Long story short: My natural hair is a character of her own

‘. . . If I was to preach about the importance of learning to love yourself as you are . . . I needed that to be reflected in my own life.’

Image credit Tiffany Chan

By: Grace Rose 

My hair changes about every 4–6 months. Sometimes it will be straight, sometimes in braids or twists, and other times hidden underneath a hat or a headwrap. She is a character of her own accord. Yet it wasn’t until about four months ago that I made the biggest change — I decided to wear my hair naturally.

Now this may not seem like a big deal, yet for a black woman like myself the decision to wear your hair without any sort of chemical processing or heat styling can be a big deal. Why? Well within the North American context, hair has been a site of trauma wrapped in misogynoir (misogyny directed at black women on account of race) and discrimination. As an example, in the late 1700s, The Tignon Law was passed, forcing women of African descent to cover their hair with a scarf. This was done to distinguish them from white women; many black women would adorn their hair with jewelry and trinkets, unwantedly gaining the attention of white men who would take black mistresses.

Beyond that, many black women face discrimination if they choose to wear their hair in a natural style, specifically within the workplace. This issue is not just an American one: a Canadian Zara employee was taken aside and told that her box braids were unprofessional. Another black woman was sent home from her restaurant job for wearing her tightly coiled curls in a bun. So as a black woman in Canada, to wear my hair natural is a statement.

And yet it is not. To simply exist as I have been made should not be this radical act. I should be able to live my life the way I wish without having it be understood as a radical political statement. Yet when you live in a body that carries a historical legacy of discrimination, to exist is resistance. While I did not choose to go natural purely for this reason, I also felt it was important to do so because if I was to preach about the importance of learning to love yourself as you are and to advocate for the voices of marginalized communities, I needed that to be reflected in my own life. I’m not going to be perfect at it, but I need to try.

So when I started to wear my hair with big curls and lots of body, I was a mess. I was in the midst of trying to finish my final semester of classes while also trying to embark on this new journey. So if I’m honest, the timing probably wasn’t the best. Yet I knew that nothing has perfect timing and sometimes you have to just take that step of faith and keep moving. So I did.

I started researching what kind of products to use and looked at different ways of washing and cleaning my hair. I began to follow natural hair bloggers on social media to learn different ways of styling my hair for everyday work or special occasions. Inspired by my best friend, I ventured into the world of headscarves and found unique ways to accessorize on days where I didn’t feel like messing with my hair too much.

Yet most importantly, I began a journey of self love. To learn to appreciate this part of me that seemed to have a mind of its own. To begin to take time out in my day to be conscious of putting myself together and embracing the natural curl of my hair. I began to get creative with the way I did my hair and found myself learning to enjoy how big and full it is. To release myself from the pressure of sleek tresses and to embrace the bold lion’s mane that I have been blessed with.

In these last few months, my hair has taught me so much. She carries the legacy and joy of the ancestors within her coils. She is bold and undeniably present many times in ways that I am not. She is constantly teaching me to embrace who I am without changes or alterations. She is teaching me to see myself as beautiful within the way I have been made. And that is the greatest Black History Month gift I could have ever received.