the other day i read a facebook status that broke my heart. it was a simple statement about hair loss, but it was charged with the heavy weight of the role hair plays in our identity, beauty, and to some extent, self-worth. the post was made by one of my college friends who is battling cancer. sigh. have i said how much i fucking hate cancer? no? well i do. i hate its guts.
i know she is waging a tremendous war against this invading disease. i pray for victory. i pray for healing. i pray for comfort. but after reading her status, i also pray for her to completely own her beauty and femininity during her fight. even as she watches clumps of her hair wash down the drain, i pray that she sees the beauty in her reflection. i hope that she can draw strength from india.arie’s words “i am not my hair.” but i know even as she deals with this latest manifestation of the occupying force in her body, she has to face the world. and the world tells us as women, and especially black women, that we are indeed our hair.
bad hair. good hair. kinky hair. nappy hair. coily hair. short hair. long hair don’t care. team natural hair. team straight hair. wigs. weaves. dyed. bleached. pixie cut. fade. asymmetrical bob. black women are all about some hair. we spend thousands of dollars a year and hours of our lives sitting in shops getting our wigs split. our hair is an expression of our emotional state. it is an extension of our personalities. and as the saying goes, you can’t tell a black woman nothin when she gets her hair done. but, i am not my hair.
i have always had a love/hate relationship with my hair. it falls out when i get stressed. growing up, i was clearly stressed because it fell out all the time. and then there were the times when family members experimented on my hair. i was not having a love affair with my hair. and the stigma of having “unkept” hair was yet another form of ammunition for the wretched souls who derived pleasure out of teasing me. yet, for all the trouble and drama it brought me, i desired more than anything for it to grow long and “pretty” like everyone elses. at a very young age i learned as most black girls do, i am my hair.
as an adult, i can afford to get my hair done whenever i want. i go every two weeks at 7 am to have my natural, fine locks washed, styled and out of my way. i spend hours on wash day detangling and twisting it into submission so the image i put forward to the world is polished and presentable. i want my hair to be acceptable because i don’t want it to be a topic of discussion. i don’t want you asking me to touch it. i don’t want to hear how you wish you could do that with your hair. i don’t want to hear you call it “fun.” i assure you, my hair is not having a party while i’m sitting at my desk. but mostly, i want to be able to say i am not my hair, and actually mean it. is that too much to ask?
*for all the women battling cancer, alopecia, other hair loss issues; for those struggling with self-esteem and self-identity issues related to the trauma of hair care; for all those women – my beautiful sistahs – i want you to know that you are beautiful whether you have a head full of hair or it’s smooth and bald. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!