Those of you who follow me on Facebook saw that I straighten my hair for the first time in over five years today. I didn’t do it to make a statement or anything. I just decided that I wanted to do it. It’s funny how all of the mechanics of how to do it came back to me so easily. Then again, maybe it’s not that amazing. I mean, I did practice doing this for over 10 years of my life.
I wish that hair and how I choose to style it was a simple thing, but it’s not, at least it’s not for me. So much of my identity is tied to my hair and my over all physical appearance that I’m hyper conscious of how I look all the time. How could I be anything else? I’m an African American female living in the United States of America. If I wear braids, assumptions will be made about the kind of person that I am. If I wear dreadlocks that comes with another set of assumptions. If I relax my hair some see that as professional dress, others as an affront to my African heritage. When I shaved my head the two most common responses I got were, “Are you sick?” or Are you a lesbian?”
I wish I was joking about that, I really do.
Why should I care? Why don’t I feel the freedom to wear my hair any damn way I please? Simply put, it is because there are real, tangible negative consequences to choosing a “non-conformist hairstyle”.
When I travel by plane, I know not to style my hair in an afro. I learned this after doing so several times and noting that I always got pulled to the side and searched. And it wasn’t enough for them to wand my hair. Agents felt justified to put their fingers through my hair. I remember feeling violated. That was such an intimate kind of touch for me to have them touching all over my head like that.
So I thought that if I twisted or braided my hair and pulled it back that they would see that I had nothing hidden inside of my afro. I learned that only works if you leave the twists hanging loosely around your face. If you pull them back into a clip or up into a bun, someone is going to make you take it loose and go searching through that hair again.
I made the serious mistake of wearing a head wrap one time and let me just say, I’m very happy that I happened to have been carrying several forms of government id that day.
Those are just a few samplings of how differently I have been treated in airports.
Then there are the environments where you just feel paranoia whether warranted or unwarranted. Like when you normally wear your hair curly and every time you straighten it you get compliments from folks who never say anything about your hair ordinarily. “Does that mean I should wear my hair straight all of the time?” “Does my hair look bad when it’s curly, is that why they are complimenting me now?” If you let it, hair can really mess with your head. (See what I did there?)
A lot of that stuff ran through my mind this morning, but so did something else.
Hair is just hair.
I can give myself permission to wear my hair any way I please. Of course I need to make sure that it is neat when I go to work but I don’t have to “conform” to a certain look. Our dress code actually just says that our appearance should be neat. All of those other voices that like to play their messages in my ear really don’t matter. I do prefer not to use chemical relaxers on my hair because I don’t like how they make my hair smell or the way I feel breathing in all of those scents, but from time to time I like to change up my hair. I want my hair to be healthy. I want to enjoy my hair. I want to feel good in my hair.
And I can no matter how I choose to wear it.
~ Marta G.