Tuesday, April 16, 2024

My Natural Hair Sometimes Feels Out of Place: Personal Essay

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Occasionally, someone on the internet says something that either makes me question why I share space with them on this planet or nod feverishly in agreement. When it came to a recent video from vlogger Evelyn Ngugi, I found myself in the latter camp — and feeling slightly ashamed to admit it out loud.

In the video, Ngugi explains that she feels like her natural, type-four hair doesn’t go with the personal aesthetic she is trying to create as an adult. She makes it clear that while she loves her hair, it can feel equal parts juvenile and too mature. As someone who shares her hair texture, I have been struggling with the exact same thing.

When the natural hair movement was at its height in the mid-2010s, while I experimented with a few styles like Bantu knots, twist-outs, and wash-and-go’s, I never quite found my signature look. As a result, I stuck with protective styles like braids or silk presses, peppering in a few sew-ins here and there. When I hit college, I tried everything, but I realized that I didn’t like the way my natural hair looked unless I spent hours manipulating it with product before leaving for classes. Still, I figured that as soon as I got my “big girl” job and could have someone style my hair for me regularly, I would be all set. Except that never happened.

When I could afford the convenience of getting my hair professional done at a salon regularly, I still found myself opting for box braids and other, more convenient styles. Whenever I’d try to do my natural hair in a new way that I thought I’d love, I always ended up feeling childish — and anything but the grown woman that I was trying to portray.

No matter what I did, I did not feel like the adult I was envisioning in my head if my hair was in its natural state. It didn’t help that the fictional women that I looked up to growing up, like Monica (played by Sanaa Lathan) from “Love and Basketball” or Isis (Gabrielle Union) from “Bring It On” typically also used straightened or relaxed hairstyles to portray maturity — and to be frank, attractiveness. This is the subtle message that has been sent to young Black women for decades. Without me realizing it, the media that I have been consuming for the better part of my life is likely where I got this notion that my natural, coily hair is juvenile.

Black hair in this country has long been politicized. The Afro was a big part of the “Black Is Beautiful” movement by the Black Panthers, aiming to shift the narrative around naturally coily hair in the ’70s. Then, the dominant belief was that whiteness — and, therefore, the phenotypical features typically associated with white people — was the pinnacle of beauty. Because of movements like this, one of the dominant narratives about Blackness — and, by extension, Black beauty practices and traditionally Black features — is that it is born out of defiance.

The ability of enslaved people who were forcibly brought to this country to fight for equal rights was first seen as audacious before it was applauded. By extension, the gumption that it took to openly celebrate Black features — like wearing an afro in the ’60s at a time when racism and segregation were still overtly practiced — has been the throughline that connects every Black beauty aesthetic that has emerged since then. Long, bejeweled nails, faded haircuts, and even locs were once seen as too “urban” for most of America. Except over the years, I’ve come to realize that whiteness and white features are not the backdrop for which I need to compare my Black features — whether I’m doing so subconsciously or not.

This realization that I don’t particularly love the way my natural hair looks has been one that I’ve been trying to work through by myself as I mature. Still, it’s always affirming to hear that I’m not alone in my experience. Struggling so much with the hair that grows out of my head has, at times, felt guilt-inducing. Still, like anything else in life, this is a journey. Instead of speaking negatively about myself or my hair, I will continue to do what works best for me and my lifestyle — whether it’s continuing to wear protective styles or, one day, committing to wearing my natural hair fully. As a handful of comments on Ngugi’s video expressed, the goal is hair neutrality. Until then, I’m trying to fix the way I regard my natural hair, and that’s just going to have to be enough.

Ariel Baker is the assistant editor for POPSUGAR Beauty. Her areas of expertise include celebrity news, beauty trends, and product reviews. She has additional bylines with Essence and Forbes Vetted.





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