It is no secret that Black women are the champions of rocking protective hairstyles. Black women are wizards of wig-ology and sorceresses of the sew-in. The innovation and creativity of Black women is truly magical, especially when it comes to manipulating the color, shape, texture and style of our natural hair. Transforming the appearance of our luscious locks with just the products available to us, a ton of upper-arm strength and a prayer that our hands get through wash day has become an Olympic sport that Black women all over have earned their gold medals in.
However, Black hair — often described as unkempt, animalistic and coarse — is often not given the necessary flexibility to exist in its natural state. It is called “nappy” in comparison to the white woman’s “messy.” It is “too Black” to be considered appropriate and professional enough for the workplace. It is deemed unruly, wild and disruptive by the same institutions in which Black culture is sometimes worn like a costume.
In a society built on the subordination of Blackness, it is easy to identify the ways Black women’s features are unjustly categorized as masculine and brutish. The messages lobbed at women who rock their locs, braids and TWAs often challenge the validity of Black femininity. Whether these insults are implied or straight-up, Black women’s natural beauty is constantly under attack.
So we often cling to our pieces, units and bundles as a way to amplify self-confidence and deter any negativity surrounding our appearances. From the time we start growing hair, we are influenced by society — and by people within our own community — to braid it down, tuck it back and adhere to these restrictive standards of beauty.
For Black trans women like me, this can be an extremely difficult conundrum to navigate. We are bombarded with prejudice based on preconceived notions about our gender identities and how we should present. For us to go without rocking a few extra inches in — at the very least, a cheap Shake-n-Go — would constitute an invitation for every aspect of our biologies to be called into question. From our body types, to our muscle densities, to the amount of bass in our voices, Black trans women are too often picked apart and ridiculed. If you think Black cisgender women are held to the most unforgiving societal standards of natural beauty, think again.
The start of my transition was a rocky sea of trials and tribulations. I valued certain traditional markers of femininity and having short, kinky, natural hair made difficult for me to attain them. I couldn’t move through the world without getting jeered at and catcalled. My identity was constantly called into question. A day never went by without me having to talk about the trans stuff.
The levels of ignorance I experienced in my daily life led me to adopt wigs as shields of honor. If I had a nickel for every time I got asked, “Where’s your hair?” I’d be rich. I remember one instance in particular, when I told a friend that going out without hair felt like a death sentence to me. That may seem a bit over dramatic but my mental health — and my hair — was tested time and time again.
So I clung to wigs and weaves. I reveled in the (bad) extensions and the butt-length braids. I did everything I could to hide my natural hair from the world, so as to not get ridiculed and taunted. Truth be told, it worked for a while. However, whatever solace I found in these devices quickly turned into extreme disgust of my natural hair.
But when I did eventually stop wearing wigs and started to nurture my natural hair, I was delighted as it grew and became healthy again. I started to find beauty in what is often viewed as masculine.
Kinky, coily hair is beautiful. It’s professional and elegant. It validates my sense of self and does not take away from my femininity. These and many other mantras continue to guide me throughout my transition every day. Showing myself love in that way has helped me to embrace being a naturalista. I have a newfound, unwavering confidence that could only come from finally accepting myself, and my features, as beautiful.
It is common for Black trans women to wear some form of extensions to preserve their images and to attempt to avoid discrimination. Often, Black trans women are discouraged from embracing our natural beauty due to the potential of getting clocked, or worse, killed. In many ways, the stereotypical notion of long hair equaling femininity serves as a rule to live by.
If not, we risk transphobic jeers and often violence. But I’m encouraging other Black trans women to embrace that natural face. Nourish your natural hair. The sooner we are able to accept the ferocious elegance that comes with being Black and natural, the sooner we can change the negative rhetoric surrounding our lovely locks.
If you are a fellow Black trans woman reading this, I implore you to love on your physical features, no matter what state they’re in.
Despite what society tries to tell us about our looks, let it be known that a Black woman’s natural beauty is valid. And Black trans women’s natural beauty is valid, too.