I am a black woman. Obviously. My physical characteristics convey it to the world, lest I try to hide it. Not that I ever would. I’ve always been proud of my heritage though maybe not comfortable in certain spaces because of it. My physical traits scream, “I am so black!” before I get a chance to open my mouth.
And I learned pretty early on that my simply being black excluded me from reaching particular standards of beauty. The world (the whole of it) favors physical traits typically found in people with Western ancestry – fair skin; a thin, button nose; long, sleek hair; tall, slender frame; pouty but not big lips; etc. Since coming into consciousness about this, me and every other black woman, even some other women of color, have taken ourselves through a process of acceptance that, under the best circumstances, leads to unabated self love. Over the course of my life, I got increasingly comfortable with, not only my blackness but my woman-ness and myself, generally.
Then enters 2011.
Had to have been the whackest year ever. Hands down. For starters, I graduated from law school. Law mutha effin school. The devil reincarnated. The place confidence gets chewed up like gumballs and professional aspirations get cut down to pixie dust. Gumballs and pixie dust and a realization of my nothing specialness. Like, I was regular as regular gets. But I scooped up remnants of my best self that lay scattered around me and made a hodgepodge of self-determination to get through the bar exam that year. Success. Whew! I could not, however, turn that concoction into a full time job to justify the almost laughably ridiculous amount of indebtedness I had entered to get the degree. That year, I oscillated between perseverance, misery, grit, defeat, and resolve. It was not cute on me. That year, I also went natural. That too was not cute on me. I calculated that I probably had about two months of total combined cuteness that year. Two cute months. Dassit. Looked like chopped meat the other ten.
I transitioned for six months and then cut off all my relaxed hair. Insert wide-eyed emoji here. I had never had long hair but I had never had a TWA either. It was a bit shocking. My face was on full blast with nowhere to hide. No hair swooshed over my forehead or spiraled behind my ear or hung behind my neck. It was just a whole lot of my face and about three inches of what #teamnatural affectionately calls “coils”. Coils is a cute word. I’d like to remind you that I, however, was not cute. I’m not sure if you’ve picked up on it yet, but I basically hated it. I hated my natural hair in the way that you think a piece of art in a museum is atrocious but you know you’re supposed to be super impressed with it. It was beautiful in an abstract way that my simple mind could not process. It was too much and not enough. It was probably the blackest thing I had ever done, and I didn’t know if I liked it. On that day, I joined #TeamStrugglePuff and I’ve been a member ever since, even serving as captain a time or two.
Natural hair is almost a foregone cool thing now. Like, it’s no longer eccentric or bold. It’s just one of those things black women can do as easily as getting cornrows. Old news. But the thing is, it’s still a thing. #TeamStrugglePuff still strong. Still struggling. We’re the group of black women who have long had physical characteristics that convey our blackness to the world and who have worked tirelessly to accept and go further even to fall in love with those characteristics only to be confronted with a whole new set of insecurities once we transitioned to natural hair. It is a practice of self love that is more surprising and more emotional than I ever thought it would be, even six years later. When I’m wearing my natural hair out, I have to tell myself I’m cute. Then myself be like “nah, not really” and then I have to ask myself why I’m a hater. Then myself be like “probably years and years of overt and also subtle oppression.” Then I just get out of the mirror because the conversation gets too deep. And I don’t even want to talk about having natural hair at work or natural hair at a job interview or just natural hair in predominantly white spaces. The questions, the comments, the looks, the sincere confusion . . . You’re trying to figure it out for yourself and other people are trying to figure it out for you . . . it’s too much.
To be sure, not every black woman is on #teamstrugglepuff. Some of y’all were never relaxed and have spent your lives loving on your natural hair. Others of you come out the gate with pristine tendrils that have been lovingly placed atop your heads by the unmatchable hand of Jesus. Your hair does graceful ballet twirls in perfect corkscrew spirals out of your temples. It’s like a love song playing from your scalp. I’m not talking to or about anyone whose head looks like a beauiful 90’s R&B ballad. I don’t even like you most of the time because I’m a hater. I’m talking to and about the rest of us who toil all night on our hair only to wake up to yesterday’s same hot mess. I’m talking to and about those of us who dare not start a YouTube channel to showcase our tresses because . . . fa whet?
The struggle is indeed real. I want to acknowledge it, and I would hope others would acknowledge it as well instead of shrugging it off as some issue of the low self-esteemers of the world. I probably have standard issue self esteem atop a mother who made sure I knew my worth, friends who constantly boost my head, and a God who told me he created me wonderfully. Even still, I struggle to find beauty in this puff.
While the struggle does rear its ugly head every so often, it becomes less and less significant over time. Why? Because this hair is one representation of who I am on a chromosomal level. Generations of men and women that I’ve mostly never met gave me this hair, and I sincerely and humbly admire them. They’ve genetically expressed themselves through me in this way and I find it to be a thoughtful gesture because I want to be like them, look like them. I want to demonstrate their resilience, ingenuity, hope, and brilliance. I want to walk boldly through the world knowing that I resemble a great-great aunt who could not walk as boldly in the same rooms I now find myself. I hope I’m what she would’ve wanted me to be. She probably likes my hair. You think? I mean she might think I got it from my daddy’s side of the family but she might really like it. Maybe.
Anyway, when I think of it like that, I can roll my eyes and keep it moving when my edges fight against the gel I’ve used to lay them, and I can go with the flow when the definition from my twist out melts in the humidity of the southern summers with which I contend. I can press on, unbothered.
I hope I look just like the black family I come from, and I hope I resist the struggle as fiercely as they did. Hoorah! Go team go! Touchdown! Or whatever. #teamstrugglepuff