By: Jasper Smith
In the wise words of India Arie: “I am not my hair.”
Cornrows. Box braids. Sew-ins. Afros. I can proudly say I’ve seen (and done) it all. I’ve been wearing my natural hair for about seven years. Through the ups and the downs, I can say that I truly love my hair and have learned so much about myself in my journey to healthy hair. If there is one thing I have learned while experimenting with the various styles of my hair, it is the unspoken realization that depending on which style you sport, you may be treated differently by those around you.
Different styles. Different reactions.
Though I love how I look regardless of my hair, it is such a strange feeling knowing that certain styles of hair will dictate the type of men that approach me, what someone thinks of my personality, or even my intelligence. It has less to do with my actual hairstyle, and more with the projections that are often placed upon me as a result of the stereotypes that accompany my various styles.
For example, when I’m wearing my hair in its natural afro, I’ve had men refer to me as a “soulful sister”, “down to earth”, “all-natural”- without even having a legitimate conversation with me first. Depending on where I am, there is a stark difference in the type of men that approach me when I wear my hair naturally, versus those that approach me when my hair is in weaves or braids. For many women, particularly Black women, this is such a common- and confusing- phenomenon.
Not only is this prevalent in our dating culture, but how Black women wear their hair is often a topic of discussion in our academics and careers. From as early as grade school, I have been subjected to microaggressions and racist comments from people regarding how I wear my hair. As an adult, there are still days when I face microaggressions for the way I choose to style my hair. Wearing colorful box braids in a “professional” setting can sometimes warrant unwanted stares of disapproval or confusion, despite my hair having nothing to do with my capabilities nor intelligence.
You are not your hair.
Before I became confident and self-assured in who I am as a person, how others would perceive my hair would greatly affect me. I only felt “pretty” when I had my hair in protective styles that accentuated length, even if it wasn’t necessarily my own. There is nothing wrong with wearing different hairstyles in your hair- from box braids to sew-ins, and everything in between. The problem occurred when I attached my beauty and confidence solely to the hairstyle I was wearing at the time. Much of this has to do with Eurocentric standards of beauty that are constantly being pushed in the media and society. Black women are constantly being ridiculed or policed for the way in which we wear our hair.
But know that you are so much more than your hair. Although our crowns can come in various shapes, sizes, and styles, it is not what determines your worth nor how beautiful you are!