I love my hair, with all of its kinks, coils, and curls. Every strand made by me and my ancestors. I can’t remember if I always felt that way. Though my curiosity and fearlessness can explain my desire to experiment and explore everything my hair was capable of, I’m sure some of my hair styling options were influenced by family, friends, foes, society, television and magazines. I remember one Thanksgiving a friend of the family asked “What made you do that?”, referring to my new baby locs (1998). I said something like “I just felt like it”. She replied with “You were so pretty”. I knew then that I would wear my hair like that forever, lol. Why would being comfortable with and proud of what I was blessed with make me any less beautiful than before? Not to mention the fact that I was no longer putting harmful substances in my body through my scalp by trying to chemically alter the structure of my hair repetitively.
I use my hair as a form of self-expression. Always have. From rocking a fro, cornrows, beads, balls, bows and barrettes, to braids, bangs, ponytails, and asymmetric cuts. I can do as much or as little to it as I want.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane…
Baby Thump and her baby hair. Besides what I can see in pictures, I don’t have a recollection of anything my mother, grandmother’s or aunts did to or with my hair. My O’ma has shared with me, on more than one occasion, that I had the prettiest hair until my mother messed it up; “she was always messing with your hair”.
The first memory I have of my hair being done is from when I was 4 or 5. I remember being so I excited to get my hair pressed and curled. I loved the sound of hair grease sizzling and the curling irons being put into their mini ovens (don’t forget, I was 4). Being burned a few times didn’t scar me enough to dislike it until I was about 10 or 11 but my ears, forehead and nape never forgot. As soon as I was old enough, I told my O’ma that I wanted a “curl”, Wave Nouveau to be exact. And guess what I learned…that had the ability to burn my scalp also. I wore the curl from 4th grade to the 7th grade and I think the drip became more trouble than it was worth. By this time, I was ready for a permanent relaxer, and that shit burned too. A burn so deep that it made me not be able to control my body. I couldn’t sit still long enough, I had an urgent sensation to urinate, although it never relieved the pain. Going to the bathroom would buy me another 2 minutes…every second counted. It didn’t take long for me to realize perms weren’t for me. I enjoyed the shop culture but as I got older, I did not want to spend all day in the beauty salon when I could be doing other things. I still have that same philosophy today. I was not the teenager who always had her hair died, fried or laid to the side. Special occasions were just enough. That’s more than likely when I became more serious about taking care of my hair myself.
I stopped perming my hair when I found out I was pregnant with my first child. I wanted to only put things in and on my body that would benefit the development of my growing child. I continued to commit to a more natural and intimate relationship with my hair. I became more and more comfortable wearing my hair without altering it. I wasn’t even coloring it. I became the example that i wish I’d had growing up. Natural, to me, meant no chemicals.
and no conforming. I soon started my first set of locs (traditional) and never turned back. It’s been 23 years.
Natural began to mean, no chemicals or alterations. Natural was what I was. A decade later, I cut those locs off only to install Sisterlocks, and 11 years down the road I am back to my hair, the way it was born…in an afro.
Both of my parents had beautiful, bountiful fros. When I look at photographs I am in awe. Comparing the civil rights and black lives matter movements, we are afflicted with another version of the systemic racism and cultural oppression; 1970’s to 2020, my whole life.
Once upon a time, when African Kings and queens ruled their land freely, hair was spiritual and an energetic life force. Hair styles were reflective of religion, class, rights of passage, tribal affiliation, social status, skill and even fertility. Hair was worn with purpose; a purpose that slavery attempted to slaughter. Hair was the one thing that was still ours, still a source of pride and joy, still strong and demanding attention. According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, between 1525 and 1866, an estimated 12.5 million Africans were dragged, beaten, and stolen from their native land to be abused into not remembering, believing, or speaking the truth. That we are great, that we are ingenious, that we are brilliant, that we are resilient, that we possess powers specific to our people.
Many changes to our hair care rituals were direct results of self-care restrictions. That was done in order to try and break spirits and inject hatred. That evolved into using our hair to set unfair standards in regard to education, employment, and humanity.
*Pictured above (L) my paternal grandmother and my great-aunt; (R) my maternal grandmother and my great-aunt. Pictured below my mother and three of my aunts.
Our hair should be an extension of OUR minds, bodies, thoughts, and actions; not an extension of someone else’s ideologies or interpretations projected onto us. Our hair is regal and defies laws of nature. Onlookers can hardly wait to see what we’ll do with it next, knowing they will be confused as to how we got it to do that and perplexed by the versatility it possesses. Sooooooo many textures and shape variations.
So often, we inherit our ideas and feelings towards hair; how it should be kept, what’s acceptable and appropriate. I wanted to pass on a feeling of confidence and the idea that you don’t have to change who you are for anyone or anything. I wanted to foster self respect and individuality. My youngest daughter and I watched Natural Hair The Movie, together last weekend. At some point, halfway through, she turned to me and thanked me for never perming her hair. I don’t think she’d ever considered the health benefits until hearing it discussed on the documentary. Neither of my daughters have ever had relaxers applied to their hair. I feel great about that. They have a sense of self worth and satisfaction with themselves, as they are, that a lot of people don’t have, their entire lives.
As you can see, I am not my hair but my hair is definitely me, and my mom, and her mom, and hers. I am proud of my crown and I treat it accordingly. I am patient, lenient, nurturing, and careful with it. It can be elastic or brittle, unruly or tamed, impressionable or impressive, lustrous or, juicy or dry, wild or calm.
I love my hair, and my hairitage!