I had agita in my stomach as I drove back home to my parent’s house in Alexandria, Virginia. I was home for Winter Break between my first and second year getting my MBA at the Darden School of Business. Oh my goodness, how was my family going to respond to my new hair?
Most of my formative years were spent in Alexandria, Virginia and I grew up on a FABULOUSLY SUPPORTIVE street. There were Black doctors, lawyers, teachers, principals, military personnel and they all took an interest in us young folks. We could rip and run up and down the street and bust into and out of each other’s houses. Whew, those were some FUN days. As I drove down the street with my newly shorn hair, I realized that I now felt a bit like an outsider. I could not recall one person who wore a short, teeny weeny afro (TWA) I like I had. I did not want to be perceived as the good girl who went off to school and came back a militant, crazy Black woman. After all, those were the people who wore this hairstyle right? Seriously, some people looked at me and wondered aloud why I’d do something so drastic, cut off my pretty hair. Didn’t I know that I had nappy, coarse hair? Why would I do that? Perhaps I should consider getting a texturizer? These questions all came from people I knew and loved, people who were close to me.
It hit me. This cultural norm of wearing long, relaxed hair is deeply imbedded in Black society and has been for DECADES, almost a century in the United States! That helped to explain why the women around me were resisting my change to natural hair. It was almost like I was doing something wrong. Betraying some secret sister commitment. Where did these attitudes come from? The following 1928 ad for Hi-Ja (a “hair fix” product) is from the Chicago Defender (click to enlarge). The ad illustrates some of the complexities associated with beauty.
My grandmother, and her mother and my mother, may have grown up with images like this, images that depict “long, wavy” and “straight” hair as “charming” and the alternative as “short and ugly”. Oh my goodness!!!! Oh my goodness!!! Furthermore, you BETTER change your nappy hair or you might lose your man. WOW! I’m going to need a minute to reflect on this.