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I Lack Hair Confidence by Meredith

I went to the hairdresser two days ago and decided to get highlights in my hair. This was a big step for me as I have always been afraid of change, especially when it comes to my hair. I can still remember when I was a child, every Sunday my mom would wash our hair and blow-dry it. Then she would take my sister and me into the kitchen where she would have a chair sitting next to the stove. She had her little “station” set up on the stove and the countertop. Sulfur 8 hair grease; the hot comb on the stovetop; a plastic comb and a towel; I hated Sundays. My mom would make my sister and I take turns. I usually went first, as my hair wasn’t as “bad” as my sisters. She would put the hot comb on the stovetop, take the Sulfur 8 and rub it around the edges of our hair, and then take that hot comb off the stove and press our edges. This was done between relaxer treatments to make it last longer. I can still feel the heat that the comb gave off, the sound of the sizzle at it came into contact with the grease. My sister’s edges and hair overall was worse than mine, so her session usually took longer. My mom said it was all necessary to get our hair to grow. My mom took great pride in making sure her girls had “good hair”.

Then one summer when my sister and I were off visiting our father in Bermuda (my parent’s split when I was very young and every summer my sister and I went to visit him for 2 months), the unthinkable happened. My mother would always tell us not to let our stepmother cut our hair while we were down there visiting. My stepmother is white, and according to mom, she knew nothing about black hair. It was the summer before my 6th grade year, and one day after coming home from swimming, my stepmother chimes, “we need to get you girls’ hair cut”. I boldly exclaimed, “My mom said for us not to get our hair cut”, to which my stepmother replied, “Well, your mother isn’t here”. The war was on. A couple days later my stepmother was taking us to the salon to make an appointment for both my sister and I to get our hair cut. The appointment was made, but neither my sister nor I could have been prepared for what was in store for us. I remember on the day of the appointment I spent the ride in the car combing my hair out in an effort to make it be seen that my hair didn’t need anything done to it. My plan didn’t work.

Bangs Phase
At the salon, my stepmother spent time looking through magazines to pick out styles for both myself and my sister. The styles that she picked out were for old people, not girls heading into the 6ht and 7th grade (my sister is a year older than me). The style she picked out for me was…an afro. Cut it all off and make is a short fro. No other way to say it. I remember sitting in the chair as this man cut off all of my hair. I was hysterical. I cried as he cut it. I cried sitting under the dryer. I cried as he styled it, I cried and cried and cried for days. I was so upset that even as we went to a barbeque at my aunt’s house days later, I locked myself in my cousin’s bedroom and hid because I felt so ugly. A couple of weeks later when we finally returned back to my mom in NY and she caught the first glimpse of my sister and myself with our “new do’s” you could see the look of furor on her face. All I could say was, “She made us get our hair cut”. To which my mother replied, “That is the last time you will go to Bermuda”.

I remember my mom getting on the phone and giving my stepmother a verbal ass-chewing about our hair and her “role” in our lives. Nonetheless the damage was done. My sister and I were to start school in a week with afros. My 6th grade year was horrible. I was ridiculed by my classmates. They used to sing “afros in the house” whenever they saw me. I was teased, they drew pictures of me and my hairdo, and they even threw rocks at me while I was walking home from school. By the end of the school year, my hair grew out enough so that my afro became a short bob. But this incident really defined how I viewed my hair and how I feel like my hair defined me.

After that year, I became very protective of my hair. I went through a period where I refused to get my hair cut. I needed my hair to be long enough to be able to pull back into a pony tail. Even getting my hair trimmed was a process for me. I would watch the hairdresser like a hawk to make sure he or she wasn’t taking too much off. To this day, I still have that problem. If I go to the hairdresser, I will only ask for a trim. I refuse to get layers because heaven forbid the layers are too short for a ponytail. I won’t do bangs for the same reason, plus I never know what to do with them during that awkward growing-out period. I have found that I lack “hair confidence”. It may sound crazy, but it’s true. I don’t feel confident in myself without having longer hair. I don’t feel like I can be sexy to a man, or be able to impress an employer with short hair. My hair defines my confidence and my life.

I am turning 35 years old in less than two weeks and I am afraid of my hair. My highlights came out great and I am surprised at myself for being bold enough to put my faith in my hairdresser to make that change, but I still couldn’t bring myself to get more than a trim. My hair is still long enough to pull back into a ponytail. It’s still one length, with no layers. To me, that incident of having the afro back in the 6th grade made me feel that short hair is ugly. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many women who can rock a short do, and I applaud them and are envious of them as for me it makes me think that they have a confidence that I will never know. But for me, I could never do it and still feel pretty or confident, because of my prior experience. I don’t know if I will ever get over that experience or know that “hair confidence”. I think I will always need to have my shoulder length or longer hair.

New hairdo 2014

  • Laquita

    Thanks for being brave to share your experience. No doubt, other women went through a similar experience.

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Personal Grooming Versus Identity Alteration

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Over the next few days, I am going to post some of the responses to a question I recently posed to a few of my readers. While I typically blog about hair, the question gets at a higher order issue of beauty standards. Here is the question:

What is the distinction between grooming and identity alteration?

Meaning, where is the line when personal grooming / hygiene changes into something that potentially alters identity?

Here is a response from Stephanie, a doctoral student at Boston College who studies workplace identities. Her hair has been “in transition” from texturized to natural since December 2010:

“Notes from an aspiring academic”

Grooming/Personal Hygiene: Incremental change- “Changing oneself physically with the intention of being ‘neat, clean and/or ‘attractive'” Neat + clean = hygiene;

Neat + clean + ‘attractive’ = grooming

Identity Alteration: Radical change – “Changing a relatively fixed identity through cognitive, physical, and/or behavioral means in order to reconcile ‘who one is’ with ‘who one aspires to be’

What do you all think? Please comment. Thanks!

  • a3dfc142-8cc3-11e0-8a41-000bcdcb471e

    Hi Tina … Sorry I did not know my identity would come out just a bunch of numbers. It is Sue H. and I found a way to participate without giving all my info to facebook. I guess that is why I still have not done anything to my appearance. Even though I toy with the ideas available to us today the last drastic act I took was when I was actively going through the change in my early 40's (Mid Life Crisis, that was a riot.) I colored and cut my hair and the colorist made a mistake making it Light Strawberry blonde . I split a gut, burst into tears, all I wanted was the grey gone and my warm blondish brown color back.Took a while for them to calm me down. BTW that mid life crisis is a funny thing. You have this hormone thing going on making you feel crazy in your skin (like you are 16 again)and then you have this body that is aging and looking different but you still have the mind of your 20's self. WheW!

  • a3dfc142-8cc3-11e0-8a41-000bcdcb471e

    Jennifer I know what you mean about the stuck in look. I can recall a couple of women I used to see around my job (worked as a hotel desk person) when I was a teen and they stuck out like sore thumbs… 40-50 something and still wearing their hair in beehives with the thick red lipstick and paste eyeshadow of the 50's or still wearing their flower power dresses and thigh high patent leather boots from the early 60's.Now I have my granny bun and my jeans and tshirt for everyday wear… Granny bun and dress clothing for other times.Sue H.

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Is Beauty Political?

Deciding to loc my hair was based on more than the style itself. I also realized that my identity would be affected. Not saying that my core self would change but I knew that dreadlocks would impact how people see me and interact with me. Most importantly, dreadlocks would impact the way that I saw myself. After all, the way that you wear your hair is a political statement. Right? Right?

On one hand, one look at the 7/21/08 cover of the New Yorker and there is no doubt that hair is political. It is no coincidence that Michelle Obama was depicted as an AFROED, gun-toting, fatigue-wearing, booted, fist-bumping woman. The afro aligns with the stereotype that black women are somehow militant, out of line with the status quo. Take that a step further, challenging to the status quo. I have heard of Jewish people with “Jew-fros” (their word, not mine). I wonder if people think of Jewish folks donning afros as militant?

On the other hand, how you wear your hair is about convenience, attractiveness and professionalism. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with politics. Women, all women, are simply adhering to beauty standards.

What do you all think? Is beauty, specifically, the way you wear your hair, political? Does your choice of hairstyle say anything about your politics?

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Strong Hair

In an earlier blog, I wrote:“Looking back, I have to ask myself why I thought an afro was the antithesis of femininity.I admit that while I loved the freedom of my afro, I still felt like I HAD to wear nice makeup, and cute jewelry whenever I went out in public.In other words, my hair was not cute on its own merit; I now had to be accessorized in order to look feminine and pulled together.Ouch.This is painful to admit and see in writing.”

This is disturbing to read. It is so clear that I’d bought into the prevailing beauty standards about my hair and about me.I had yet to learn how to appreciate the strength of my hair.I found this poem by Sharon Harvey Rosenberg that beautifully depicts the strength and resilience of tightly coiled hair ( plan to read it to my children and my nieces tonight.I hope you can share with those you know too.

Coil vs. Combby Sharon Harvey Rosenberg

Tight curls

wound like small coils

in a retractable pen

have no patience

for hard plastic combs

with jagged seams

and sharp teeth


through the dense spirals


around my head.

Snapped, my naps snap back.


the tight texture tenses

against those little teeth.

And with vengeance,

my hair

breaks combs

into plastic


And the coils spring back.

Like the spring in my pen

held in knowing fingers,

twisting strands of lines.

Forming follicle phrases from:

Curls coiled in S's, O's and Z's

Spelling my hair free

in long hand.

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My Royal Wedding: Say No to the Fro

Today Prince William and Kate Middleton were married.Why in the world am I bringing this up in a blog about hair?A wedding is a perfect opportunity to examine notions of beauty and femininity.I was married on July 22, 2000.I remember all of the planning.Yes, the venue was important and we had to have a wonderful union and fantastic reception.However, if I’m honest, a top priority for me was to look phenomenal.I wanted to look slammin’!I wanted Fred to take one look at me and melt.Leading up to the wedding, I was wearing an afro.I am ashamed to say that I decided that there was no way in the world I was going to walk down the aisle with an afro.What was I going to do Velcro the veil into my fro?One of my girlfriends, the same girlfriend who took me to the Baltimore barbershop for the Big Chop (see my earlier blog), told me about a wonderful stylist, Janellia, who could give me a natural looking weave.Exactly what do I mean? Well, she used hair that looked naturally curly so I would end up with a curly afro.The night before my wedding, Janellia met me at my apartment and, after I washed and conditioned my hair, she began the process of weaving the curly extensions into my hair.When she was done, I was ecstatic.In my mind, I looked like an African goddess.

Looking back, I have to ask myself why I thought an afro was the antithesis of femininity. I admit that while I loved the freedom of my afro, I still felt like I HAD to wear nice makeup, and cute jewelry whenever I went out in public.In other words, my hair was not cute on its own merit; I now had to be accessorized in order to look feminine and pulled together.Ouch.This is painful to admit and see in writing.Point blank, I wanted long, curly hair when I walked down the aisle.I didn’t “feel” like a bride unless I had it.

Do you have any similar stories about special events and hair?Maybe not your wedding, but a concert or a business meeting?A first date?I’d love to hear your stories!

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Natural Hair and Professionalism Part 2

Once I got the big chop, I was LOVING my hair. I loved the way that the wind felt on my ears and neck; loved that I could wash my hair every day if I wanted and still take only 5 minutes to style it and look FLY; loved that I was learning about my hair, how much to pick it, brush it, oil it, I was discovering myself; loved that my face had taken center stage; loved that I was a visual testimony that natural hair is an option. I was proud of myself for doing what felt authentic to me despite societal pressures to conform to another notion of beauty.

However, I must admit that I still had my hang-ups. I was about to graduate and I was very concerned that my natural hair would hinder me at my new consulting job. Consulting was (is) a white, male-dominated industry. While everyone, including white men, must conform to workplace expectations about appearance, I was concerned that my hair might make me stand out as a black woman and suggest that I was unwilling to be a “team player”. After all, wasn’t it best to just do good work, keep my head down and blend in as much as possible? Wouldn’t my hair peg me as different from the get go? Rosette & Dumas (2007)[1] wrote an insightful paper about this issue; an excerpt from page 421 of the paper sums up a key insight:

“…for minority women in general and Black women in particular, “looking the part” at work carries the additional dimension of managing attributions, expectations, and stereotypes based solely on core aspects of their identities—the immutable characteristics of race and gender.

In isolation, Black women’s preferences to straighten their hair may seem simply to be a choice of adornment; however, when coupled with all the other available “self-improvement” choices in which they sometimes engage—such as wearing colored contacts, lightening their skin, reducing the size of their lips, and decreasing the size of their noses—it is clear that the standard of beauty in the U.S. is in direct opposition to the natural features and characteristics of most Black women.”

I’ve noted that some people think this discussion about my hair journey is highly irrelevant because “hair is just hair”. However, when considered in combination with the other “beauty” choices we make, it becomes more evident that our hair is inextricably linked to how we see ourselves and how we think others value our natural beauty. If we really, really thought that our natural beauty was highly valued would we go through such extremes to change it? If people were spending millions of dollars to ADD kink to their hair, would we feel differently about our naturally kinky hair? My point is not that women shouldn’t alter the state of their hair, just that they ask WHY they are doing so rather than assuming that that is their only, or even best, “beauty” option.

[1] Rosette, A.R. & Dumas, T. (2007). The hair dilemma: Conform to mainstream expectations or emphasize racial identity. Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, 14, 407-421.

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Hallelujah I’m Free: Liberation from the Relaxer Cage

I continued to relax my hair until the winter of 1998.A lot went into my decision to embrace my natural hair.I’ve mentioned the health issues I had (i.e., bald sections on my head).I also began a lot of introspection trying to unearth why I was still relaxing my hair.I realized that since first getting my hair relaxed, I perceived two main hair options:1) get a relaxer or 2) have nappy hair.I know, that sounds ignorant.It really does, but that’s what I felt.I felt that the relaxer was saving me from having nappy, difficult hair.WOW!I couldn’t believe that I felt so negatively about my hair, and by extension (no pun intended), I felt negatively about myself.

I’ve heard people say that hair doesn’t matter.I don’t see how it cannot matter.Hair is public.Hair is judged. We know that people look at our hair and develop impressions of us.Plus, if hair didn’t matter, we wouldn’t have spent $1.5 billion in 2009[1] to press, comb, relax, brush, pull, tighten, weave, gel…ANYTHING to hold down and control those immortal naps.Yes, I said immortal.Because they keep coming back, the natural texture of my hair never changed no matter what I did to it.At that point, I realized, WAIT!This is what God has blessed me with.He blessed me with a certain texture of hair, shouldn’t I at least take the time to learn about it, how to style it, how to nourish it, how to LOVE it?If altering my hair is not such a big deal, why didn’t I also choose to alter my eye color?Wear blue contacts, green contacts (it was a fad back in the 90s but has passed)?Heck, get the color permanently changed?Or, alter my skin color?Skin lightening is big business (see earlier post) why not alter my skin color?

I think the reason I chose not to tinker with my eye color or skin color was because it seemed too artificial…like I was changing a key part of my identity.Ahhh, but hair, it is malleable, it can take on different forms.I could dye it, cut it, relax it, wet it, etc and it would still be there (well, except for the bald patches).But, I realized that the fact that I chose to alter my hair was affected by societal norms.I mean, if we lived in a society where people walked around barefoot all of the time and painted the pads of their feet, there would likely be debate about the best color, texture, brand and style of foot painting!

Society determines the value affixed to different standards of beauty.I realized that I did not have to buy into those standards.Hallelujah, I realized, I’m in the process of being liberated from societal notions of what is and is not beautiful.I claim that I’m beautiful and I’m walking in it!

[1] Note that the vast majority of the market is comprised of chemically based hair care products targeted to African-American consumers (Packaged Facts, 2010).However, the same report estimates that while it has been historically reported that approximately 80% of Black women relax their hair, the number may be more like 31% according to data from Experian Simmons.Also promising is that a Packaged Facts survey done in February 2009 revealed that 18% of Black adults, 17% of Hispanic adults, and 12% of White adults are trying natural and or organic products.I hope that this means healthier option but the jury is still out.

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