I watched a recent segment on the Anderson Live show where actress Viola Davis talked about showing her natural hair at the Oscar awards. She said that she was not surprised by the attention that wearing her natural hair created in the media and blogosphere because she is an African American woman. She made a comment that she chose that moment of the Oscars to take off the wigs and “step out into who I was.” I think that is a brilliant way to put it.
And while some of the attention she got from doing this was very negative, it was very inspiring to many women as well. She commented on the Anderson Cooper show, “For me I felt like every time I put on a wig I was apologizing for who I was being a dark skinned woman with very curly hair. I felt like I was hiding it.”
This story resonated with me deeply. As some may know, because I wrote about it here, last year I made a conscious decision not to go back to the perm and to grow out my hair, transitioning into wearing it natural. It was 11 months ago that I got my last perm; I can’t believe it has been almost a year.
I have learned a lot about who I am as a person through this process, and now I understand why my mother did this, too, at about the same age. While our exact reasons might have differed, I can see the similarities in our search for ourselves.
Part of this process has been to unpack the stigmas I had about my own hair, and to also extend awareness to the fears I had about others thoughts around me. In this process I have noticed how I get more double-takes from others in the community I live in – a more middle class area, with less people like me than more. And I have also noticed a difference in the community I work within, a more urbanized area. When I came to the school site with a perm (early last year), the kids swore I had a weave. When I show up at the school site today, with big hair slightly on the afro side, the kids say close to nothing. If the kids do say something, they might mention that I got my braids out and it is “hecka curly.” This observation has been both reaffirming and also profoundly disturbing as well.
I have found much acceptance in my own cultural community around this issue, especially from those in urban settings. Learning to identify with other images of beauty, besides the ones that are socially programmed into the minds of Black women, has been healing. The misconception that our natural beauty has to be altered to fit into the larger view of acceptable has created wounds within the collective consciousness of Black women, wounds that need collective healing. Part of that healing starts with claiming and accepting the profoundly divine nature of my own hair in its Goddess created state.
I have learned that there is a whole culture around our natural hair that I was not aware of, a community that supports one another in learning how to care for the characteristics of natural Black hair. It is challenging in ways that I did not anticipate, and yet I am so grateful to be doing this. Why? I am happy to be in a place of self-reflection that requires an examination of my ideas of being a Black woman, which also leads to an examination of my spirituality.
And so, this process has propelled me into a deep position of assessing my previous ideas of professionalism, beauty, image, racism, oppression, spirituality, images of the Goddess and the divine parts of my physicality that I would often straighten away in an effort to achieve mainstream beauty. My reassessment of social and cultural conditioning has really opened my eyes to how beautiful our natural state of being has always been.
I have come to appreciate my sacredness in a different way than before, and while I am nervous about the shift in my presentation to others, I am very excited by it. I am feeling more within my own energy and more in alignment with values that I practice in other areas of my life. Acceptance and celebration of who I am has come more to the forefront with this transition. This is not to say that I did not accept or celebrate myself before, but it is to say that I have a different level of awareness of what I was missing.
I have not made any decisions on what my final hairstyle will end up being…whether dreads or curly afro. I have just continued on the journey of transitioning, or stepping back into who I am. And this energetic shift, this realignment, has resonated on a level that has brought me closer to my mother, my ancestors and my core.
I will continue to post transition updates as time goes on. And I plan to start cutting off the permed hair and hopefully doing something ritualistic with it. We shall see.
In the meantime, I will continue to step more fully into who I am.