–written by BIANCA BETANCOURT
I’m sick of reading think pieces about hair.
Countless articles on which way is best to “rock your mane” (anyway you want to) or how to obtain curls like Beyonce (Hint: it’s a weave) and most of all, back and forth defamatory articles from so called superior news outlets believing they have the right to nitpick Kerry Washington’s tresses on any given day.
I’m sick of reading think pieces about hair yet I’m writing one because I couldn’t hold it in any longer.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been complimented on my hair. How long, shiny, silky and dark it was and my elementary school friends would wait in line to take their turns braiding it.
It was never my hair though.
It was hair that my mother created. That she sat me down once a week on my too small play chair and blow-dried and tugged with curlers until it was smooth. Until it was acceptable. Until it was okay for me to be seen.
Sometimes the inevitable would happen-it would be field day at school and we got sprayed with water sprinklers or I dove into a girlfriend’s swimming pool. Naturally, the curls God gave me would spring back and appear and everyone would ooh and aahh and tug on the strands to watch them tug right back. I giggled, they laughed. When it came time to come home, my mother would practically cry.
“You look awful”, she would groan and push me into the shower to restart the process she slaved over the morning before. “Now I have to straighten your hair all over again.”
I would stare in the mirror whenever I was back home from whatever water related retreat I had just experienced and look back at myself confused. I never understood why she made all the commotion over a few curls. I thought I looked cute. But because I was a good daughter who rarely disobeyed, I did as she demanded.
As I grew older however I grew more restless, especially during my adolescent summers. I would spend an entire summer morning holed up in the bathroom experimenting with creams and gels to find a common combination of wearing my curls but taming them enough in order to retain my mother's approval.
Even though my straightened hair was sleeker, softer and swayed with the wind wherever I went, I always felt a sigh of relief whenever I let my natural hair down. Like I could breathe. Like for once I was me, rather than my mother's poster child for the racially illusive brown child.
The feeling never lasted long though. I couldn't walk past my mother's doorway without a scolding and a threat not to be let out of the house for "looking like that".
So I reserved my wild mane days for whenever I wasn't home. Most recently and most regularly I rocked it during my first summer on my own in the city.
I remember when I first debuted my unruly mess of a mane to my (then new) boyfriend-and what a make it or break it moment it felt it was going to be.
"I'm warning you. I look crazy." I remember texting him. Crazy–the adjective that my mother would constantly use to describe how I looked with my curls.
When I headed to my doorway to let him in–and I saw him eagerly awaiting my arrival–I immediately started apologizing for my appearance.
"What are you talking about?" he looked at me, grinning ear to ear and cupping handfuls of my hair like he couldn't believe it was real. "This is you." he said. When I asked what he meant he just shrugged his shoulders but continued to smile. "This is what you're supposed to look like."
There are much bigger problems going on in our world than the #mixedgirlstruggle of rambunctious hair–
But there is a problem within ourselves, as women of color, when we purposefully or not, make our daughters feel less than beautiful for something as frivolous as such.
My mother isn't crazy. She merely cares. She didn't want me growing up being pestered and questioned as to who and what I am and being poked and probed because something as noticeable as my hair was a distraction to the caucasian-centric environment I grew up in. So she wanted me to blend in, and for years growing up I wanted the same.
I used to even describe my hair as "good" versus the kinkier curls of my fellow minorities. I remember my mother always reminding me that my silky mane was the product of my great-great grandmother who was Cherokee Indian–no, mom. It was the product of Conair.
For a solid two years my hair didn't grow–not one inch–due to a combination of a tumultuous end to an emotionally exhausting breakup and me not eating more than a cookie or two a day because of said heartbreak. Again, my mother would cry every time she saw me asking God where did my hair go, and I would just blankly stare at my thinning away self wanting to shave it all off. It was then, I realized two things; how little those dead skin cells upon my scalp, truly mattered and also an utter understanding of Britney Spears' 2007 buzz cut episode.
Everything though–from my lack of confidence with my looks and my obsession of others' perception of me–stemmed from me not knowing how to love myself and my imperfect physicalities.
But I learned to love who I was when I learned to love the feeling of another wrapping my hair around their fingers or twisting my tangles out whilst laying in bed. I learned when I was able to let loose my curls on top of my head as I was my mind, my past and my heart to someone else again. I learned to love myself when someone loved who I truly was: messy, imperfect and boisterous me.