a little color…” You want somebody that’s going to support your vision of yourself and someone who is going to be honest. So get your photos and get consultations with some of the best hair stylists you can find that you feel can basically execute that look.
- The next step is really up to you. You have to feel magnificent when you look in the mirror. Recite positive affirmations daily. Just like Mary Jane in “Being Mary Jane” — there were Post-it notes all over to keep her pumped –we have to do that.
There is too much chatter from the outside world about how a person looks and you have to go within. If you truly want to be natural, you have one life. You choose what you want, you be that, and be confident in it. I’ve decided to do just that.