Some battles are truly unforgettable. In biblical times there was David and Goliath. In the 1800s, there was the Union and the Confederacy. In film, there was Batman and Bane. For the African American woman, the greatest battle of them all is the battle between “good hair” and “bad hair.”
Good hair is understood to be hair that is straighter, longer, flowing, and more manageable. Bad hair is traditionally considered to be coarser, shorter, and kinkier. It is at a young age that African American girls are exposed to the battle between the two. I can still recall when I was in the second grade and sang what I thought at the time was an innocent childhood rhyme.
“Bald headed hood rat, your hair can’t touch your back. Perm it. Weave it. You know you need it. I’m so happy. My hair ain’t nappy. It used to be nappy. I was so unhappy.”
These were the lyrics that I sang on the playground with the rest of my friends. We saw nothing wrong with it. We simply thought the song was funny, catchy, and unfortunately, we thought the song was true. Now, as a 21-year-old African American woman, I can’t help but ask myself where this battle began? What sparked this sense of self-hatred in the mind and heart of a second grader?
Many believe that the problem began during the times of slavery. As Africans were stripped of values, culture, identity, and land, they were forced to adopt a new set of standards to live by. They were also forced to treat whites as their superiors. Therefore, they valued whites more than they valued themselves. Although slavery has been abolished, the mental enslavement continues. The beauty standards in the African American community are still influenced by the notion that white is superior to black. Those with hair that is more European in style and texture are considered more beautiful than those who have hair that is Afro textured. Even today, the black community struggles to release itself from the mental chains of self-hatred. Unfortunately, we also pass this down to our children. Chris Rock made a documentary called Good Hair that explored this very topic. He did it to prove to his daughters that they are beautiful just the way they are, natural and all.
This notion of ‘good hair’ has followed me into my adult life as well. When campaigning to become the student body president at my school, I made every effort to straighten my hair. There was never a time that I would leave the house with my hair in its natural state. Unfortunately, I could’t shake the idea that my straight hair was more professional and better than my natural hair. After I won my campaign, I went to a party and met a young man who was absolutely fascinated by my natural hair. He then realized that I was the student body president. Much to my dismay, he agreed that my natural hair wasn’t as sightly or professional. Now, as a recent natural hair convert, I’ve tried to move away from these notions and embrace the beauty of my natural hair.
In the natural hair community, we embrace the natural texture and have redefined the standards of beauty. Although it’s challenging, natural women have risen above society’s expectations and reconnected with themselves. Although the battle between good hair and bad hair will continue to hinder the African American community, I think that natural women are taking strides to break the chains, one natural hairstyle at a time.