Last Saturday I had the most whimsical experience. As I walked through Brooklyn’s Prospect Park it felt like another world. I had walked into a mecca of afros, curls, kinks, waves, braids and locs. Men, women, and children predominantly of color were enjoying music, dancing, playing games, picnicking, shopping and hanging out at vendor booths with their favorite natural haircare brands. Everyone celebrating and embracing their natural hair.
This was my first time at Curlfest and it was an incredibly enlightening experience. This event was never just about hair, it’s about addressing the stigma of what’s considered beautiful within the black community. A community, who for decades, felt the need to conform to Eurocentric standards of beauty in order to be “accepted”. Straight hair was in and considered attractive while natural curly hair wasn’t. Hair wasn’t just hair. It’s was your identity and ultimately your social status.
Many black women would chemically straighten their hair, known as relaxing, to achieve bone straight hair. The relaxer did exactly what it implies, relax the curl pattern allowing it to become straight by breaking down the and significantly damaging the protein bonds that give our hair its natural curl and texture. With the main ingredient being a strong alkali such as sodium hydroxide, there were risks of chemical burns, alopecia and other scalp related issues. Nevertheless, black women still sought to have their hair chemically straightened, even little girls as young as three or four years old were subjected to having their hair chemically straightened!
I will definitely raise both hands and admit that I was one of these young women. I literally begged my mother–whose hair was relaxed at the time–for years, pleading with her to allow me to get a relaxer. She finally gave in and approved for me to get a relaxer once I turned sixteen. All my friends had their hair relaxed but my hair was always braided up or out in a fro. I specifically recall wearing my hair out in a fro my freshman year of high school when a classmate laughed and referred to my hair as “pubes”–yes, pubic hair! I was extremely insecure and not yet allowed to get a relaxer, I sought refuge with the temporary fix of my trusty flat iron.
However, by about 2010 to 2011 there was a shift in the paradigm of black hair and beauty. Women began chopping off their relaxed hair, known as the “big chop”, to start fresh in growing out their natural hair. Many of them never having been acquainted with what their natural hair texture is like. By this time, I was near my sixteenth birthday so guess what I decided to do…I decided to NOT relax my hair and to remain natural! It was electrifying to see women who looked like me embrace their natural beauty and I was grateful toward my mother for not allowing me to destroy mine.
My hair is such a part of me and my journey as a young black woman. One of insecurities, lessons learned and pride. I proudly embrace every kink, curl & coil and wouldn’t have it any other way. I love ALL of me…the unaltered, natural me.