Addiction • 6 minutes to read
In honor of Black History Month, I want to tell you a story.
I’m 35 years old and just learned how to do my own hair last year. I’m sure you’re asking yourself, How is this possible? Well, let me take you back to my childhood.
My father is Caucasian and my mother is African American. My mother has very short, kinky-curly hair that doesn’t grow more than an inch. My mother’s hair routine consists of rubbing her hands through her hair or throwing on a wig (sorry to put you on blast, mom); so needless to say, she wasn’t an expert in caring for high-maintenance hair. My mom was born in 1948 and being black was not really cool when she was growing up. I think the lies of “white is more beautiful than black” seeded deep into her impressionable heart.
So, fast forward to my elementary years, where I was ashamed to be the “black one” out of all my white friends. I was the only black girl in the school. By this time, I had already been called many derogatory names and told by some kids, “They don’t want to sit by the brown girl.” At one point, I was invited to a popular girl’s make-over birthday party, where the hair-stylist, who was hired to do all the girls’ hair, said, “I can’t do anything with this,” when she got to me. I was humiliated and ashamed of being black.
In high school, I tried to blend in as much as possible. I would either wear my hair pulled back or straighten it. Sometimes, I would even bust out the clothing iron to scorch my hair into straight submission. I avoided participating in anything fun, like swimming, fearing that people would tease me about my hair. You better believe my hairdresser wrote me a note, excusing me from swim class at school.
Even after graduating high school, my mom would make comments about my hair.
“Your hair looks wild.”
“Are you really going to go camping in Montana looking as black as possible?”
If my hair was straightened, she would say how beautiful I looked and how gorgeous my hair was. I know my mom had a lot of trauma growing up about her own identity as a black woman. Her woundedness poured out onto her girls. As much as I tried to be different from my mom (don’t we all), it hit me in the face that I was passing these negative messages down to my own daughter.
My daughter was eight years old when she came into the bathroom, while I was straightening my hair, and was upset about her curly hair.
She has GORGEOUS waist-length, curly hair that ombres from brown to a golden amber. Seriously, to die for. She can’t go anywhere without getting a compliment on her hair. But none of this matters when a handful of kids at school had commented on her skin looking like poop and having puffy hair. She was beginning to hate herself and wished she could be white, like the other girls.
This was heart-breaking. There in the bathroom, I stopped what I was doing, looked her in the eyes, and spoke truth over her.
Aila, you are beautiful! God, the creator and architect of this entire universe, did not mess up when he made you. You are uniquely Aila and there is only one of you. You were not made to be someone else. Being black is beautiful. Where we live, we get to stand out. Your hair and skin color are incredible and you get to own that. You’re an artistic masterpiece, designed by God Himself.
I needed my daughter to understand this. I wasn’t going to let the world’s comments burn her and confuse her identity like it had done to me.
She looked at me with her big brown eyes and out of her little, babe-mouth came, “Well, you don’t believe God when He said He made you special the way you are. You straighten your hair every day and don’t love how God made you.”
Hold the phone! Did my eight-year-old daughter just slap me across the face with truth? I had to think about this for a minute.
Was I ashamed of who God made me to be? I had come to love being black and was proud of it. But my hair…I still had no idea how to leave the house without perfectly straightened hair.
She was right. The thought of even walking to the mailbox with curly hair gave me anxiety. I could hear the voices of the kids who teased me or my mother who was trying to protect me (in her backward way).
I went into Aila’s room and told her I wasn’t going to straighten my hair for one year.
As these words came out of my mouth, I had a momentary panic attack. I was due to speak at a women’s conference and literally had zero idea how to do black hair, let alone travel with it! I locked myself in my room and cried for hours.
Don’t judge me, I was having a real identity crisis.
I turned to the place I know I can always find answers…YouTube.
I researched all day to figure out what kind of curl pattern and texture I had and the best way to style my curls. I ordered tons of products, cut off all of the damaged ends, and began practicing. When I finally conquered the method, I called my two adult sisters and told them, “I figured out how to do my hair!”
Lots of tears and slamming of brushes later, I was ready to conquer the world. I had SO much anxiety leaving my house the first time. I felt like every eyeball was staring at me and judging.
“Ew, look at that woman and her greasy jerry curl.”
“Ma’am, can you not sit in front of me? I can’t see over your afro.”
None of this happened. In fact, the opposite was true. I received so many compliments on my stylish hair and perfect spiral curls. Even my mother kept commenting about how much she loved my hair.
Over the next few months, my daughter continued to comment about how we both have the same exact curls and big hair, how being black is beautiful, how we are owning it. She would look at me often and tell me how much she loved my curly hair.
I would tell her, “I’m growing my hair out as long as yours so we can really be twins.” For now, I’m enjoying my wild-sexy-short cut.
It’s a year later and I have no plans on going back to straightening my hair. I had no idea how healing this one-year hair journey would be.
It wasn’t just about hair. It was about a deep identity crisis and shame that I didn’t even realize was lurking in my soul. I was still afraid to completely own who God created me to be.
God used my daughter to show me I was still hiding and together we get to break the generational lies from our family.
We are black and we are beautiful.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.Psalm 139:13-14