Updated: May 13, 2020
Why did I start wearing my natural hair? Was it an act of defiance? A political statement? An attempt to claim one side of my biracial identity and exclude the other? It was none of the above. The reason I decided to start wearing my hair natural was due to maintenance; I merely got tired of the constant effort of forcing my hair to be straight. While this reason may lack the emotional depth that you may have been expecting, the story gets deeper. While my original intent was for easy maintenance, the motive behind going natural became so much more.
I started my natural hair journey at age 18 in rural New England, before the natural hair movement had taken hold in America. Needless to say there weren’t many people of color around. For years I had straightened my hair in an effort to be “attractive,” and of course at that time I believed that being attractive meant looking as Caucasion as possible. However there were some days, though they were few and far between, when I would wear my hair in an aphro. The reaction I got from White America was mixed, some people loved my hair, they thought it was cool and couldn’t wait to ask, “Can I touch it!?” Needless to say my answer was always no.
Although some people had positive reactions to my natural hair others were not so joyful. I remember the looks I would get from different members of White society; some would just stare, few would laugh. I contrast this experience with moving to the tri-state area later that same year, where again I was met with a mixture of reactions. The reaction I typically got from Black people was support, which I was definitely not used to. People thought I was brave for wearing my hair in a fro. This actually surprised me because I was like, We all have similar hair - why are you afraid to wear it the way that it grows? Of course now I am far more aware and educated on how slavery, identity, and economic power are all interwoven into the suppression of Black women wearing and owning their natural hair.
Now what wearing my natural hair means to me is freedom. It means freedom from allowing the opinions of others to have power over my decisions. It means the freedom to not conform to anyone else’s standards of beauty and idolization. Now, I consider myself part of the natural hair movement; a movement that seeks to reclaim the intrinsic beauty and diversity of Black people and our hair, and chooses to recognize and glorify the cultural power and significance of our African ancestry. I am proud to lend a voice to this movement, and even if I do wish to change my hair to a different style at some point in the future, I will do so because it was my choice and not because I feel a need to change myself to based on the subservience of my oppressor.