I Am Not My Hair


I’m having an India.Arie, Lauryn Hill evening. I get in these moods sometimes. More often I have a Carlos Ponce, Olga Tañón night. But not tonight. Tonight is about the sisters (the Colored Girls). And rightfully, ironically so. I’m acknowledging an awarenss of my internal hair struggle tonight. It never really goes away. I just have learned to ignore it. Like last night when I read the first paragraph of an article about natural hair on Eat-Mangoes-Nekkid. I stopped after the first paragraph because I didn’t want to deal with the internal, eternal battle being fought on the battle ground in the depths of my soul. The prize? Identity. I’ve concluded that identity sums up all of the little battles being fought inside of me. Identity is the most plural singular word there is. There are so many little tiny, tiny pieces that make up identity and tonight I’m wrestling over the tiny little hair piece.


I love black women with natural hair. I think it is absolutely gorgeous. I don’t think I’ve seen a single sister who has embraced her natural kink and thought anything other than, wow, that is really pretty. I think it makes such a statement. It says I am beautiful. I accept myself just as I am. I am proud of my heritage. I am strong enough to resist the pressures of conformity, of unbalanced normative beauty, of what someone else wants me to be. I am so proud of these sisters. And a little envious because I just can’t bring myself to give up the relaxers. Not yet.


I’ve thought about this for years. My best effort to begin to embrace my natural kink was to stop relaxing my hair perfectly straight so that I still have the option of letting it air dry and wearing it in poofy ringlets. It took me weeks to actually wear this style in public. The ex used to laugh at me. He thought it looked ridiculous. A guy friend recently asked me if I went to work like, “THAT!” But I get mixed reviews. The most favorable come from other women of color and white women. I haven’t really gotten any feed back from non-black men, but the brother acceptance has been slim to none. Well, except for my actual brother. He likes it, I think. Yeah, he encourages it. I’ve never worn braids except for the corn rows with beads when I was little and for the most part I go between short Halle-style dos and the shoulder length hair I have now. (I will chop my hair off in a heartbeat.)


But it is so hard to make a decision to go natural. I hate to admit that I love my hair when it’s silky and straight and long, but I do. I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong that I feel that way, but I feel guilty about it. And, as much as I love it straight I would love to be natural but I am terrified. I’m scared, quite frankly, that I’ll be ugly, that I won’t know how to style it and that I’ll regret it and end up “selling out” and relaxing it again. I hate that I think of going back to relaxers as selling out. And, what I’m most afraid of is that it will clash with who I am. But then that’s funny because this is all about trying to figure out who the hell that is. I’m not all that afro-centric, so I think natural hair would look weird on me. It would look like a misfit. I don’t have any black art in my house…OK, I don’t have any art in my house at all…but if I had any it would be a charcoal drawing of Morris Chestnut naked from the tippy top of his pubic hair upward…face looking down and away…I’d want the focus to be on the artfully sculptured bod. That’s black art, right? Seriously, the art would be bodies. Naked bodies. I don’t think there is much else more beautiful than the human form. I am soooo off topic…

I’m a black girl from DC who speaks Spanish as well as English, loves Latin music and food, different cultures and peoples. I have a wander lust to beat all. America’s too small and closed for me often. I love things African, but I love things Japanese too. I think that much of appreciating other peoples begins with (or at the very least requires at some point) an appreciation of self. And I struggle with what my hair means in my efforts to appreciate myself.

I touched up my relaxer tonight. Then I blew it out straight, flat-ironed it, and now it’s tightly wrapped and tied down so that it will be silky and straight in the morning. [Sigh].

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21 thoughts on “I Am Not My Hair

  1. For me, it’s been environment. As long as I worked in the non-profit social service industry in D.C. with folks who were misfits anyway, I was very comfortable with my short, Jada Pinkett bald cut. I’m told it was most beautiful when I bleached it and let the natural hues come through.

    The minute I started working in corporate America, I felt unprofessional in my short, spunky natural cut. I started having my very talented hairdresser hot-curl it into straighter styles to feel more professional. And I’ve steadily let it grow these six corporate years. Once or twice I wore it in twists, but the reaction was odd, so I stopped.

    I, too, feel a bit guilty that I don’t feel as professional in my ethnic hair. At the same time, if I were naturally a more stylish person, I think I could hook up a natural hair style, because I’ve seen it done on other sisters.

  2. @ Katrice

    What could be more natural than wash and go? Um professionalism in the dictionary is a picture of you. I only wish I had your decication and spunk.

    @ Lexi

    Lady, one of the things I love the most about you is your ongoing celebration of humanity; bodies, food, music, cultures and customs we’ve discussed them all. I think you have a great appreciation for others. So where am I going with this?? (7 hour trip)

    I keep bringing you back to this place because there is something in you and others that needs to die. This is not much different than blogging for others, Dressing for others or living for others approval.

    When is one most beautiful?
    When you are completely, unashamedly without apology – you.
    Naked – Weave, braids, natural, wet and go, bald and locked, I’ve seen it all on women I have liked and disliked all at one point. Never, not once have I ever said to myself she’s not black enough, she’s trying to be black. Just do you. I hate it when we write blog enrties in response but I’m afraid I have to post this poem. Lexi as you know, I await the day of your total healing and restorationm until then I celebrate with you the outstanding job you are doing at life…
    I encourage you to live life, inside out…

    I want you naked

    Take it off
    I want you exposed
    I want to see what nobody knows.

    Take it off
    Right in front of me
    Oh no! Leave the light on please.

    Take it off
    Do the strip tease
    You think it’ll bring me! To my knees!

    Take it off
    Right here, today
    If not, you can go your way.

    Why ?

    I’m tired of pretending
    Of lies never ending
    Tired of second guessing
    Excuses and P-M-Sing
    Tired of the weave
    Nappy makes me just as pleased
    Tired of fake lips
    The real ones make me sip…

    The Honey

    I hope you understand
    I’m a super fine man
    This I know is true
    And I’m trying to show you.
    SEX!? Woman please
    I can get that with ease
    You misunderstand
    This exceptional man
    I want all of you
    To know you through and through
    I’m not the other man
    I’ll never raise my hand
    But if you let me in
    The real fun can begin
    I can reach your spot
    Brings chills to the top
    Make who feel love that’s true
    Be loving all of you
    Get you to relax
    And make your life climax

    Just get naked

    by Kwesi williams
    copyright 2003

    I wrote this to try and get my sisters (all) to see that beauty is about being who you are, doing what you feel, dressing the way you enjoy – if you have been influenced by many cultures what’s wrong with that? Geesh – loving self can be so darn coplicated at times…

  3. @ katrice

    I agree. I’ve seen natural styles that are absolutely fly. Now, can I do it myself? I guess I’d learn just like with anything else. I’ve been relaxing my own hair since 14, so I’d figure it out.

    @ kwesi

    Awwww. Thank you. (and check you out commenting on my blog like you own the damn thing, ROFL!!)

    I love the poem. I have a dilemma with the doing it for others piece though. As much as I don’t want to keep the relaxer for the sake of others, I don’t want to get rid of it for others either.

    I think I do since this SHOULD about natural hair and that’s probably where the biggest problem comes from for me. That’s what I’m trying to figure out: How much does my hair reflect how true I’m being to myself?

    I don’t know the answer to that and since I don’t know it, no one else knows it for me.

    You know how you guys sometimes say, “that’s so Lexi”? I want to sweep all of those into a little pile and examine them. I feel so complex and sometimes it’s hard for me to see the whole picture. I see little fragmented pieces at a time. Or I forget on piece while I’m focussing on another.

    I’ll figure me out one day…I hope.

    Thanks for this. Blog in my comments anytime, dude.

  4. @ Kwesi

    Whooo! Chills! You are absolutely right. What better (most honest) place to be than in the comfort of your own, naked skin, nothing added, and certainly nothing taken away. That’s who you are.

    @ Lexi

    We spend a lot of time trying to satisfy other people with the way we look. Our clothes have to be right, our hair, the way we move, talk…etc. But one thing is for sure…just do you. I could probably write a freaking huge book about how to be yourself (you can ask me what i like to do with clothes later…or i’ll blog about it ^_^). It doesn’t matter what race you are or how you wear your hair. You shouldn’t be made to feel guilty if you want to keep silky straight hair. Heck! I don’t! I’ll even wait 4-6 months before I relax my hair again if that’s how i feel. Just because you like certain things on you, doesn’t mean that you are not proud to be you. I would like to say that i identify with myself very well…
    Me: you like that right?
    Myself: yes, no, maybe so
    I: well, that’s good enough for me!

    If you want to try it…then do so. Fortunately, hair keeps growing, if you don’t like it…try something else. I have actually thought about wearing my hair natural, but I’m very picky about how it would be done. I recent learned about sisterlocks. You can get them done whether you hair is already natural or relaxed, but you have to regularly go to a licensed professional to keep up the look. I’ve seen some really good styles and if i actually decide to go natural, i would probably do that.
    Here’s the URL if you would like to take a look: http://sisterlocks.com/index.html

  5. lex, wow, wow! i appreciate your disclosure and candor. also thanks for reminding me that i need to get more butt naked pieces for my wittle apartment. 🙂 I LOVE your post

    it saddens me when i hear a black woman essentially say “straight” hair is “more professional” (acceptable-attractive) for obvious reasons. this is why i quit corporate america because it and many of the black people that work in it, support every thing that I am NOT, and could never be, without conforming and compromising who I AM.

    thanks so much for this post.

  6. side: i’d like to get some japanese art.

    i recognize that we are all unfolding and discovering our truth (whatever that is) in our own perfect ways. there’s no right/wrong…it’s all delicious in some way. again thanks!!

  7. @ Gailla

    Thanks for the site. This is cool. I’m printing the info packet out now. LOL.

    And, you know, for me the “just be yourself” thing is a little more complicated than most people make it sound. You know how people so easily say, “well that’s just me” with no real understanding of why they do the things they do. That’s just unacceptable for me anymore (no matter for anybody else). I’m not comfortable with accepting something as “me” until I have fully explored my motivations. This post is really helping in this particular area. Muchisimas Gracias! [Bows geisha style]

  8. @ Kili

    No. Thank YOU, again. It was your post that made me realize how desperately I was running away and hiding from this issue.

    And, I feel you on the issue of what makes up professional. It’s funny, I wore my hair back in a nice conservative bun when I interviewed for my current job, but on the first day of work I came in with it air dried and wild. I was like, let me break them in early. I’m glad I did it. I feel like I created some space for myself here.

    Please share your butt naked pieces when you get them. I need to go shopping.

  9. You know, Lex, I realize that for me this goes beyond style. My hair is nearly impossible to straighten, even with a perm. So I often do go natural, which for me, is wash-and-wear curly. The only question is, do I tame the mane with a headband or do I put it in a ponytail?

    And my hesitation to go ethnic at work is probably also tied to the fact that I feel that in order to really do it up, I’ll need to also put on make-up and wear nicer clothes so I can be really sharp. I’m not consistent with make-up and I don’t own enough power suits for this yet.

    Still figuring it out… I still haven’t found the style that is me.

  10. I think natural black hair looks beautiful, so soft and touchable, yet elegant and very female. I’ve never considered whether it’s “professional” because that’s more a matter of clothing and self-confidence.

    My hair is usually long and always has its own agenda. I let it do what it wants and in return, it doesn’t strangle me in my sleep. Maybe I “should” cut it short because I’m older, but I’m still me, at any age. I have more important things to worry about than being judged by my hair.

    And I think that YOU will look beautiful no matter what, so experiment or not, but don’t be guided by what anyone else might think.

  11. @ Kwesi

    Are you trying to hijack my blog like Laurie did DD??

    @ Heart

    Thank you so much. And thanks for commenting. I was scared my non-black blog pals felt like they weren’t welcome commenting on these issues. I hope I’m welcoming.

  12. @ heart “I let it do what it wants and in return, it doesn’t strangle me in my sleep.” You are so funny, thanks for coming by.

    @ Katrice “I’ll need to also put on make-up and wear nicer clothes so I can be really sharp.” You are really sharp, damn girl you are the, oh oh, you are really really beautiful.

    @ Lex, um, umm, not your blog, just your comments section! [grins like the devil]

  13. Well, Lex, it’s true. I’m not black, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

    I commented because like you, I’m a woman, and we all have issues with our appearance. And I truly believe that women of any ethnicity look beautiful if they believe in themselves.

    Most of my black women friends have gone the relaxer route. I’ve wondered if this was a beauty standard imposed by whites, and hoped it wasn’t.

    Does hair really have to represent ones ideas about herself, her race, her profession, her lifestyle? Can’t it just be hair, long or short, straight or curly? I apologize if this is a stupid question.

  14. @ Kwesi

    Back off!! Remember: I know where YOU live!!

    @ Heart

    It’s not a stupid question at all. In fact that is exactly what I am asking myself. I guess not so much if hair HAS to represent what a woman feels about herself, but moreso, for me if it DOES. I know that there’s a struggle there. I can’t say that the pressure comes from any one group in particular, but it does seem to be the pressure of the “preferred”.

    I’ve relaxed my hair for 26 years because at age 7 my aunt decided that my hair was too hard to manage. Too some degree I may have internalized that to mean either “not worth the effort” or “substandard”, the standard being relaxed manageable hair. No white women involved in that process.

    Until the last couple of years it’s just been a given, this is just what you do. But with so many more blacks embracing natural hair, I wonder if I’m motivated to maintain the status quo because of some message I’ve internalized that I should now question.

    But to answer your question simply, yes, I think it is quite an issue of significance for many in our community.

  15. Lexi,

    Thank you for your patient and well-considered response. Your story about your aunt reminded me of a white friend I had who adopted two black children. (She had two biological ones, too.) The older adopted child was a girl, and my friend was stopped in the street by two black women who told her that little Pam’s hair was a mess and she needed to learn how to take care of it.

    My friend was grateful for the intervention and went home with them, where they spent hours teaching her how to nourish and style Pam’s hair. There was no judgement or reproach – they realized that she loved her daughter but needed help, and they gave it.

    I totally get your comment that things are how they are even if they shouldn’t be. I know you didn’t ask for my opinion, but that’s never stopped me before.(!) If you love the way it looks and feels relaxed, then maybe that’s how it should be right now. (I read the post in Eat-Mangoes-Nekkid, and if it started to thin, you could avoid chemicals then.)

    If wearing natural hair is considered a statement of pride, I guess the issue becomes which aspect of yourself most represents who you are, never easy as we’re all members of many different groups. For this reason, also, you really can’t go wrong no matter which facet of yourself you choose to emphasize.

  16. Well, I’ve worn my hair in every single style except for weave. It’s been braided, worn it Halle Berry-like short, had it bald like Jada Pinkett, had it natural twisted (short and long version) and longish relaxed, tried different colours, curls, pressed, you name it. I’m now seriously considering locks.

    Don’t worry about it being ‘black’ enough. You’re black, nothing can change that, and certainly not your hairstyle.

    If you feel like lopping the whole thing off and going natural, I’m sure you’ll look beautiful. If you decide to continue with it straight, it’s not selling out.

    My problem is I want to do everything right now. I want to go locks and want to relax, wish I had two heads where I could change it like clothes 🙂

    But do whatever pleases you girl. So go for the natural look. Or not.

  17. Pingback: Ready to Go Natural « On Second Thought…

  18. This is so late,

    I’d love to see what the status with your hair now. If I had any advice for you it would be this. You don’t have to be particularly Afro-centric to wear your hair nautral. What is Afro-centric anyway, you are a black women, or a women with African Heritage, so wear you hair how you want.

    Also don’t feel bad about relaxing it either, I recently caved and flat ironed mine. It back to curly now, but it’s nice to know that I have the option.

  19. It seems to on this very close boundary issue – there is a lot of aviodence and denial
    aviodence of the fact that it was the white europeans – our former and not so former enslavers who forced us to hate this and any other aspect of ourselves that differed from them.
    denial of the fact that this attribute – the head hair – is the one attribute that whites and others have that some of us don’t and with a little lying and coercion we can be maded to believe were missing something.

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