When I was seven years old, I decided that high puffs embellished with hair bobbles were out and that I wanted my hair to be straight like the girls in "High School Musical". I think my mom was relieved at not having to worry about cutting said bobbles out of my hair anymore, so she obliged. She took me to a salon to get my hair blown out and pressed, and I proceeded to get my hair straightened for the next 10 years.
In those years, I started curling and straightening my own hair in between appointments and managed to inflict an unholy amount of heat damage on my curls. Like any other teenage girl whose hair is somewhat unhealthily attached to her identity, I was in denial about the condition it was in and went as far as wearing extensions in high school to hide it.
The not-so-funny thing about the whole situation was that I was clinging so desperately to the dull, stringy ends of my hair because I didn't want to cut it and have people to look at me differently.
What I had come to understand was that when my hair was straight, I looked more
Having some aspect of familiarity in appearance made the more foreign and scary parts of my ethnicity less daunting and easier to dismiss. The struggle of having negative stereotypes attached to my race is something that I'd always been vaguely conscious of, but had never experienced directly.
For the better part of my life up until that point, I had a hard time identifying with black culture because I had been led to believe by society that I wasn't "black enough". Having straight hair and being soft-spoken kept me from fitting into a lot of the categories that most people associate with African-Americans, and had spared me from an equal amount of wrongful assumptions about my character that many others have been subjected to.
I ended up deciding to cut my hair off at the end of sophomore year, and since then I've found the courage to explore more ethnic hairstyles. While most of them were met with positive responses, I have had isolated incidents of stereotyping that I never did as a black girl with straight hair.
I remember a particular instance at a store from a few summers ago. I was wearing crochet braids at the time, which essentially mimics natural hair but is bigger and fuller. I was waiting in line at the cash register and placed my items on the conveyor belt. Once I reached the cashier I inquired about how her day was going, and by the look on her face, she was surprised by something. We carried on a polite conversation as she rang up my total, and as she handed me my receipt she told me "I have to admit, when you walked up I expected you to be really loud". I wasn't sure what to say, so I laughed it off before telling her to have a good day and leaving. I sat in my car for a few minutes trying to decipher what she had meant.
Was it just a fleeting impression of me that was so juxtaposed by reality that she felt inclined to share? Or was it that in the short amount of time it took to look me over before ringing up my items, she began bracing herself for a caricature of the black female that has been perpetuated in our society?
I would definitely like to believe that the reason behind her confession was the first rather than the second, but I can't help but wonder every time I look back on that day.
Choosing to express yourself through appearance as a black girl is a balancing act.
For any bold statements that you make with your hair, you have to deal with preexisting strong connotations that come with that style. Yes, everyone has to combat some type of harmful stereotypes connected to their appearance, but for African-Americans and especially African-American women, you have to defend the dimensions of your character and prove that you are more than your hair.