My Black Hair Is A Statement, Whether I Want It To Be Or Not

"I’d be lying if I said my hair doesn’t come with baggage that feels like it’s literally weighing me down."

As a Black woman, my hair has always been a major part of my life. There’s simply no denying it.

On one hand, I love being able to switch it up. One minute I can be rocking my natural curls and then the next, I might put on a neon wig or wear my hair in box braids. Constantly changing my hairstyle is fun, helps me express myself and keeps me from feeling bored. But I’d be lying if I said my hair doesn’t come with baggage that feels like it’s literally weighing me down.

My hair has always invited unwelcome commentary, ever since I turned 4 and my mother relaxed my hair to make life easier. One Black boy in school joked that my newly straightened hair looked like it came from a horse. As a teenager, any time I went to school with a new hairstyle, white people would ask me, “Is that your real hair?” When I wanted to switch up my look and cut my hair in college, the decision was met with a flurry of opinions, the most upsetting being, “You’re jumping on the natural hair movement.”

The author, Tomi Otekunrin.
Courtesy of Tomi Otekunrin
The author, Tomi Otekunrin.

But no, I wasn’t intentionally making myself part of a movement. I just didn’t feel like relaxing my hair anymore.

Up to that point, I had always relaxed my hair. But I couldn’t be bothered to do it forever, so I cut off my relaxed ends, allowing my curls to flourish in peace. This was just about the time, around 2011, that the natural hair community started to gain traction online, but I didn’t feel pressure to go natural because of a YouTuber or a movement. I just wanted to let my hair be.

I didn’t realize that no longer relaxing my hair would make a statement. I wasn’t trying to embrace myself or “love myself for who I really am” or refuse to conform. Nor am I anti-relaxer, nor do I believe that Black women who relax their hair don’t love themselves or their hair.

My friend who relaxes her hair shared with me that she fears her straight hair comes across as not loving her hair in its natural state, and this feeling is understandable. If you go online, you’ll see all kinds of comments telling Black women that they don’t love their hair or themselves if they wear weaves, sport wigs or relax their hair.

That’s simply not true.

The lack of education about Black hair also makes things difficult. It affects nearly all Black women, including models like Leomie Anderson, who has complained that the modeling industry continues to hire stylists who don’t know how to care for Black hair, and actors like Cynthia Erivo, who has spoken out about the dearth of stylists who work with natural hair on set.

And women in all kinds of everyday settings face discrimination from those who claim their natural hair, locs or dreads aren’t suitable for school or work.

Most Black women know what it’s like to come to work with a new hairstyle and become the topic of watercooler conversation. I don’t want to have to explain my hair to you, Susan in HR. Just say my hair looks nice and go ― or better yet, say nothing at all.

I would like the freedom, as would other Black women, to just rock my hair, whatever the style, in peace. Solange said it perfectly: “Don’t touch my hair when it’s the feelings I wear.”

Read more about the complicated relationships we have with our hair at My Hair, My Story.

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