When my mother was a little girl and company came over unexpectedly, my grandmother would banish her to the bedroom. My mom had thick, coarse, long hair that was an ordeal to style, and if her hair wasn’t yet made “presentable,” she was ordered to stay out of sight. It was something she lived with and it shaped her perception of her hair and of what it required to be seen as beautiful. Heck, to be seen in public.
It was something she passed on to her children, that hyper-awareness of appearance. I know I’m not alone there—so many of us have been taught early that our hair is something to be managed, tamed, dealt with, something to be ashamed of, to be maintained no matter what. We learn it from our family, we learn it in playground taunts and schoolyard rhymes, we learn it from the grimace of our mother’s face as we sit between her knees to have our hair braided, we absorb it in the exasperated tones and negative words we use to speak about our hair. Those negative beliefs begin early and go down deep.
When I was 23, I finally rebelled and said no more relaxer, and today I live the life of a natural hair evangelist of sorts. My mom is still fastidious about her appearance from the moment she wakes up, in a way that I’ve never been. She gets her hair, nails, and lashes done on a weekly basis. She doesn’t go downstairs without makeup, and she’s told me quite frankly that despite the fact that her daughter is quote-unquote Afrobella, she will never go natural. We’ve had to learn to understand each other, despite our different approaches to self-care. Understanding where our beliefs come from has helped. “I don’t do these things out of this sense of past hurt or obligation. This is just how I was brought up. And it’s something that I love,” she explained to me on the phone. Even though her way can never be my way, I respect her and I try to understand. And we love each other no matter what.
Afrobella was the natural hair blogger at AOL’s Black Voices and a writer for Vogue Italia’s Vogue Black website. She has also presented keynotes at several major media expos and seminars.