For the second time in my life, I’ve chosen to wear my hair in its natural kinky state. It was an easy decision the first time. Back in 2001, I was going through a phase of finally embracing my round face, high cheekbones and mahogany complexion. Ridding myself of my straight, chemically-processed hair typically associated with society’s standard of beauty was a way of celebrating my newfound self-love. Plus, it helped that artists likeLauryn Hill and India Arie were proudly sporting their natural tresses at the time, making it a popular trend among black women. It became the “thing” to do.
But after five years of rocking Afros, twists and braids I started relaxing my hair again. I was comfortable with my kink, but tired of all the work it took to maintain it. So, I fell back into relaxers, bone straight bobs, flat irons, wigs and extensions.
Then late last year, it happened: My hair started falling out.
After several years of exposing my hair to damaging heat and harsh chemicals, I knew I needed to start over. It was time to shave my head and go natural again. But it wasn’t that simple this go-round. A few years ago, I began my career as an on-air reporter for a small local New York City television station, hoping to one day make it to the big leagues. How could I ever do that with natural hair?
Let’s face it, most black women working in television news wear their hair straight. It’s no secret that many of those who wear natural hairstyles have had to explain themselves. I was nervous about not fitting into the mold of what a television reporter should be. I think part of the issue is that a black woman’s mane has become one of the wonders of the world. There are still a lot of people who don’t understand how a black woman can go from straight hair to an Afro in a matter of days. Then, of course, there’s the issue that how we choose to wear our hair is often viewed as a political statement rather than a choice.
I’ll admit: I was also afraid of how I would appear on camera. I had grown so accustomed to the way I looked with straight hair, I couldn’t picture the old kinky hair me. I only have two photos from my time back when I first went natural (digital cameras weren’t popular then) so it was hard to see myself as that girl. I placed those photos on my mirror and stared at them for months in hopes of embracing her all over again. She was brave and ready to take on the world as she is. I searched her face for the beauty I wanted to reclaim. I also searched for flaws as a way to talk myself out of parting with my security blanket.
So I procrastinated. I kept cutting it shorter and shorter while still maintaining some length. Then finally I shaved my head and started wearing a custom made wig. When I would come home from work I often took pictures and videos clips of myself with my digital camera to see how I would look on TV. I still wasn’t totally comfortable.
Eventually I got sick of covering my head. The wig started to feel like a disguise — a cover-up. I started to feel like a women with something to hide when really I had a healthy head of hair as my natural tresses started growing. I was itching to show off my face again — to embrace myself totally. I was certain that I wasn’t ready to go back to being a slave to maintaining straight hair. The experience of seeing it fall out was traumatizing.
In the end, my hair battles had me rethinking my career. I started to embrace what I love. I’ve never seen myself as the typical local on-air reporter. I’m no longer thrilled by the idea of covering fires and protests while sporting a bob. I love covering Africa and ethnic communities in the U.S. I enjoy writing about beauty, fashion and entertainment. So what better way to represent that than to wear my hair natural, cool and a little edgy? The idea of one day being on a mainstream network is no longer appealing if it means I can’t be who I am. I realized that there would always be a place for me no matter how I choose to wear my hair. It just made sense.
So here I am, natural again. I even had the guts to cut my hair into a fro-hawk recently (oh, how far I’ve come). I feel like a new person: strong, confident and beautiful minus the security blanket. This go round, wearing my hair this way means even more. It’s not just the “thing” to do. It’s all me, and I embrace me wholeheartedly.
Abi Ishola is a multimedia journalist. Visit her website at http://aishola.com/ for more about her.