He Hates My Good Hair
This mess is not my burden to untangle. This mess isn't even my mess. It's someone else's problem. Someone else's perception of something good being a problem.
My hair is the focal point, but really, it's about everything that makes me who I am. And everything that makes you who you are. Naturally. The things about myself that I cannot change, like my height, the size of my small-but-still-too-big-for-me feet, my paper thin fingernails, and my hair. My relaxed, but naturally curly, kinky good hair.
The texture of my natural hair, I discovered, elicits in at least one human being on this earth a great deal of shame, discomfort, and separation.
Let me explain.
My male friend (we'll call him Robert), who I've known for nearly a decade after a mutual friend attempted to hook us up, recently told me how he felt about women who possess a certain hair texture. Tightly coiled hair that wondrously defies gravity preferring to stand at attention. Hair like mine.
As Robert explained, he doesn't find my natural hair type attractive. In fact, if he ever married a woman who decided to "go natural" and her natural hair was like mine, that would create a series of severe marital problems. He spelled it out:
First, he would no longer be attracted to his wife. He'd be turned off sexually, which would affect bedroom activities.
Second, Robert would be ashamed to take his curly-haired wife around his friends, family, and co-workers. As he said, "She represents me."
Third, the above issues, if not corrected (I assume by some type of straightening process) would most likely lead to divorce. After all, what's the point of being married to someone to whom you have no attraction?
Don't entertain the question: "Well, what if she gets sick and can't alter her hair?" Health status won't lessen the repulsion that Robert has for my hair type.
In my lifetime, I've been rejected for a number of reasons. I can't be sure of them all, but I'm certain one reason was appearance--or someone's perception of it. Superficial judgement is common. It's just the first time that I've been rejected to my face for something that women like me have historically been mocked for. Curly African hair.
My consternation is nothing to do with rejection or my blackness or the history of hair like mine. I fully accept rejection as a right that we all have because you like what you like.
My distress comes from feeling threatened with rejection. Not the rejection itself, but the intensity of the threat. How someone's perception of my physical attributes can elicit hypothetical cruelty. Hypothetically, if I'm Robert's wife and I decide to not straighten my hair, Robert will distance himself from me and ultimately divorce me, so he says.
It's that promise of control and threat of a lack of support for a partner's evolution, if that evolution forms like a helix, that is disturbing. It will never matter what he and his wife build together, sacrifice, or how they grow together. It will never matter that they create children. Her brilliance and humility and humor will not count for a thing. My friend will never be emotionally tied to these things as much as he is to a box of chemicals or a silkier composition of hair.
The depthlessness of this makes my stomach turn. But I admit, I too am as guilty as my friend.
For some people it's skin color. For others it's height, weight, or physique. Or maybe it's teeth or something as silly as shoe size or the size of...other things. It could be occupation, education, or intellect. We like what we like and sometimes it's shallow.
Nevertheless, I felt slighted and I told him so. It didn't change a thing. He still doesn't like coily hair.
My hair is good for a lot of reasons. It's good because I have it. I don't take this for granted. It's good because of the pretty way it curls up around my temple. It's good because it's strong. And frankly, it's good because I say it's good.
A lot has been said about hair, but this is not about hair at all.
It's about loving things about yourself even when others don't. Even when others are repulsed by things that are uniquely you. This is about not allowing other people's perceptions to influence how you feel about yourself.
We encounter a lot of people in our lives, but never waver about yourself in the face of someone's superficial concerns. And to be fair, I hope no one ever wavers about themselves in the face of ours.
I still love my friend and I want for him what he wants for himself, a silky-haired woman.
Afterword: I've been caring for my hair since I was in the 2nd grade because I decided I didn't like the way my mom styled my hair. I remember every hard tug, snap of hair, slather of grease, and plait that it took to make my hair somewhat manageable.
I've relaxed my hair for decades now. I've chosen to continue relaxing it because I want to get up in the morning and do my hair in less than five minutes. Ponytails and buns are my frequent hairstyles. I want to wash my hair and blow dry it and be done. Even still, I have a close relationship with my coily hair. Every month like clockwork, my natural hair rises from beyond my scalp to remind me that it's still there. And I love it. It's just as course and unflinching as it was when I was in the 2nd grade. I'd like to think that it reflects a part of my personality.
Ocean tides give in to gravity, but my natural hair doesn't. My hair couldn't give two shits about gravitational pull. It's kind of miraculous when you think about it. My hair is stronger than ocean tides.
Photo credit: Francois Karm via CC Flickr