What It’s Like To Learn To Love Your Hair When You’ve Been Taught To Hate It

I love my hair. I hate my hair.
I love my hair. I hate my hair.
I love my hair. I hate my hair.

I tell myself this on a regular basis. And it’s always like this. Affection and disgust. One after another. Day in and day out.

I love my hair. I hate my hair.

When I was younger my mother would braid my hair, not like two little French braids like most kids get, instead my mom would create a masterpiece out of my hair. The braids would take on their own path: sometimes it was a labyrinth or braids and other times it was a diagonal maze, crisscrossing from left to right. When my hair wasn’t braided it was pressed. Getting my hair pressed was a weekly ritual. My little sister and I would go to our grandmother’s with freshly washed hair. She would sit one of us down in the kitchen, while a gold plated comb burned against the stovetop. She would then use this comb on our hair to make it straight and pretty. Sometimes she got to close to our scalp and sometimes we didn’t hold our ear down enough and we would get burned. We were never supposed to jump or move an inch after this happened. If we did we would just get burned that much more. Being burned by a overheated metal instrument is not something anyone should experience but something that happened to me on a weekly basis. I’ve never been able to explain the feeling of burning skin. But the smell would sicken me. Everything about it smelled wrong. The skin would sizzle and then curl up leaving a black or brown scab. It was like getting branded. And the smell would be a combination of pain and beauty: because even if my grandmother burned us, we still had to continue on. Beauty is pain. It always has been and it always will be.

My sisters and I were never allowed to just wear our hair natural. We were told that it was ugly or nappy or just unappealing. But I can’t just blame it on them. They weren’t the only cause. Having little white boys and girls poke and pull at my hair when it was curly was humiliating and painful. So by the time we were old enough, we were given perms or relaxers. A perm is a white chemical mixture that basically burns your hair into straightness or curliness depending on your natural hair, it’s also know in the black community as creamy crack. I hated getting perms. The beautician or my mother would cover our heads with this white mixture and we had to leave it on for twenty minutes or longer (for me I would normally have to do forty-five minutes.) While sitting there we could feel our scalp dying. We would smell the burning skin, hair, and the rancid smell of rotten eggs while trying to keep our tears in. Then someone would wash our hair and we would cry and cry as the hot water sealed the burns. These burns were little scabs that covered our scalp. Just the thought of combing or brushing our hair made us cringe. But that’s what we had to do every six weeks (or four weeks for me and my disgustingly thick hair, because thick hair was the hardest to perm.) The first time I experienced the creamy crack, I was starting middle school and my hair burned off and I was left with less than three inches of my original hair growth. Think pixie cut gone wrong. I cried and cried and my mother and father just told me it looked pretty because it was finally straight. Because having curly hair is a sin for a black girl in America.

I love my hair. I hate my hair.

Around that time, my older sister Vickie told us she was getting dreads. My mother spent hours telling my two other sisters and I how disgusting and ugly her dreads were. Vickie had to deal with the ridicule for years. And we just joined in. Sometimes it was my mom, sometimes it was all of us, and sometimes it was just the comments people said about dreadlocks in general. We told her they were nasty and unclean. And we believed it. Even though we watched her wash her hair more often than us. Even though she re-twisted them on a regular basis. Even though her hair looked longer and healthy than ours. Even though we knew it was beautiful and not ugly we believed it was. Because who would have taught us anything different? Every beautiful black woman had straight hair. Right? So while she kept her dreads we silently suffered through the peeling skin of our scalps and the burning of hair. The branding those European standards had given us. And we acted like we didn’t mind it because our hair was finally straight and pretty. As if being straight was the only way for it to be pretty.

I love my hair. I hate my hair.

Throughout my junior and senior year of high school, I curled my hair almost every day. To be perfectly honest I think I just got tired of straightening my hair every morning because it took too long. If I curled my hair then it would be like that for a week or two before I would have to redo it. But eventually, I actually loved my curls. They were tight and bouncy and everyone told me they looked beautiful. Everyone except my mother and father, they questioned why I didn’t just keep my hair straight. Because in curling my hair so often, I would avoid perms for months. I would just keep washing my hair and curling it until my mother would force me to put the devilish cream on my head. Every time I would try to wait it out longer and longer and every time it just made the perm burn so much worse. I went from having one or two scabs to being covered in them. But my mother would tell me it’s fine because it finally looks pretty.

Around this same time my older sister decided to chop off her dreads. She went from having hair practically down her back to having an Afro. I hated it. I’m not sure if it was because I was jealous that I couldn’t just wake up and have my hair look good or because I was conditioned to think of it as nappy and unappealing. In reality, her hair was beautiful. My hair had never looked so healthy and soft. Vickie would let me play with her hair and feel the softness but I had to deny liking it in front of my mother. Black girls aren’t supposed to like their natural hair. They are supposed to be disgusted by it. Society told us it was ugly. Whites told us it was ugly. My family told us it was ugly. But Vickie’s hair was beautiful. She looked like her real self. I had never felt so jealous of her. At first I couldn’t explain why I was so jealous. I didn’t consciously admit her hair was beautiful. I had internalized the self-hatred of my hair too much. It wasn’t until I was older that I was able to see that she was able to be herself and be naturally her and I was stuck putting on the creamy crack and crying when I touched my head.

I love my hair. I hate my hair.

My mother told me that if I didn’t start doing my hair (straightening it and perming it) that I might as well go natural. So I did. It was hard. It is hard. I spent hours watching YouTube videos, researching my hair and how it works, finding the right products, and crying because my mom told me that my hair would be ugly.

I love my hair. I hate my hair.

When my mother was a child she had beautiful blonde/brown hair that wasn’t necessarily an afro but it looked curly and soft. I loved looking at her pictures and how her hair was so pretty. Yet, my mom told me her hair was disgusting. Because the world told her it was. She was ashamed of her hair, so she made us be ashamed too. She said that her hair was something to be ashamed of until she got a perm. So we thought she was right. She’s our mom. Why wouldn’t we believe her?

I love my hair. I hate my hair.

Surprisingly, my father was the worst when it came to our hair. Almost every time I came home my first year of college, my father begged me to get a perm even though I decided to never get one again. I was constantly told that my hair was ugly. That it was too wild. That every part of it was repulsive. He would pretend to run his fingers through my hair and then pull his hand away yelling about how he thought his hand was going to be stuck there forever. Even my brother-in-law would make comments. Not necessarily towards me but towards my sister and her beautiful natural hair. He would tell her that her hair looked prettiest when she straightened it and would get upset when it was curly. The black men in my life hated my hair and hated how it looked even though we shared the same hair. Their hair was okay, but our hair wasn’t. I hated how much they hated it. If black men couldn’t find my hair beautiful how could anyone else? The first time a white man told me my hair was beautiful I didn’t believe him.

I love my hair. I hate my hair.

My parents only tell me my hair was okay. Every once in a while I would get a small comment about how it looked cute. But it isn’t often. I’m not mad at them though. They just learned from their parents who learned from their parents who learned from their parents who learned from European slave owners. Can I really fault my parents for the overarching view of beauty by European standards? They try. And that’s all I can really ask for.

I love my hair. I hate my hair.

Transitioning is hard. That’s the process of going natural. But it’s not just the process of getting one’s hair to look like it was meant to. It was a process of learning to accept one’s natural self. It’s the process of unlearning everything the world taught me about beauty for a black woman. While my sister had years to really grow into herself, away from home and my parents, I didn’t get that opportunity. My mother begged me to get a perm on a daily basis. My father told me I looked crazy and wild. I had to transition from hating my hair into loving it and myself. I have had have had to convince myself that my hair isn’t wasn’t isn’t wasn’t a sin. But I pushed through. Every day I try to ignore the self-hatred my parents (and majority of society) had conditioned me to listen to. While my parents sometimes tell us our hair was ugly, I tell my sisters how much I loved their hair, regardless on if it was long/short or curly/straight. Sometimes they don’t believe me. Sometimes they go through my monologue. But sometimes, they only stick with the first half: I love my hair. TC mark

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  • http://esotericaesthetics.wordpress.com lightsprite

    This is the most beautiful post. Please allow me to express how much it moved me. I find this to be so honest, and historical, and beautiful illustrated; inspiring in a way to own your own beauty. I felt the self love in this. Thank you.

  • http://phiemyndz.wordpress.com phiemyndz

    Great post

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