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For the curly tops

| Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Kerry Schneeman | The Observer

I can optimistically guarantee that almost every Black woman has vivid memories of sitting between their mother’s knees as they yanked at the hair on their head. My mom combed, brushed, parted, gelled and tied up my hair until it was absolutely perfect for school, only for me to return home with it standing on end as if I had been electrocuted. Kindergarten games of tag were intense, and if you had to lose a couple barrettes and gain a little frizz to win, so be it. My mother would braid my hair every couple of months and add beads to the ends, and I would spend the next two weeks shaking my head everywhere I walked so the beads would clank together, letting everyone know I was making an entrance. 

I didn’t start paying attention to my hair until friends started asking why it was so different from theirs. Out of curiosity, some of my white friends would ask me why I couldn’t wear my hair down like they did. The short answer was my mom would kill me if I undid all of her morning’s work because I didn’t know how to put it back together. The honest answer was my hair simply didn’t lay flat down my back like theirs did. Naturally, my hair is thick, curly and puffs up and out when it isn’t contained by hair ties and products. I asked my mom if she could make my hair straighter so I could wear it down like my friends. Luckily, she found that straightening my hair was surprisingly easier to manage throughout the week, but instead of simply straightening it, she insisted on curling the ends under to add “body.” I thought I looked like somebody’s grandmother, but I wasn’t going to argue with the busy lady holding a burning flat iron next to my ears. 

As I left the “boys have cooties” phase of my life, I began noticing one attribute that I didn’t have in common with the girls my crushes fancied — long, socially acceptable, pretty hair. My hair was slightly past my shoulders, and I was styling this awkward side part that I only now realize was seriously unfortunate. Furthermore, I attended a predominantly white middle school and high school, so my hair texture and style was very different from the majority of my friends and the girls that guys sought after. My insecurities were no longer simply about how different I was compared to my friends, but also how I was perceived by other people and what kind of person they thought I was based on my hair. 

One afternoon, my mother’s hairdresser showed me how to protect and style my naturally curly hair, and it was the first time I ever noticed how much I personally enjoyed my hair. I had tight ringlets that bounced when I moved, and they crowned my face like a lion’s mane. I had never taken the time to decide how I wanted my hair to look regardless of how I wanted to be perceived by others. However, I found that many people had an overwhelming preference for my straight hair, as it looked longer and more put together in their opinion. I was caught between finding confidence in and loving my hair for how it naturally grows from my head and changing my hair to make me feel less insecure and more desirable and approachable. 

Besides desiring romantic attention or to fit in with their friends, Black girls, boys and those in between have plenty more adversities to stress over regarding their hair. Racial discrimination in the professional sector deems locks, curls, kinks and frizz as unprofessional when it is simply our natural pattern of hair growth. Do a quick Google Images search of professional and unprofessional hairstyles, and notice which race correlates to each search. People invading our personal space to touch our hair without permission, tell us our hair would look better if it were straight or backhand compliment us by telling us we have “good hair” as opposed to “nappy hair” are only some of the tiresome microaggressions we endure daily. We are only recently beginning to validate all Black hair as “good hair” instead of separating tight coils from loose ringlets or judging others for how they chose to do their hair. Furthermore, people appropriate Black hair styles without understanding the historical contexts behind them or acknowledging the discrimination Black people face for the same hairstyles. For example, the era of Kim Kardashian’s “boxer braids” was a slap in the face to many in the Black community; Black children and adults have been wearing cornrows since people learned how to weave, and they have been perpetually called “ghetto” and “ratchet” for wearing them.

While I would like for my hair journey story to have a happy, confident ending where I disregard all of the social stigmas and throw away my desire to please everyone before myself, this story is just that — a journey. One day my hair might be in perfect ringlets, other days I may resemble a used stainless steel scrubbing pad. Some days my hair might be straight; other days I may take after one of the Jackson 5 members. Regardless of what hairstyle you choose, someone is always going to have an opinion on the things that don’t pertain to them, so you might as well wear and do what makes you feel the most confident and comfortable. Your hair only accentuates who you are; it does not define who you are. We can’t spend several hours doing our hair only to find it doesn’t fit in the box labeled “beauty standard.” Get a new box, and fill it with leave-in conditioners, curling custards, heat protectants and bobby pins. The beauty standard is whatever you decide.

Sydni Brooks is a junior at Notre Dame Studying English and Gender Studies. She is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, and calls Flaherty Hall home on campus. With equal passions in writing and helping others, she hopes to serve her community well in her future. She can be reached at [email protected] or @sydnimaree22 on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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