Telling my daughter the history behind her hair
‘Mama whenever I leave hair loose people always want to touch my hair. Sometimes it irritates me. ‘said my 8-year-old daughter one day after returning from school.
– And you know why? I asked.
“They say it’s out of curiosity.” But I do not understand this curiosity. My hair is just hair, just like any other. She answered.
– You’re right, daughter. Your hair is just hair like any other, but there is a history behind your hair. That history is the cause why people are not used to seeing people with curly hair and loose like yours and when they see it, they get curious, they want to touch it, to know what it feels like. If you do not want them to touch your hair just tell them gently that you don’t’ want them touching your hair and that it makes you uncomfortable, all right?
“Okay,” she replied.
“But let me tell you the history behind your hair.” For many and many years our hair was seen as ugly, a black women’s hair was seen as bad hair or ugly, and it was considered unacceptable to go on the street with her hair natural like we do it nowadays.
Have you ever heard of slavery? Yes, at school, she said.
Well, during slavery black women were forced to cover their hair with a handkerchief or wear it tied up. Although after slavery, people were free to do as they wanted, they behavior was conditioned by the rules imposed upon them during slavery and the colonization period afterward. Although they were free after those periods, they did know better, so covering or tying up of the hair still remained a social “obligation.”
How come? She asked.
Back then, job opportunities were scarce for blacks in general, and twice as harder for a black woman, especially if she wore her hair natural, which was seen as a statement against the beauty standards of that time. So they had to comply with those standards, they were in a sense forced to wear straight, to increase their chances of being hired. Furthermore, the concept of beauty was limited to women with straight, hair that grew down. Ours did not fit into this concept.
How ridiculous: she said with her big eyes wide open full of admiration.
Yes, my child. That made the use of hair straighteners and wigs a “necessity” for a lot of black women. They felt obliged to wear those things to be socially accepted. And that’s why as momma was growing up, she never saw other black women around her, or on TV, or on magazines showing their beautiful kinky hair.
But that is not all. Over time, after so much social rejection, unconsciously many black women began to reject their own hair because of the stigma a touched to it. So instead, they straighten their hair, wore wig or braids. Over the time, they accepted their new reality and stopped doing it out of necessity and it became a way of life. And that’s why if you notice the old photos of momma you won’t see me wearing my hair natural like nowadays. I started straightening my hair when I was 15 years old.
Did not you like your hair, too, Mom? She asked.
When I started using hair straighteners, I did it because it was what everybody else was doing it back then, it was “normal” to do it. At certain age girls just started doing it.
Hair straighteners are chemicals that turn curly hair into straight hair. After that, I started using wigs and that went on for a while and during that time I just couldn’t imagine myself with my natural hair. Truth be told, I think that from my fifteen till recently, and during all that time I don’t remember seeing the texture of my own hair. Because all black women, around me, or on TV, or on magazines did the same, it was for me the most natural thing in the world to do. At that time I did not see it as a problem, or as “unconscious exhibition of inferiority complex”.
But fortunately, despite the social pressure, there were some black women who consciously did not conform to that social standards. They formed movements to fight against the established idea of one beauty standard, and that everything else should comply with that idea of beauty.
Due to limited availability of communication’s platforms back then, these movements did not have such a large worldwide impact, in order to really influence a large base of women around the world to think differently in order to change their perception of beauty and ultimately their behavior.
Luckily with the coming of social networks, things changed dramatically. These new movements were now able to reach large numbers of black women across the world, through social media platform like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, snapchat and video sharing platforms like YouTube and blogging.
These movements not only showed us through continuous engagement how beautiful our hair is. But how much our hair is part of our identity, of who we are and that we should all be proud of it. It was through one of these movements that momma also became aware and in 2012 cut off her hair and started wearing her hair natural. And today Momma is proud to see that over time more black women are becoming aware and proud of their natural beauty. Nowadays you can see a lot famous black women both on television and in magazines showing their natural hair.
Do you remember, Maria Borges, the international top model?
“Umm, I don’t know her.
“Well, maybe you don’t remember her, but momma already told you about her. Maria Borges is one of the great international models of the moment. She is a world-renowned Fashion icon, has appeared in covers of major fashion magazines such as Vogue and she represents major fashion brands and beauty products. And you know what she did? Maria Borges was the first black female top model to walk a Vitoria Secret fashion show wearing her hair natural, thus breaking with any previous concept of beauty. With this, Maria Borges broke down barriers, not only for her but also for every black woman who wants to be a model. And you know what? Maria Borges is Angolan, born and raised.
– Do you know why daughter? Hmmm, she murmured.
Because beauty has no concept. We are all beautiful in different ways. When God created the world, he created different animals, different trees, plants, flowers and created people in different colors and hair. Black, white, yellow or red, with straight, curly hair, we are all beautiful. In fact, this whole difference makes the world more beautiful and interesting. Have you ever imagined having a garden with only red roses?
“No, it would be very monotonous. She answered.
Surely, God thought the same thing when He created the world. Therefore we must know how to celebrate our beauty without doubting the beauty of others. Just as we should celebrate the beauty of others without questioning our own beauty. We are all beautiful and perfect the way we were made. Never let someone tell you otherwise or make you think otherwise, neither over yourself nor somebody else.
One important difference, we all need to understand is that wigs can be worn as an accessory, there is nothing wrong with that. But it cannot be worn because we feel socially pressured to do so, neither because feel uncomfortable or ugly with our own hair nor because we have to comply to a certain beauty standard, to an extent that it feels obliged to wear an accessory 365 day of the year, that will be equally wrong.
Would you imagine someone doing that all year round?
“Hahaha, no. She laughed.