From an early age, I was forced to accept and adapt to the European beauty standards set forth by the predominantly white community I grew up in. Essentially, fair skinned with long, straight, blonde hair and a thin bridged nose is what is considered beautiful. I do not fit into any of those categories. I felt inferior, not only because of the color of my skin, but also for the texture of my hair. Most of the features listed were never in my control to change; however, the one thing that I could change, I did – my hair.
Constant exposure to society’s idea of what hair ‘should’ look like taught me to hate my hair. The women that were celebrated as beautiful in mass-media looked nothing like me. The few women that did, had silky, chemically treated hair, a weave and excessive contouring to dim their African features. To combat my ugly hair, I fried it. I straightened my hair to feel confident. I remember being terrified to go under water for swimming in gym class because my hair would return to its ugly, natural state. I had to constantly tame my hair in order to feel human.
My mother furthered this ideology. I believed that if my greatest role model had to change her hair to gain acceptance, then there was no doubt that I had to do the same. At the age of six my mom asked me if I wanted my hair to be “pretty” and “look like everyone else’s,” of course I said yes. This meant chemically modifying the texture of my hair. Even at this early age I wore extensions and refused to leave my house if my natural hair was showing. This mindset had been too deeply implanted in me.
During my first two years of highschool I still felt trapped. There had never been a day that my natural hair was exposed to the public. Despite my frustration with this, I did not believe my hair was appropriate for professional or formal settings. I contemplated cutting my hair for months but my friends were completely against it. I feared the opinions of others. In spite of the backlash, I became influenced by a new wave called the ‘natural hair movement.’ Black women were documenting their hair journeys on social media to influence others to accept their natural tresses. This September, inspired by the movement, I shaved my head. I removed 8 inches of heat damaged, chemically modified hair. I decided to please myself, rather than society. My beauty is not defined by my hair. Though I’ve grown to love my hair, I am aware that other black girls are struggling with this issue.
This personal growth experience has inspired me to implement change by speaking about my hair journey. I am a role model to younger black girls growing up in a society that teaches self-hatred. I mold myself as a positive influence for those who need to be inspired to love themselves. I no longer feel obligated to fit into society’s beauty standards. I have learned to accept and embrace my natural, kinky, curly hair, rather than change it. I have inspired my younger cousin to become proud of her roots as well and I will continue to encourage others to do the same.
By Britney Anderson