MY HAIR STORY: A PERSONAL ESSAY
BY Prescylla Veronique
For years, I hid this from the world. Only my mother knew; not even my father or my siblings. It was something that I was uncomfortable with - something I thought no one would understand, except me.
My hair. My natural, kinky, voluminous, and big hair.
My hair type is 4C and a mix of 4B in the crown.
When stretched or blow dried, the length is right at my armpit.
I've always been a very confident and extroverted person. However, my confidence never resonated with my hair, it only shined through my outfits.
Clothing, accessories, and shoes were, and still are, a big part of my life. These are some of the tools I use every day to express myself. I've always said that if I have a great outfit on, I can never have a bad day. I exude my confidence through fashion. Considering this, a lot of the inspiration I got, and still get, for my outfits comes from white women in street style photos.
Last New York Fashion Week, thecut.com published a post by Lindsay Peoples titled Street Style is Killing Itself With Its Narrow Focus on Thin White Women. The title alone had me shook.
Peoples' wrote, "But, as it turns out, like so many other parts of the fashion world, it's chock-full of racism. In our own street-style photos from New York, out of almost 300 pictures, I counted only 29 of non-white men and women, with the same seven people repeated in that number."
With that statistic alone, you might as well of snatched my wig off and threw it into a river. The post discussed how street style photographers have a strong tendency to only photograph thin white women featuring the thoughts of today's top fashion industry professionals like Tyler McCall, deputy editor at Fashionista and Chrissy Rutherford, senior digital fashion editor at Harper's Bazaar.
When I finished reading the post, it really hit me. I was a byproduct of institutional racism, yet again.
I thought about how every time I put on an outfit, my silky straight weave is the only hairstyle that "matches" it. I thought about when I do occasionally have my afro out, I make it my duty not to look ghetto or too urban. It hurt, and my confidence took a bit of a fall. Positive images of natural hair were hard to come by growing up. To be completely honest, I don't remember any consistent images of natural hair throughout my childhood. Maybe an afro wig here and there but straight and silky weave were the hairstyles most people went for.
Enter the Just For Me box. I felt like everyone wanted to be that girl on the box. She was pretty, black, with luscious and shiny straight hair.
My mom never actually "relaxed/permed" my hair, she knew how bad the burn would traumatize me and went for texturizers. A texturizer is a chemical product that loosens up the curl pattern of your hair. Unlike a perm, which does a whole lot more than loosen, it chemically straightens it. Rips out any curly texture you ever possessed. Almost like T'Challa getting the power of the Black Panther stripped away from him.
For a couple years, from about age five to 13, I went through this cycle of using texturizers.
The cycle went like this: After a month or two of box braids, I would take them out and proceed to put on the texturizer. As soon as I felt the burn my mom would wash it out, she never let me suffer. Next, she would shampoo and condition my hair, then leave it in a sleek bun for about a week. Afterward, I would put the box braids back in and the cycle would repeat.
The texturizing process would usually take a whole day just because I've always had very thick voluminous hair. And a lot of it. It's really God's plan that my mom doesn't have carpal tunnel.
I rarely went to the hair salon to get my hair done. It was a constant try and fail scenario. Almost all hairdressers would either inflate their prices or say they couldn't do my hair. All because I had too much and it would take a lot of time - which was true, but just very demotivating.
A part of me gets a little bit anxious when people say things like, "You should go to a hair salon and straighten or blow out your hair to see how long it is."
So my mom became my substitute hairdresser.
After a few years of doing that tireless routine, my mom and I gave up and decided to just keep my hair in box braids until I had a special occasion like weddings or important parties.
Around this time, I found the natural hair community on YouTube and I would subscribe to influencers like Bargain Princes, Naptural85, and ShamelessMaya. Most of these influencers did not have anything close to the hair texture I had but I loved hearing their stories and seeing the positive results they had from maintaining their hair without chemicals.
I went from watching one "How to Co-Wash Your Hair" video to watching at least 20 different "My Hair Journey" videos a night and it was then that I decided to take proper care of my hair. I bought a bunch of natural hair products, double because one bottle was never enough, and perfected my routine (which consisted, and still does, of a four-hour wash day process). In the process, trying out some new hairstyles.
When I got ready in the morning, I thought about my outfit and how it would work with my afro. For some reason, I just couldn't fully commit. I did try. I went through the day with the ‘fro, got complimented by many, occasionally micro-aggressed, but for the most part, everyone around me was so positive about my hair. Except for me.
The natural hair community was an inspiring movement that I so desperately wanted to be a part of. But the thing was, I wanted the fashion community to accept me more. So, I continued to hide. I knew I had a problem. I had so much self-hate towards something I couldn't change, something that grows out of my head but where did this all stem from?
Recently, I came across this article on manrepeller.com titled I Haven't Enjoyed My Natural Hair "Journey." Is that Wrong? by Modupe Oloruntoba. Oloruntoba discusses how the tediousness of growing her hair resulted in her having resentment towards her natural hair journey.
"I saw the movie [Black Panther] two more times and briefly considered shaving my head like Dora before trying out Nakia/Lupita's simple braid-out from the casino scene. When I couldn't get a simple braid-out right — again — I descended into a spiral about the decision I'd left hanging in December. Would it be so bad to relax my hair again? I wondered," wrote Oloruntoba.
After reading this piece I deconstructed more of the hate towards my hair. It has always been the one thing about me that failed to please others. From being overcharged at the hair salon, to buying double the hair care products to being openly refused to get my hair braided because it would "take too long", I constantly accepted micro-aggressions when I wore my hair out; realizing all of my favourite street style outfits are always accompanied by straight hair. Other people had formed an opinion about my hair that I just willingly agreed to.
This shouldn't be the case. Just the way I've shaped my style and love it, I should be able to nurture my hair and love it.
My journey is still well on its way. I show my natural hair off more often that I would have a few years ago. It's only about four times a year but that's a lot for me. My weave or wigs are not pin straight, they have a whole lot of volume and I now look up to black street style stars like Shiona Turuni, Julia Sarr-Jamois, and Chrissy Ford.
As a black female, my hair is a huge part of my identity. I never want to look back on life and see that I hid it from the world or tried my best to detach myself from it. At the end of the day, it will still grow out of my head. Kinkly, curly and voluminous.
A VISUAL REPRESENTATION OF THE VERSITILY OF BLACK HAIR
Keep up with Prescylla's work here : Prescylla Veronique
Videography by:Enni Balo
Opening illustration by:Melissa Edré