Last night I removed my extensions. Short on time, I decided to make an attempt at working with my “natural” hair. Air-quoting the word natural as my hair couldn’t be any further from its original form.
After fluffing, tugging and stretching my 4-inch strands toward the sky for what felt like hours, my tired arms finally fell to my side. I had conceded. I could not force my short tresses to bend and move in directions that God had never intended.
I stared at myself in the mirror until covering my face with the palm of my hands. I was angry. Angry, frustrated and defeated. For a short moment I hated my reflection.
“Ball-head scallywag, ain’t got no hair in the back…”
The lyrics from Project Pat’s 2001 song “Chicken Head” played in the background of my mind as I looked away. I felt my insecurities rising. For years I had shielded my natural hair from the light of day; embarrassed at the self-inflicted damage that denying my truth had caused. And now I stood there…in a face-off with my face off.
I was trying desperately to accept someone that I no longer recognized.
I considered digging through my hair bin to find my emergency bundles of weave. Any wise and insecure black girl knew to keep a few on hand just in case. In just a few hours, I could be whipping someone else’s luxurious locks from side to side. Yasss…bouncing down the street as if those Brazilian strands grew straight from my own brown scalp. I could feel my confidence returning.
I dug through my hair bin until holding my glorious solution in my hands. Four bundles of beautiful 12-18 inch 1B silky hair. I wouldn’t even have to do much layering! But along with my confidence came an unexpected twinge of guilt and shame.
“This is ridiculous,” I told myself. “Natural is trending. Its okay to be natural right now. Let me try again to make this work.” I placed my glorious solution back into the hair bin and faced myself in the mirror once more. Within a matter of seconds, I was tackling my hair as if we were two football players competing for the championship win. I cocked my head to the side when finished; contemplating whether or not I approved.
A selfie! It would be much easier to figure this out with a selfie. One selfie turned into two. Two turned into three. Three turned to – I lost count. Flooding my phone’s photo gallery with endless angles, smiles and duck lips…I searched for just one photo to validate me.
Delete. Delete. Eh… Delete.
I couldn’t believe it. Not one. Not one photo made me feel beautiful. Where was this alleged confidence I had seen so many natural women reveling in? Where were the thick, bouncy ringlets and curls that flooded my social media timeline? Why wasn’t my hair folding into the popular two-strand twists, finger coils, or Bantu knots like all of the other black girls? I created a mental checklist of my attempts…
Goddess braid. Fail.
Wash-and-go. Epic fail.
High bun. Don’t even.
With its endless images of beautiful black women fearlessly embracing their roots, social media had made the #TeamNatural movement look effortless. What was I doing wrong? More importantly, did I even have enough time to figure it out? Work would be expecting me in less than two hours and I was sure to be late again; a habit that management was quickly growing tired of.
I wanted to make this work. I wanted to make me work.
If only they understood my troubles. I was tired of damaging my hair with constant sew-in’s and quick weaves. I wanted to make this work. I wanted to make me work. But trying to find a natural style that would prevent their condemning white stares and whispers was starting to seem impossible.
I felt myself growing envious of the many white women who could simply throw their hair in a ponytail and go. How much quicker their morning routine must be! But determined to accept myself in my natural state, I reminded myself once more that natural was trending. And natural didn’t have just one look…right? Too short on time to even reconsider, I gathered my courage and went outside to face the world.
I could feel my heart racing through my over-sized sweater. I tucked my sweaty palms in my coat pocket. “Just play it cool,” I told myself, aloud. “No one knows its a big deal but you.” As I walked my regular route to the train, I felt exposed. Avoiding eye-contact with the regular neighborhood cat-callers, I kept my gaze on the concrete sidewalk in front of me. It was surprisingly silent. All of the cat-callers seemed disinterested and unimpressed with me. With my natural hair, I was invisible. Unsure of whether or not that was a good thing, I embraced it for the time-being.
The train ride to work was a quiet one. It was the first time that no man looked my way or asked for my number. I couldn’t help but notice that there were other natural black girls on the train who seemed to have a different experience.
The train ride to work was a quiet one.
They clearly weren’t invisible. Then again, their naturals didn’t look like mine. We didn’t share the same thin and brittle short strands. It didn’t take long for me to learn that the natural trend came with stipulations. I stared outside of the smeared window beside me, trying to avoid my reflection.
I didn’t get it. All of the images in the media told me to embrace myself…to stop hiding behind the weave. But the moment that I did, I was less embraced by others. Both men and women all over my newsfeed had been taunting black women for being fake; for not embracing their natural selves. But the moment that I chose my natural look, I became less chosen. I didn’t want to be invisible.
After what felt like eternity, my work day ended and I finally made it back to the safe and welcoming walls of my apartment. I leaned against my front door and breathed a deep sigh of relief. What a day. Walking toward my bedroom, I noticed my hair bin and bundles sitting outside of the bathroom door. They seemed to be anticipating my arrival. I stared at the bin for a few moments before asking myself…
Could I do today all over again?