Hair As Identity Menu

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Identity Shift

Going forward, I am going to try something new: shorter blogs (thanks for the suggestion Fred ( Please weigh in and let me know your thoughts on the shorter format. Thanks!

Around 2001 I had made the decision to loc my hair and I was waiting for my double-strand twists to grown into locs. Yesterday I shared several adjustments that I had to make ( In addition to having to stop expecting my hair to lay down, no longer running from water and realizing that everyone (especially my family) wouldn’t appreciate my journey, I had to redefine my personal beauty. It was one thing to have double-strand twists that could be taken out and straightened (a la hot comb) so that my hair looked “long”, it was a totally different thing to have somewhat porcupine looking hair as my twists / locs stood straight out on my head. My mind was flooded with a series of questions about femininity, attractiveness, and professionalism. Was I still cute? Would my husband still find me attractive? Would I look ridiculous without makeup and jewelry? Would my bosses and clients take me seriously? I’d gone through a similar phase when I first had the big chop ( but this felt identity-shifting. I was now facing the fact that my self-presentation and part of my identity were being significantly altered in a more permanent way.

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For Me, Relaxers Were Futile Attempts to Present My “Best” Self

Yesterday I asked many questions of myself:WHY did I so desire straight hair?Why, when my hair was falling out and I was spending a lot of money to attain a texture that just wasn’t what I was naturally blessed with?Was it because I wanted to be beautiful?Did I feel ugly in my natural state?What was driving my desire to have straight hair?Why did I look at a relaxer as a magic wand that would grant me beauty?

I can only speak for myself.I believe that I desired straight hair as a way to assert my femininity, to fit it, to feel good about myself.I relaxed my hair because it was a rite of passage for me, and, from looking around, the many other young black girls I knew who also got their hair relaxed around 12 or 13 years of age.I relaxed my hair because it was easier and more convenient.

Is there a deeper root to this?Was I striving for some beauty ideal that was impossible to attain with my natural hair?As hard as it is for me to admit, I believe that the decision to relax my hair was an attempt to escape who I was so that I could become a “better” me.The only problem is, that better me was not the real me.I was trying to conform to an image that I could never authentically attain.

I came across this fantastic audio from a 9/16/09 broadcast on WUNC 91.5 North Carolina Public Radio.The show was called “Haireotypes” and here is the show description from the website (

“Whether yours is straight, kinky, thinning, or long gone, the long and short of it is, just about all of us have hang-ups about our hair. That’s because hair and personal identity go together like shampoo and conditioner. There are also plenty of cultural stereotypes about hair rooted in everything from color to texture. On today’s show, host Frank Stasio presents a layered conversation about society’s complex relationship with hair and the biases we harbor about others’ strands. Joining the program are Joan Jacobs Brumberg, professor emeritus at Cornell University and author of “The Body Project”; Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, a professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business; Neal Lester, professor of English at Arizona State University;photographer Victor Jeffreys II; and Michelle Breyer, co-founder Plus, members of the cast ofBurning Coal Theater Company‘s current production of “Hair” provide live musical interludes.

State of Things Producer Lindsay Foster Thomas kicked off the conversation this morning with a commentary on her effort to embrace her natural look”

Curious to hear your thoughts!

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