Coming into self
For a long time, beauty has been dictated to us. Black women have a very special relationship with beauty, especially when it comes to our hair. Even today hair is the focus of women’s beauty assets. For us, our hair can describe our mood, situation, our politics, and our sense of direction. In the 1960s, it was the “Afro” but some, like myself, were not able to sport the very voluminous style as my hair was damaged for a long time from the use of lye relaxers, then called permanents, and did not grow very fast.
This was a time when Black people were expressing themselves about race and racism. We wanted to let the world know that Black was beautiful. But alas, “Bo Derek”, took the wind out of our sail and launched an influx of afro, dreadlock, and braid wearing Caucasians in her wake. It was astonishing to say the least, to see a white person wearing an African hairstyle. Nevertheless, I have resigned myself to living with my short hair and learned to love my TA, “tiny afro” at the tender age of 57.
To really understand the beauty of blackness, we have to start with the “hair”. It took me a long time to shed my weaves and extensions due to my coyness about wearing my own short black hair. I am experiencing my own renaissance and hair evolution.
Hair care today
The other issue regarding our hair is hair care. For years the only thing that we knew as hair-care was the pressing iron and hair oil. Most of us called it straightening out the shame. You were not dressed unless your hair was pressed and curled. To have nappy edges was a sin and the butt of many jokes. So we fried, greased, curled our hair to disrepair. If that did not work, tight extensions and weaves was the next resort. Maybe that is why there are so many bald Black women wearing wigs today. Could be, but even baldness is changing the way we see ourselves. It has become a beauty statement among many Black women today.
My mom, aunt and cousins wear baldness proudly. Some African tribal women deliberately shave their hair bald, such as the women of the Mursi and the Masai Tribe. My hair is between tightly curled and wavy curl, but curly enough to wear it in the Afro style. I rarely wear a cap when swimming but I use a special shampoo that washes out the chlorine and use a rich moisturizer and natural oils such as olive oil, coconut oil, and Shea butter to recondition my hair.
For any hair to be strong and healthy, one must consider beauty from the inside. That means a good vitamin rich in Biotin, Vitamin B and protein. This should be part of your dietary regime. These nutrients will make hair healthy. Since Black hair is very delicate, we must take care that breakage does not result.
One of the greatest myth is that our hair does not grow. Quite the contrary, Black hair grows, but our hair is very dry and requires much moisture to prevent breaking. Because of the tight texture of curl in Black hair, breakage is problematic. It is not wise to brush our hair too often and a wide tooth comb should be used always for grooming. The hair should be moist so as to make it easier to comb. After combing the hair, moisturize with water based hair products such as coconut oil to moisten the shafts, then use a natural oil based pomade to seal in the moisture.
I recommend sleeping in a nylon or silk hair cap or pillow. Another thing regarding Black hair is how versatile it can be. Braids, short afros, twists, and blow dry Dominican straight make Black hair contemporary and stylish. All without ever using a hot comb or texture altering product.
Attitude and acceptance
I think the concept of feminine beauty is decided by the society in which Black people live. European concepts of beauty prevail and still a lot of us try earnestly to emulate it. Much of what Black women see in the media is European and most of us grew up with this image as being feminine. The toll on our self esteem was tremendous.
When I came of age straight was it; long you’re the dream of every man; but short and nappy, you were not acceptable. We had to burn our hair with straightening combs, deny ourselves the delights of swimming without a cap or not swimming at all, (that started the rumor that Black women can’t swim), turned down for dates with Black men because they preferred the girl with the hair and light skin. This was a horrible reality for many young Black women. The sixties changed much of that, when “Black is Beautiful” became all the rage.
Of course, most Black women still do not like to get their hair wet. We are more comfortable with our hair than we once were in the past. Black women are seen on television wearing natural afro hair in scenes of importance and love interests in movies. We sport braids on the job, and wear our hair in very short hair styles with conservative business suits and evening wear.
Black young starlets prance down the runways with shaved bald heads with elegance and grace. Today more Black women discard the faux hair extensions for their own African locks and lack of, to prove that Black hair is indeed beautiful. We have shown the world that the Black woman makes the hair, but hair or no hair, she is enhanced as a woman. True, hair is woman’s crowning glory, but it is the glorious awareness that crowns Black femininity.