In my childhood, I rocked three pony tails, which was a popular style at the time (late 80’s). I remember having internal fits if my mother switched my hair style. I had somehow found my comfort within these three pony tails, in a way it became my identity.
By the time I was ten years old, my hair was already chemically processed with a relaxer. I don’t remember that experience but it became a normalcy that continued into my adult life. But let’s go back to my heritage and culture. Both my parents were from the Dominican Republic and they migrated to New York City, like most for a better life. My mother already had her set beliefs on “our” type of hair. I grew up hearing her say “why did God give me this Bad hair? Why was I punished?” This was the same conditioning she received growing up and she was never able to shake it off. In turn, this was the conditioning I received and it took me a while to shift from it.
I never knew what my natural hair texture was like until my late 20’s. Does that sound weird to you? It should, but this is what many women of color experience. And this is why I don’t place any judgement on women who relax or wear fake hair, because I was once in that same space. It’s an awakening journey to shift from that experience. Its takes a lot to embrace our hair in its natural form after so many years of being conditioned to reject our hair’s natural beauty. Imagine being told all your life that your hair is “bad”. Imagine your hair being described in traits, which were all negative, such as: dry, brittle, nappy, tangled, and the list goes on. How could we learn to see beauty in something that is identified as negative and is ingrained in us from our early childhood? How could we want to embrace our natural hair when we were surrounded and fed images of straight and glossy hair. Straight hair has always been classified as beautiful and desirable. It is a set-up for girls of color, who one day become women that carry issues of self-worth and acceptance. And in turn we become unconscious of this.
When there was a shift in the early 2000’s toward natural hair, I didn’t understand its significance. Here I was rocking the Dominican version of a Farrah Fawcett look and I thought nothing of it at the time. But in my late 20’s I began to get curious about my natural hair. The sad truth was that I didn’t even know my own hair. I had continued to relax even though I was an adult and had a choice not to do so. So why did I continue to reject a part of myself, part of it was habit, it was what we did and the other part was, I thought it was my identity, it was a way to relate to the other women in my family. You can say it gave me a sense of belonging.
But in time, a strong desire arose in me and I knew I had to embrace all the parts of me. And this started with my hair. I had come to the conclusion that in straightening my hair I was participating in self-rejection. I began to really question myself. Why isn’t it ok to wear my hair the way it was intended? Why couldn’t I take proud in my African roots? Why didn’t I feel comfortable in being identified as a “Morena” within my Dominican culture?
You see its deeper than just the hair. There is a negative stereo type within having natural hair because it looks too ethnic, too black, too African. But wait aren’t I all of those things? Why couldn’t I identify myself with these traits and still be Dominican-American? Why do I have to choose one or the other? I truly had to dig deep and embrace all that came with me rocking my natural hair. After so many years of going back and forth, I understand its more of a journey of self-acceptance, then a destination. It’s about embracing who I am, what I look like and who I am becoming from within.
Yet, I am still learning that the most important thing is to truly Love and embrace all of me. I am learning to love every curly strand growing from the depths of my scalp to the roots of my soul. This is why I know there is power in embracing my beautiful natural hair!