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By Raven Carter

I like to say I’m a pretty confident person. I never turn down a challenge to belt out my favorite Mariah Carey song in front of any random crowd — despite the fact that I’m no singer. I truly believe that I don’t need any validation from anyone except myself. But the ultimate test of my confidence happens every time I take out my long, 22-inch Marley hair Senegalese twists.

Recently, I took my Senegalese twists out to give my real hair a break from extensions and rock my natural for a while. My real hair in its natural state is a short, kinky, coarse teeny weenie afro (TWA).

I escape from my TWA every summer so that I can give myself at least two full months of low hair maintenance — and because I absolutely love the way I look with Senegalese twists. I work Instagram overtime flexing with my twists from at least July-August.

But every year I begin to cringe around the first two weeks in September because I know it’s time for my twists to come out. I dread taking them out because I have to go back to maintaining and styling my hair every day. But a deeper fear is appearing less attractive without my twists.

This September the removal of the twists ritual was no different.  The twists came out, the TWA came back, and my insecurity was exposed.

Looking in the mirror for the first time after taking out my twists is always a bit jarring for me. I get so used to seeing myself with long fake hair and there’s a drastic difference in my appearance without it. It always takes a minute for me to adjust, but eventually I do so by borrowing the words of India Arie and proclaiming “I am not my hair”to reaffirm that my hair does not define me and nothing is lost now that I’m rocking my short natural.

But could my confidence remain sky high once outside my apartment and no longer singing India’s words to myself in the mirror? Recently, I was put to the test in three different situations.

The first test came not even a full hour after being “OK” with my TWA. I was on the phone with my mother as she explained her own natural hair woes. She said she could only wear her natural hair out by also wearing makeup. Her statement, and I quote, was, “I must wear makeup if I’m going to have my short natural hair so I’ll look cute!” “So I’ll look cute” is still ringing in my ears. Although my mother was expressing her own thoughts and feelings about wearing her natural hair I couldn’t help but feel disappointment in her statement. Why does she need makeup to feel attractive if she wears her natural hair? Why are we self-conscious about our looks when it’s stripped of everything that’s superficial? I shook off my mother’s comments and continued on with my day still styled in my TWA.

The following day my second test came while I having lunch at a Greek spot that I frequent. One of the waiters who knows me as a regular came over and asked “What did you do to your hair?” I responded, “I took it out.” He then asked in a very curious way, “Why?” It wasn’t asked in a malicious tone, but more of a why-would-you-do-that, you-looked-better-the-other-way, tone.  At that point I took a deep breath and realized this waiter’s perception of beauty is not my own, and I shouldn’t feel less beautiful just because my natural hair without any form of extensions appears less attractive to someone else.

My third test came on Sunday when my TWA had been on display for the whole week. Despite the first two tests, I had made it through week one and by this day had completely forgotten that I made a major change in my hairstyle a few days earlier. Church service had just let out and one of my favorite older parishioners came up to greet me with a hug and kiss. She then said, “Every time I see you, you always have a different hairstyle. What’s up with this nappy style?” I responded, “Are you calling my hair nappy?!” Yes, I was about to go there with her before realizing where I was — church. I also remembered she was a 76-year-old woman and, up until now, I liked her a lot. I mean, I still like her but she reminded of a few things: (1)comments are going to constantly come at me, (2) people will always have opinions, and (3) I’m the only one who can allow these comments and opinions to affect me or not.

I truly believe it takes a lot of mental strength and self-encouragement to walk comfortably in your own skin. If I always look outside for validation I just might not get it, especially when it comes to matters of my hair. As I’ve grown I’ve found the value in true self-love, acceptance, appreciation and these things have made all the difference in fortifying my confidence as a Black woman. My good friend Decota Letman put it best, “For Black women hair has always been and ongoing issue…there will always be a backlash [to fit in with the world’s definition of beauty]. Braids, weave, crochet, faux locs, or whatever the hell you choose to rock…rock it and be confident when doing so”. Amen Sista! Amen!

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