My Curly hair.
This hair I have on my head has always been something I’ve had to be conscious about.
Growing up my soft curls where a marker of my “difference”.
Mum had poker straight black hair. That turned the colours of salt and pepper. As we both grow older.
Dad had his hair very short. His was very curly, but it wasn’t like mine.
My curls. When I dared to let them show. Reminded me of the beautiful blend of my parents union.
It would be a lie to say that this difference. Didn’t cause me much discord.
My experience with my hair, wasn’t like the struggles I saw on TV. From people like me.
I didn’t grow up in an environment with more than a handful of White folks.
I definitely won’t deny that “White approximation beauty standards” were present.
However I remember my struggles with the knots in & on my head relating to wanting to hide my “difference”.
My shade of brown. Allowed me to move between identities in and around town.
With my hair cut short.
I could mask a part of me that gave away my secret.
It raised questions. Many students at the school would touch and play with my hair and ask me questions about it.
I would stare at the mirror in the mornings and comb my hair obsessively.
Trying to tame my mane into some sort of shape that wasn’t too “disruptive”.
I just didn’t want to bring attention to it, you know?
I remember going to the barber shop.
My Dad would drop me off just opposite my school early on a Saturday morning.
The store there had hair dressers from West Africa and the walls where covered in pictures and hair extensions…
“Dark and Lovely”
Long lengths of synthetic hair. Some of it looked like real hair.. But I wasn’t sure.
I remember thinking that it was odd. But I was terrified to ask a question.
It seemed like something so obvious and normal that I should know. And should understand.
But I didn’t.
I would always sit quietly.
Even when I was on the seat with the barber waving a buzzer menacingly above my head.
I hated cutting my hair!
No matter how we cut it. It never turned out how I wanted it to.
I remember when I first heard about the relaxer.
There was a older lady with her head leaning back into the sink.
They where massaging her hair with something like shampoo. And when they finished they would say..
“Call me when it burns”
I remember peeking over the stack of Cosmopolitan magazines I was pretending to read.
Trying to get information about what on Earth they meant.
Imagining what my hair would look like if I did it.
“Mum wouldn’t like that” I thought to myself.
When I would arrive home after my haircut. Feeling self conscious and like I’d lost about half a kilogram of weight off my head. My mother would invariably look at me up and down. Ask me to turn all the way around.
“You look like a sheep that’s been sheared with a good pair of clippers” she giggled.
I would sulk off somewhere after a half hearted protest.
To be honest. They made me feel better. I don’t know why.. But they did.
My sister’s hair.
Was so beautiful. Is so beautiful.
Her curls. Where always softer and larger than mine.
Hers formed like a mane over her head. And I remember feeling a little jealous.
But I also knew that she felt pressure. I can’t think of anyone around us who had hair like hers.
She always wanted to straighten her hair.
She would beg my mother for hair irons. And would try to negotiate on Salon trips to get it straightened.
I found this odd.
Everyone loved her hair.
My mother would often refuse. I remember her saying
“Why do you want to look like someone else?”
I kind of understood why she felt this way. But I never told her that.
Instead I would scold her. Shout at her. And almost command her.
To keep it curly.
I really regret that. I think that with my difficulties with my hair and how it connected with identity I would take out my frustrations on her. I felt I was entitled to.
If I admonished her decision to straighten her hair.
I’d make it simpler for myself to hide. The feelings I had about my own hair. Locked inside.
I did great damage there. There’s no doubt I’m guilty.
This was a conversation that happened all the time at school. I had Good hair. The way it looked was preferred to many of my black peers. I knew this. And I felt uncomfortable about it. Teachers, family and peers would fawn over my curls when I would let it grow for a bit. I never understood why. Whenever I’d look in the mirror all I would see was something disorganized. Wild and untidy.
It took a long time for me to start appreciating it. I once dated a young woman who loved my hair when I allowed it to curl. She would play with it and often joke..
“If you cut it I will leave you” while she laughed.
That experience really helped me start to look at myself in a more healthy way.
I didn’t feel like hiding away what made me different. I started to understand that my difference made me beautiful..
I knew that what was beautiful was always political. I began to find new words to understand feelings I had for as long as I can remember.
I felt uncomfortable because many had pointed out that my hair was beautiful because it wasn’t like black hair. Nappy. Or whatever awful word they use.
I knew that I didn’t feel beautiful. Or handsome. Because the Indian men who I admired and aspired to be.
Had straight “enough” hair. And in a community who’s entry was so safe guarded and protected.
An Afro. Like mine. Wouldn’t go undetected.
I try.. I try to fight back against the nagging feeling in my head when I comb my hair in the morning.
I shut up when my sister wants to change her hair.
I try my best to grow and to love my very own..