Yes. I know I can be paranoid. Especially when it comes to tightly curly hair. That being said, I was looking at a magazine for African-American hair last night. It had been a while since I looked at one (since I'm happy with my hair and don't want to change it). And I saw something I remembered I kept seeing over and over again when I used to read them for real (and in the adds supporting them): Our curls are treated as if they must be "cured" rather than embraced.
Actually, there was almost no African-American hair in there. These magazines would be more appropriately called "Hair of Any Other Race (Provided It Is Not As Curly), Yak Hair, Nylon Hair, and Lots of Chemicals—Anything Other than the Curls You Are Born With".
I understand not all magazines are this way. Maybe I have a knack for picking up the ones that are. And I understand dissatisfaction is big business...you don't make any money if we are happy with what we are born with. I guess it's a huge issue with me because I used to feel exactly that way about my hair. I spent my teenage and early adult years ashamed to have the hair I did. I was blind to the beauty and joy in each of my curls. I couldn't appreciate how our hair is unique, fierce, proud and stubborn.
Why did I want to break my curls' spirit? Why did I settle for broken strands of hair that were a chemically induced imitation of someone else's hair, rather than wear the glossy spirals I was born with? Feeling shame for my natural curls was what I was taught in childhood, since my hair had been straightened ever since I remember. My African-American grandmother hated curls, so she painstakingly straightened my hair and set my straight hair every night. I guess there seemed to be something shameful in them to her, like a dirty secret growing from our scalps.
So I guess I felt afraid of the hair that might erupt from my head without chemicals. The message I got was that it must be some terrible stuff I grew naturally, otherwise, why would we use lye-like chemicals to "treat" it? Almost as if we were using the most powerful disinfectant possible to kill them. Like a virus. And all the magazines I read seemed to nod their heads in agreement, and sidle up to me to tell me my curls were unacceptable.
The photo above is the hair I saved when I cut off all my chemicals, after finally catching a glimpse of what my real hair looked like for the first time in my life. I saved the two last pieces I chopped off, and taped them into a book. A dozen years later, even protected within the pages, that processed hair still breaks apart. I used to think this was the only way I could wear my hair.
The photo to the left is of my hair now. It's the same hair, but after I learned to love it, to celebrate it, and above all , let it be what it needed to be. I feel like I cut off a stranger, and grew back a friend.
Our curls are perfect just as they are. I believe that if there were more images out there of how beautiful our natural curls are, the more we will see them as a wonderful, affirming option for us. And less little girls like me will think destroying their curls are the only option for them.
Every year that I used chemicals, my hair continued to grow back in good faith, giving me yet another chance to do right by it. It took decades, but I finally stopped hurting it and began to take care of it. I came to treasure my curls for the curls they are. I know my hair has forgiven me for what I did to it. It will take me a while longer to forgive myself.