Black, Latina and Fabulously Natural; How Loving my Hair Taught Me to Love the Rest of Me

“You are Beautiful.”

It was my daily morning mirror ritual. Having just chopped off the last of my chemically relaxed hair, I was struggling to come to terms. It was 2001, and “natural” wasn’t exactly a “thing”. I endured daily comments on my hair from “good-natured” friends wondering when I was going to “fix” it, to not-so-good- natured coworkers who went so far as to bring a stylist to our work site to give me a “consultation”. It was far from a popular move, and I realized early on that I would have to be my own encouragement if I was going to commit to this change.

“You Are Beautiful.”

I’d look in the mirror and I’d say it to my hair while applying the mountain of products it took back then to get some curl-definition (humectants? Whazzat?). Some days I believed it, some days I didn’t. Some days I just said it because it was a habit. But every day, as I oiled, spritzed, finger-combed and attempted to tame my unruly hair (first-year new growth, hello!), I said aloud I was doing these things because I loved my hair just the way it was and it was beautiful. And then it happened.

I didn’t have to say it aloud anymore.

As soon as I looked at my hair in the mirror, “you are beautiful” popped in my head. When someone asked me how I expected to get a man, it popped in my head. When someone asked me when I was going to “do something about it”, it popped in my head.  My hair became less of an identifying characteristic about me and just became a part of my total package. And soon after, people stopped asking me questions about it.

Now fast-forward twelve years, and I was stuck in a bit of a rut.

A few unexpected life-events had taken their toll on my body. I was recently single, recently looking for work, and re-entering the “pool” for the first time in a long time. I was also 25 lbs heavier than I was used to, and despite starting a fitness plan I could not get the weight to budge. Well-meaning “friends” asked me when I was going to “fix it”, family asked me how I expected to “catch a man” if I didn’t look like myself, and my confidence was at an all-time low. I have a background in pageants, so while I was aware looks weren’t the end-all-be-all (only 20-40% of pageant scores are beauty-based) I knew they were important, and my perceived lack of them was a major hit on my self-esteem. I stopped taking pictures. I shied away from events. I went on dates expecting the worst. My real friends were worried about me.

Lucky for me, summer was approaching. My naturalistas know that pressing your hair is pointless when the heat comes so I usually switch to wash-and-go styles. I was working some product through my hair and marveling at the return of my curls when a familiar thought popped in my head;

“You are Beautiful”.

I had no idea how I had ignored the answer staring me right in the face for so long.

When I originally cut my hair, it was for me. It was a decision I made for myself. Whenever I got run-down or discouraged, I took comfort in the knowledge that I was doing this for my well-being. No one had a say in how I felt about my hair and how I took care of it. Everything I did to my hair was for my hair, applied lovingly, and treated carefully. My view of my hair- my confidence in its appearance- was a habit carefully cultivated and routinely maintained.

It was then I decided that I would have to be my own encouragement if I was going to commit to this change.

It began with a daily affirmation that I was fine just the way I was. Whoever agreed with me was going to agree, and whoever wasn’t well, that’s their issue. I’m the only person living in this body. It’s the only one I have. I can’t hate it forever. Some days I believed it, some days I didn’t. But every day, as I made my meals and fit in a workout, I told myself I was doing these things because I loved myself just the way it was and I was beautiful. And then it happened.

I started to believe it.

I stopped hiding and began to wear more flattering clothing at whatever size I was. Little by little, I went out more. I committed myself to a summer of fun and documented it. I went to the beach and wore a bikini. I even took a picture of it and posted it on my facebook page! And while my body eventually responded to my workouts, I had gained something much more valuable.

Now, while I’d love to wrap this up neatly and declare all my problems solved, the reality isn’t even close. It was the beginning of a long journey of daily work. Do I beat myself up sometimes? Yep. Do I look in the mirror and see lumps and bumps I’d like to go away? Everyday. But I can definitely say I have more good days than bad days. I can say instead of groaning about working out ‘just so I could get other people to like me’ I smile at the care I’m giving myself. I can say that what I am doing is for me and me alone. I can say I am less focused on the result than I am about the daily journey. I marvel at my body’s newfound strength and what it can do. I’m enjoying ‘me’ more.

What about you? Did your hair journey teach you anything about yourself?

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