I Am Not My Hair
By Kachet Jackson-Henderson
I am not my hair. Well, I’m not. I’m just a chick trying to get a drink at the bar without having people asking me a bunch of questions about my hair.
I was recently asked to share thoughts on my hair for a local publication and what it meant to my identity. I was stunned. What does it mean to my identity? Well, I guess I never thought about it. The first thing that popped in my head was, “Well, I’m black. This is what my hair looks like unaltered.” It means that I’m me. But there is so much more to me than this elevated body of curls. It begged me to open up the conversation about natural hair.
Hair is such a big deal, no matter what your ethnic background is. In Black culture, hair is a woman’s crowning glory. When I really stop and think about it, hair has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a child, getting my hair done was an all day affair and not for a good reason. I dreaded the comb. With each tug, it felt as though my hair was literally being pulled out of my head. That was not the case. Have you ever heard the term tender headed? In short and according to Urban Dictionary, being tender headed means “having a sensitive scalp that is easily irritated during hair-styling procedures. Chiefly used among African-Americans, the term has existed for at least a century.” (If you have time, this blogger explains it very well). Well, that was my reality for about the first 10 years of my life and I kept counting down the days until I could finally get a relaxer – which my mother promised would happen when I went to middle school, and it did. At the time I would call it the best day of my life. No more three-twists and braids for me.
If you don’t know what a relaxer is, it’s a chemical treatment that “relaxes” the hair shaft by processing (aka breaking down) the protein structure. Glamorous, right? To me, and many – yes! Long, silky, straight hair that I could get wet without consequence. It was just like my friends. At that point in my life, enough about me stood out: being tall, lanky and gap toothed – I didn’t need anything else to give me character. I feel like these feelings are typical for an 11 year old, but it’s still a little frightening to know that I truly felt that way about myself. Luckily my confidence grew with each passing year but if my roots started to get too wavy, I was quick to get to the hairstylist to rectify the situation. Going through a multitude of hairstyles, I kept up the relaxer charade until I was less than a month away from my 24th birthday.
After a previous flame asked me what my hair looked like without chemicals or heat, and I couldn’t answer him, I felt so full of shame. There I was. A grown ass woman and I didn’t even know what I looked like. No one ever asked me that before, and I immediately thought that I had to change that. Although I didn’t react immediately, it was something that kept popping up in my brain that I couldn’t let go, and one day I had enough. Like, literally enough. I chopped off all my hair in the bathroom. It took me an hour. I remember when I carefully placed a section of hair in between the scissor blades, closed my eyes, and CUT. And then I did it again. And again. And again, until there was a sink full of hair and barely any on my head. I didn’t tell my ex at the time, and when he came home from work and texted me to hop in the car to get some food, I acted like everything was normal, walked out with my new hair and sat in the car. We both were laughing and shocked, and he just kept saying, “It’s so short.” I remember I asked if I was ugly and he said no. And at that moment, that was good enough for me. To Taco Bell we went! Side note – Taco Bell makes every situation that much better.
When I made the decision to go natural, it was a complete 180 in my personal definition of beauty. I was worried about how I would be perceived, if the change would be too shocking or make people uncomfortable. See how I was worried about everyone else, and not myself? Once the dust from chopping off my hair settled, I felt like I became part of a movement, at a time where I was coming into my own as a woman. I needed that more than anything.
In case you’ve been under a rock for the past few years, there has been a flux in black women wearing their natural hair in its curly state, and it’s becoming more of the norm than not. You don’t see many women on TV, in movies, books, who wear natural hair. Just last year Tamron Hall wore her hair in its natural state on the Today Show, and the buzz lasted long after.
I’m not here to speak for all of the curly girls because there are a lot of us whether or not they wear it out or under a weave/in braids, but I will speak for the curly girls who literally can’t go to the grocery store without having someone stare at their hair with the most perplexed look on their face. What is it that makes people so uptight and awkward when it comes to hair – particularly coarse curly hair. Do the tightly coiled strands scare you? Do they excite you? Do they make me appear to be exotic? Because truly, I cannot speak another language and haven’t traveled abroad.
If I’m going to ask you to take anything away from what I wrote, it’s really to just be more aware of how someone experiences you when you are enthralled with their hair. Stop oogling – we’re not an attraction at the zoo. Stop touching our hair without asking. How would you feel if we invaded your personal space? I feel like I barely scratched the surface on the history of Black hair. If you’re really curious, Chris Rock’s movie Good Hair gives great insight as to what the situation really is. And while I took you through a range of my emotions, it is important to keep it in perspective and remember that at the end of the day, it is just hair. While I started off this post by saying I’m just a girl trying to get a drink at the bar without a bunch of questions, if you do ask me one, I have no problem answering… so long as you order me a Bulleit Rye and Ginger.