Finding Myself Through My Hair

As far back as I can recall, my hands became very tired when I attempted to comb my hair. This was a tedious process for long kinky hair. It was the untangling of “an unruly mop of hair.” Yet, everyone played with my hair, and my friends at school tried to braid it neatly, when I arrived there. I was very petite as a child. When the elderly looked at me they used to say “Her hair is just sucking her dry.”

My beloved mother had little skills in styling hair, particularly the challenge on my head. Several comb handles broke during the act. She was a busy woman with a business to run. At times, she would chop my hair down to my scalp at certain spots, to thin it out. It would ease her dainty wrist from the struggle. When I tried to comb my hair into two braids, I would encounter the stubbles hidden between the tresses from which my mother had chopped. My paternal grandmother suggested that we obtain a comb that is used to comb a horse’s tail. The shape was curved without a handle and was grasped in the palm of the hand and able to resist pressure from combing through long, kinky hair.

One Saturday, my parents were expecting me at our place of business, to run an errand for my Mom. I washed my hair that Saturday and I was home alone. After deep concern about my delay, my father returned home to see what had happened. I was in tears. I could not untangle my hair. There was no hair conditioner. My Dad combed my hair very tenderly that day. He showed me how to part my hair gently into sections, to minimize tugs, pulls and breakage.

Several times, my mother had my hair straightened for the purpose of manageability. My hair was independent and resisted being changed. It had a life of its own and it fought against being tamed. After each straightening, the new growth of hair became more robust and we finally surrendered to its victory.

At the age of eighteen, I exercised my will and opted for short hair. That did not please many people. The length of my hair should have been a source of pride as it usually is for most women. One of my favorite aunts told me, “Now you will sound like every black girl who says I used to have long hair.” But I was in control of my hair and the way it looked. It was straightened, short and manageable. Because of the density of my hair, I was asked very often if I were wearing a wig.

During my early 20s, in New York City, I wore my hair in an afro style. I let it be, no conformity. I was in love with my hair and my hair was in love with me. This was my halo, a statement of black pride, joy, happiness and acceptance of self and I loved my image. My husband also wore an afro, but he suggested that I should trim mine, for the sake of employability. He felt my afro was too much of an “in your face” statement. That would have curbed my style. Another obsession with my hair, hah! My afro was voluminous. People even asked then whether I was wearing an afro wig. Much later, I conceded to expectations, though deep down I wanted to go bald, but some were appalled. I fell into the pack of straightening my hair again. A small fortune and considerable time was spent at beauty shops and I enjoyed every bit of it then.

I rebelled again and embraced wearing my hair in dreadlocks for about six years. I was surprised and amused while on vacation in Tobago, a vendor on the beach addressed me as “Rasta woman.” I moaned with ethnic pleasure. It has been 20 years since I liberated myself and decided not to spend valuable time and money straightening my hair. My hair is about shoulder length, longer if I blow it out. I am much older now. My hair is very thin at the top, still natural but pulled back in a bun at the nape of my neck, sometimes a little higher up. Some people are still obsessed and want to see how long my hair is. “Why don’t you wear your hair open and not pulled back?” “How long is your hair?” “You should wear it down! I smile sweetly, knowing, I will no longer subscribe to insanity. That was such a farce, compromising my beautiful natural hair to meet the expectations of others. I do not struggle with my blackness. I am a deeply fulfilled Black woman. I am me.