In 2006, Soul artist India.Arie released a song called “I Am Not My Hair”. I. LOVE. THIS. SONG. Check out some of the lyrics:
“I am not my hair,
I am not this skin.
I am not your expectations, no…
I am not my hair,
I am not this skin.
I am the soul that lives within.”
There were times when I felt the need to sing this song at the top of my lungs, to remind myself that I am more than what you see when you see me. My hair, my skin…they mean something, many things that I have never asked for them to mean. But beyond and beneath the exterior package is a real person who defies the simple definitions and stereotypes given to me. And so, this refrain is my soul song, proclaiming that “God don’t make no junk”. I am not an accident, and who and what I am is absolutely okay.
Hair – oh yes. The Black woman and her hair. That relationship is special. I had what was termed “good hair” – which basically means my hair was relatively easy to straighten. Or code for, “your hair is almost as good as White hair”. This, combined with my fair complexion was the bane of my existence. “A shy, nerdy Black chick with fair skin and “good hair” must be stuck up, must think she’s better than everyone else. And she ‘talks White’ too? Uh-huh, she think she White…”.
No, I think I’m just who God created me to be. No better, no worse. Just – me. But back then, I didn’t see it that way, couldn’t see it that way. Shame dwelled where contentment should have lived. And so, when this song hit the airwaves, it struck a chord in me (pardon the pun) that still rings in my heart. It gave voice to something I could feel but not articulate. And it made it okay for me to be confident in everything about who I am.
Fast forward 10 years to the summer of 2016. That was the point at which I had reached the end of my patience with my hair. For most of my life, I had straightened my hair. Some of my earliest memories are of me sitting in front of a stove on a little wooden stool, while my mom worked through my hair with a pressing comb. As I got older, she transitioned to chemicals to straighten my hair. The natural coils were forced into submission by these chemicals. This was just the thing to do. Most of the Black girls and women I knew were either pressing or “relaxing” their hair.
But years of such abuse left my hair a hot mess. My hair was thinning, breaking off, and looking dry and lifeless. Something had to give. After years of debating back and forth, I decided to take the plunge. I went to my friend Valena’s home and let her do the “big chop”. All the processed hair fell to the floor and I was left with a little baby fro (picture on the left above) to start my journey. A journey into loving my hair just the way it was meant to be.
Loving My ‘Fro
I love my ‘fro! It is fantastic! My hair loves it too – I have not put heat or chemicals on my hair in two years, and my hair is thanking me for it. Breakage and thinning are no longer a problem, and it is growing like crazy! It has taken me most of these two years to really get to know my hair and how to treat it properly. I’ve learned that I have at least two different hair textures, which makes the curl pattern tighter in the back than in the front. I’ve spent crazy amounts of money trying to find the right mix of products that keep my hair and scalp healthy and keep my curls poppin’.
I have also developed a renewed and deepened respect for my mom and the drama and travail she went through taking care of this stuff when I was young. She should be sainted.
I’ve been asked a number of times if my decision to rock the natural is a political statement. It’s kind of sad to me that my hairstyle preferences must carry so much weight and meaning. It’s just hair! But it is a big deal. Back in the day, natural hair was looked down upon. Even with my so-called “good” hair, the idea of keeping my hair natural bothered my grandma so much she went behind my mother’s back and straightened my hair when I was two. Proper young ladies didn’t wear their hair like that, she said. She was the product of her generation, and many generations before her being told that what was intrinsic to our African heritage was ugly or wrong. Practically uncivilized.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the fro was a sign of Black pride. The image burned in my brain of Angela Davis with her beautiful coily crown and raised fist makes me stand a little taller. Yes, I do believe that ‘fro made a statement – I will not bow down to European standards of beauty or femininity. No doubt a political statement. No doubt a statement of identity, in a kind of pride in identity that makes no apologies for it.
My initial desires were not political in the least. They were practical – I didn’t want to be bald-headed! But as I have journeyed through this process, it has morphed into something more for me. Not a political statement so much as a spiritual one. Yes, a spiritual one.
I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God knit me in my mother’s womb. He gave me my physical features, my skin, my hair. Yes, even my hair. He knows how many hairs are on my head. And He knows how He created my hair. It’s no mistake. It’s not a defect. It is what it is. In all its glory. For His glory.
My hair, my skin, my nose, my eyes, my forehead – my being carries the history of my family. There is beauty, toil, pain, joy, sorrow, violence, love, hate, bondage, and freedom written into the coils on my head and the hue of my skin. All that my ancestors lived and died for lives on in me. I am not ashamed of these things. That history combined with my experiences are knit together just as truly as my physical being and form the foundation of my life as “ministry”, my life as a witness and testimony to God’s infinite patience, grace, and love. I will not live out who I am supposed to be in my generation until I claim all that transpired in the generations before me.
So, I am (not) my hair. I am (not) my skin. The soul that lives in me is shaped by the way God made me. And I will not be ashamed of it anymore.