Before I start, I’m well aware that this blog is dedicated to social commentary on why race still matters in the 21st century… but I think hair is as much intertwined with race as anything else. So if you’re interested in reading about my musings and adventures with my natural hair… read on : )
I’ve been randomly having more conversations surrounding my hair with people. Mainly because I recently made some changes to my look. I went from wearing my hair natural all of the time to wearing it blown out/ pressed in loose curls; I also treated myself to blonde highlights in honor of my 25th birthday. Honestly, I’m not sure what brought my transformation on. It probably has to do with my hair getting a little longer= more maintenance= more time. Time is something I don’t have much of so with it being straight it’s easier to manage.
Some background on my hair: I got my first relaxer at 13 (I had to sneak and get it because my mom was against them). I maintained a perm until I was 21yrs old. I had my BC (Big Chop) where I cut off all of my relaxed hair in July of 2010 because I was moving to India and I wanted something low maintenance. Having a short curly fro in India was a strange experience amongst women who covet their hair, often define their beauty with it and seemingly all have long hair to their waists. I digress; I entered law school and just kept the natural hairstyles coming. Fast forward to today and I’m 3yrs natural and my hair is back to its pre-BC length.
I am very conscious of my look because of my daughter. I am her first example of what a woman is and how one should look/ present herself. I try to encourage and affirm her beauty and intellect daily. I don’t want to keep my hair straight all the time to signal that having straight hair is somehow better. As an aside, my daughter’s hair grows a little slower than my own. I also don’t want her to get caught up in long hair= better hair. I often wonder if I should cut it to show her that our hair is just that and not a definition of our beauty.
Another factor for me to consider as I make my hair choices is employment. I’m in my last year of law school and am officially seeking gainful permanent employment, so I have to go on interviews. From my own personal experience and from experiences shared by others; natural hair is typically frowned upon in corporate and firm settings. For many places it’s less ‘come as you are’ and more ‘can you fit into our environment?’ As African-Americans and women of color with naturally kinky/curly hair we feel implicit pressure to straighten our hair to fit in with society’s norms. When does that stop? I’ve even compromised when I was more against straightening my hair for interviews. I would tie my hair back in a tight bun for interviews so I was a neat as possible. I’m guessing I looked trustworthy and less bohemian.
My hair is even a factor as I date. Recently, someone who was interested in dating me asked me if my hair was curly when I wet it. Despite the fact that how my hair curls have nothing to do with my values, personality, or our potential compatibility I answered the question with a soft yes. (For the record we never went out for a formal date.)
I wonder how much our hair says to others, to our children, to potential employers… and why women of color sometimes feel more compelled to comply with society’s norms and relax our curls.
Am I reading too much into this? Or does the way women wear their hair factor into #whyracestillmatters?
by Yasmine-Imani McMorrin