At the age of seven, I visited my home country, Sudan, where most people are dark–skinned. Before then, I never thought much of my dark skin. I saw it as an organ everybody had. I met my cousins for the first time. The first thing I noticed was the ashy, light brown color of their faces. Their arms were darker than mine yet their faces were almost as light as the sand we stood on. Later, I found out they used a bleaching cream because lighter skin is seen as more beautiful. At a young age, I was taught that my dark skin wasn’t considered beautiful even by those who looked like me. Since then, I started feeling insecure about all my brown parts: dark skin, big lips, and most importantly, my hair.
Over the years, my natural hair went from being the main cause of my insecurities to my greatest source of pride and heritage. My hair has the power to break combs and damage brushes, but its strength is not only limited to its ability to destroy hair tools. It gave me the power to challenge the common standard of beauty that was imposed on me from a young age and to be confident in my natural state of kinks and coils.
Hair is a struggle all women can relate to, regardless of your race, but for me it was a different battle growing up. Forget having a bad hair day. Imagine having a bad hair decade. My hair, like most African American hair, is thicker, frizzier, and curlier than white and Asian hair. I wore my hair naturally for the first eight years of my life without a single complaint, but the older I got, the less I liked it. I saw the models and actresses on the television and magazines (even the black ones) all with sleek, long hair. I got jealous and begged my mom to take me to a salon to straighten my hair until she finally agreed. The salon felt like a whole new world to me. I strutted all the way home with my hand on my hip and the wind blowing in my hair. My first time at the salon was the start of an addiction.
I became obsessed. The only time I ever did my hair (including washing it) was at the salon. I felt gorgeous in my new updo and the compliments that kept pouring in only supported my thoughts that straight hair was the right hair for me. My mom was actually the one who encouraged me to get a perm. More commonly known as a relaxer, a perm involves applying a cocktail of chemicals make the hair less kinky and more smooth. It completely damaged my hair, but I admired the praise I got: “Wow, your hair looks like white people’s hair!” At the time, I thought that was a compliment.
Once, during that period of straightening frenzy, I wore my hair natural to school. It looked different; my hair was less curly, more puffy, and had stringy, thin ends. Many people told me that I should stick with straight hair, it looked better. They told me to untangle my curls, so I did. Ever since I got a relaxer, I noticed my hair would dry straighter and frizzier after washing it, until I completely lost all of my curls. All the burning and damage caught up to me, and my hair began to break off. My oldest sister still jokes today about how I almost went bald. I decided I wanted my hair back, and researched how to do it. WikiHow told me to stop using heat. I told myself I’d stop until my hair grew back out again, and then I would just straighten it again. I wanted to go back to the same length as my white friends with long hair. I went "natural" in order to match another one of society’s beauty standards for hair.
I took away the straighteners and perms without realizing I was going to step into who I would be today. I did not realize that every time I wore my hair straight, I was apologizing for being a dark skinned girl with curly hair because I was hiding it. I went into my natural hair journey looking for length, but came out with this amazing sense of black pride. There’s a history to it. Since slavery was abolished, black people felt the pressure to fit into the mainstream white society and they adjusted their hair accordingly. Natural hair still has many negative connotations, and is still seen as ugly and messy and unprofessional. But by simply just wearing natural hair, black women are carving out their own aesthetic and appreciating the very features that distinguish them.
I recently created an Instagram account to photo document my natural hair journey. Like most students, I tend to trade in self–care for time spent studying. My instagram account, @Transitioningeiman, reminds me daily to take care of the important things in my life. My hair has served as a huge learning lesson. Through natural hair, I’ve discovered the confidence I have within myself, and that’s something I want to continue to celebrate.
At first, going natural was difficult. I was "transitioning" and the hardest part was getting over my fear about how others would feel view my natural hair. The first time I went out with my natural hair, someone in my class named Phineas (I'll never forget your name, kid) asked me what was wrong with my hair. I decided that nothing was and continued to take care of my mane. I entered into the world of deep conditioners, bantu knots, and flexi rods. Protective styles, hairstyles that protect hair from external factors to keep it healthy, were soon my life. These styles are referred to as "protective" because of their ability to protect our hair from damage, but I think really they protect our culture too.
As my hair grew out, I noticed the new undamaged curls at my roots. Over the years, I forgot what they looked like, or that my hair could even look like that. I fell in love with my new curls, something I had never thought I would do. This was the start of a new addiction, but a healthy one this time. I started out natural for the wrong reasons, still trapped in what I thought society viewed as better. But I stayed natural for the best reason. I'm finally comfortable in my natural state. I'm comfortable in me.
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