Black Hair and Femininity Part 2 (Youth Speaks Out Series)

Navigating my way through the natural hair community has been a struggle for multiple reasons. Firstly, many of the prominent figures for women with type 4 hair, who don’t actually have that hair type but rather looser curl patterns. I find this to be extremely detrimental to young people such as myself, who have kinkier hair and are questioning why they are not producing the same hairstyles as the women who are advertised to us. 

Secondly, although one could argue that the upkeep of natural hair isn’t as expensive as braids, weaves, or wigs, natural hair requires a lot of trial and error in terms of products that work for your specific hair type. Hunting for good products does in fact require quite the bit of money; money that I do not have. I’ve noticed during my exploration that hair products that are geared toward black women are often times more expensive than the products intended for women of other races. 

I’ve found that just the initial process of buying hair products can be quite tiresome. Oftentimes mainstream stores either don’t carry the entire line of products from natural hair brands, or they don’t carry any products from brands at all; not to mention that the products that I do need are locked behind glass cases with locks that only an employee can open. If only there was an employee in sight. 

An alternative to this could be to shop at my local beauty supply. Their prices for those same natural hair products are relatively cheaper than a store like Target or Sally Beauty, however I as a Black woman don’t always feel welcome in a space that I supposed to be catered to people like me. I almost always feel as if I am being watched or judged. I’ve noticed the way shop owners keep their eyes on my every move as a walk through their establishment, zeroed in on the products in my hand. No, I don’t need help finding anything today. 

Photo by Anna Shvets at Pexels

Another issue that I have run into is that a lot of these so called Black owned hair care companies that cater to people with my hair type, are not owned by Black people at all. In a lot of these cases, the concept of the brand was created by Black people, but they end up selling their business to predominantly White domains. My issue with this is that I often try to support Black owned businesses and many of these natural hair companies lead their consumers to believe that their brands are owned by Black people. 

I’ve also noticed how a lot of the packaging, particularly the pictures of different women on the packaging for each product has changed. By this I mean that at one time darker skinned women with large type 4 hair and vibrant curl definition used to be the images that these brands were using to sell their products. However now, a lot of what I see tends to be racially ambiguous women with looser curl patterns. While there is nothing wrong with opening up marketing campaigns to women of different curl hair textures and skin tones, it seems that a lot of the darker skin and kinky hair representation has fizzled out. This lack of representation has been hard for not only myself but other natural hair goers of darker complexions and tighter curls because we often feel as though these brands are not making products with us in mind anymore. 

While my hair is not long, it’s not incredibly short either. There are times where I feel that the natural hair community on social media tends to uplift and applaud women who have naturally long hair and many of us with shorter hair are looked passed. I myself have felt at times a little insignificant because my hair doesn’t look like what’s often advertised to me. My hair isn’t long enough to braid, my afro is small, my hair grows at different speeds in different places, my edges are hard to shape. Sometimes I genuinely have no idea how to style my hair because the front of my hair is wavy but short and I don’t know how to showcase that. 

For these reasons I’ve been tempted to do the big chop and cut my hair; a fresh start. Good hair is healthy hair and I believe that at this time, if I cut my hair I will be able to grow all of it out at the same time. Not to mention cutting my hair will make my wash day routine a lot shorter. 

We as a society place so much emphasis on hair and appearance—from social media, to celebrities, to family beliefs, to the Bible. As silly as it seems, I worry about maintaining my femininity with shorter hair. Just this past summer I got accustomed to seeing myself without makeup and letting my beauty from within show on the outside. As someone who spends way too much time on social media, I’ve noticed that pro Black pages on Instagram who post Black women with short hair, strategically make sure to post women with short hair who have a full beat face of makeup on. 

As I sit here, writing to you today, I am undecided on when is the right time to make the big chop. Perhaps there never is a right moment or right time. I can confidently say that from every woman close to me that I discussed this topic with, they’ve all done the big chop and absolutely loved it. I think that in the past year I have learned that femininity is something that can be expressed in multiple ways. Perhaps it’s not one’s hair, makeup, or clothes, but the way one moves through life. The confidence they exude, the way they carry themselves.

Black Hair and Femininity Part 1 (Youth Speak Out Series)

From a young age, my mother has enforced in me the idea that my type four hair is beautiful. She taught me that good hair is healthy hair; that hair texture is not important and that everyone is different and unique in her own way. Like many Black women in Corporate America she spent many hours in a beauty shop chair under a hair dryer letting ammonium thioglycolate soak into her scalp to make her hair straight. After having me, her pride and joy, she decided to go natural in a successful attempt to teach me to love the hair that God intended to grow out of my head.

But as I grew up, went to school, associated with new people who looked different from me, and joined social media, I began to notice a pattern in which our society praises and uplifts people with tighter curl patterns, and typically, those people do not look like me. I also noticed how society is so quick to put an emphasis on masculine and feminine; short hair is seen as masculine and long hair is seen as feminine. While no one explicitly told me that I was masculine, as I got older I became more self conscious over my appearance and my hair because it as, and still is very short.

I’d never had an issue with my natural hair until I joined social media. Being the only Black girl in my grade level through elementary and middle school, being different worked in my favor. It made me stand out and set me apart from the other students. However, when I joined social media, I was introduced to other Black girls who didn’t wear their hair natural. Girls who wore weaves, braids, and wigs. Girls who had longer hair than me.

So here I am at thirteen years old, taking all of this in at once, and like every other person my age, I started to compare myself to these girls.

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Photo by Misha Voguel at Pexels

Flash forward to 2020, now a high school senior I can confirm with great pride that my confidence levels have increased tremendously. But I’ve been faced with a dilemma that brought me years back to my early days of social media. I’ve been thinking about doing the big chop and cutting my hair.

Love the Way You Look (Youth Speak Out Series)

Society has always had an altered view on a woman’s body. From the large chest size, to the tiny waist and flat stomach, hips that flare out, the perfect height; not too tall, not too short, these expectations are often times unrealistic to expect of a woman’s body. 

My weight has always been has always been one of my biggest triggers. I’ve only ever been thin once in my life, and I’m pretty sure I’m never getting back to that place. Most people aren’t explicit with their disgust for my body, but my immediate family made it very clear I was too fat. 

In December of 2019, I was 210 pounds. In September of 2020, I am 140 pounds. I know for a fact that I gained weight between December 2019 and March 2020. But as of now, I am 140 pounds and while I now love the way I look, I also hate it.

Photo by Viajero at Pexels

I lost 70 pounds between March 2020 and September 2020. I know that there is no way I did that in a healthy way. I starved myself, point blank. I would deprive my body of nutrition so that I could feel beautiful; and while I do feel beautiful and look great on the outside, I feel awful on the inside. 

There were times where I wouldn’t eat. I would lay in bed, feel my stomach ask for food and refuse to give my body energy. if I did eat, I would over eat on purpose to make myself vomit, because in my mind, if I throw this up, all of this food won’t go to my stomach, my thighs. 

It’s been hard to accept the way I look. I get more compliments now that i’m thinner, now that my waist is smaller. I get more male attention now that my body reflects the body of a woman whom they desire; large breasts, a smaller waist, a more profound behind. All I’ve been given is positive feedback; but how can I accept these compliments knowing that I achieved this look in an unhealthy way? 

I am writing this post to encourage women to love the way they look. There is no such thing as the perfect woman, and male attention is not the end all be all.

Colette J is a Bay Area high school senior and youth writer who wants every woman to remember that she is beautiful.