“Does he like your hair like that?”
That was the question I heard the most after I decided to chop my straight, relaxed hair off (leaving a few inches of my natural kinky hair). I was insecure at first, but it felt like a fresh start. I felt healthier for choosing to remove chemicals from my hair care routine and positive about the change.
My aunts looked at me with unsure glances (that masked overall disapproval) while trying to fain support. Their concerned questions gave them away. I knew they’d always thought straight, relaxed hair was a basic standard of beauty. They thought I had negatively impacted my physical desirability, but they would never come out and say it.
A few years into being natural, one of my uncles (married into the family) suggested that if I straightened my hair, my boyfriend would go crazy for it (as if that would be the selling point I needed to relax my hair). He implied it was the way to get the ring I had been so patiently waiting for. (I was ring chasing harder than Lebron in those years and couldn’t quite figure out where I was going wrong.)
Hell, I’ll be honest… I thought twice about it. After all, wouldn’t an older black man know a younger black man’s marriage selling points? The short answer is, no. I’d met my boyfriend with straight hair and he’d actually encouraged my “natural movement”. I DID occasionally wonder if he was supporting me to be nice, while secretly hating it. He never let on that was the case, but I was shaken by my uncle’s ignorant advice. I knew it wasn’t far removed from the sentiments of a large group of men and damnit… I found myself caring about what “they” thought.
How was I supposed to get married and have 2 kids by the time I was 30 if I wasn’t attractive to the opposite sex? My boyfriend said he didn’t mind, but he wasn’t dropping to his knee to make anything official. I was stuck. I loved my hair (as much as we fought… yes, me and my hair), but I was letting the natural hair jokes from social media, movies, and television penetrate the security I’d found. The girl that had always felt cute at a minimum was… unsure.
Over Thanksgiving dinner (maybe the same year of my uncle’s comment), my cousin’s husband asked, “Why would you do that to your hair?”, as if I’d destroyed it by removing the chemicals that were ACTUALLY destroying it. By then I was used to that type of questioning, but still wondered “why do so many men hate natural hair?”.
I had to decide then if I was going to care about it or not. I cared.
It was affecting me and had been for the years it had taken me to grow it to an impressive length (and volume). Another year or two passed and I decided to flat iron my hair for graduation. I unveiled my straightened hair (which was now down to my bra line on my back) by posting pictures on social media. The flood of heart emojis and the ooos and ahhhs weren’t surprising. The ultimate “hey, big head” messages were coming from every direction and I was… annoyed.
It “proved” what my uncle and cousin were saying. Straight hair was perceived as cuter, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to be perceived as cute based on that. I decided I needed a man that didn’t think straight hair was the end all be all. By then, my boyfriend still hadn’t wavered in his natural hair support, so he was a keeper.
While it may not be the standard of beauty, I love having natural hair and the versatility it gives me. I can be the kinky haired hippy one day and straight-haired fashionista in the same day. The men that reject the kinky haired hippy probably don’t have a wide enough range for someone as perfectly imperfect as me. While I may still feel a pang of “rejection” when men rant about how natural hair is nappy and unattractive, I’m focused on who’s for me. They aren’t.
“Does he like your hair like that?”
The short answer is yes, but the more important question is: am I done caring about if men think natural hair is cute?