Let’s face reality. In the Western world especially, many Black women have been raised to think that straight or curly hair is ‘better’ than having a coarse, thick mane. I personally remember being a preteen and wistfully wishing that I had an ounce of Whiteness in my heritage (I actually do…my West Indian great-grandmother was Portuguese) because I wanted ‘pretty’ hair.
In reflection, a pretty painful and unrealistic reality, but hey a brainwashed kid could dream. The ideal of beauty I was raised with did not look like me. I was envious of bi-racial and light-skinned girls and even women (in my teens) because I thought they were treated better and looked at more favourably because of the texture of their hair. But as I got older and embraced my authentic, natural self I realised that some of them, too, possessed challenges with their hair, along with perceptions, which at times, can be hurtful.
Meet 30-year-old Reva Minors, who shares her natural hair journey with SheHub ( Formally Today In Bermuda).
“I am a biracial female; half-Black, half-White. My hair was its own entity growing up. It was manageable with the right products, which back then weren’t very diverse. As I grew older and the glossy baby hair faded my hair was always dry, frizzy and looked unkempt until I discovered gel around age 10/11. I would always be told that I looked like a gollywog or asked if I brushed my hair that day (which most times I actually gave it a valiant effort).
“My go-to hairstyles were a simple braid or bushy ponytail. Because I dressed and acted like a tomboy it wasn’t that bad as it went with the look but I always envied the girls in the pretty dresses and slick hairstyles but felt my hair couldn’t achieve that and I was cursed with frizzy, dry hair forever.
“I received many comments from people because of my hair. When I was 12, a classmate told me I’m only pretty because of my hair and green eyes. So that weekend I got my hair straightened and purchased brown contacts to prove him wrong but I still felt like a science experiment with people touching my hair without my permission and fawning over me.
“To this day that comment still haunts me and I feel like that’s all people see. On the flip side I’ve had people tell me I should straighten it more, especially when I go into certain hair salons that may not necessarily know how to manage my hair. I got this a lot when I was in university in Canada – they take one look at me and ask if I’m getting a wash and blow out. I gave in once to the blow out and left the salon looking like I stuck my finger in a socket. I was so mad and humiliated. As soon as I got home I washed the heat out of my hair and never went back to a salon out there again.
“I had to wait until I came home to go to the salon for the six years I was abroad. The salon is a place of rejuvenation for me, the way I treat myself and let myself relax, so this was like mental torture. This is a common situation women of colour face, which may seem minuscule to some but there may as well be a sign up on the door that says “No Coloured Allowed” if you can’t properly service this demographic.
“It’s an implied statement, a silent but still hurtful slap in the face. I went to a local salon to get a natural style for my job Christmas party, called them and let them know in advance what I wanted to avoid any foolishness when I arrived and sure enough I get in the chair and I’m told that ‘natural hair can’t be made to look glamorous. Why don’t you get a press instead?’. That was four years ago.
“I identify more with black hair as those are the hair products that work for me, the hair stylists that get me and can work with my hair, the people that understand my woes of not sleeping with my hair tied or when bantu knots don’t quite work out. But I also embrace that my White half is what gives me my curl pattern. When people that say I have ‘nice hair’ that’s what they mean by this statement. They see the ‘Whiteness’ in my hair that separates me from other Black women. This is a thought that always stays with me.
“As an adult, my family on both sides make the offhand comments if my hair is unkempt but also give me compliments when I do something different with it, nothing any other normal family would express.
“I get more comments from other people who are not close to me. When I straighten it, I get told I look like a White girl. When I got braids with added hair a co-worker told me that between his tan and my hair only one of those things were real. When I wear my hair out natural people ask me what I did to my hair to get it that way.
“Others ask me if I want them to book an appointment for me at the salon or when was the last time I went to one or if I went to work ‘looking like that’. Being oneself can sometimes be quite offensive to others, if I’ve learned nothing I’ve definitely learned that.
There’s a term in Bermuda which is used on a daily, to the chagrin of many…’pretty hair’. I asked Reva if people who subscribed to this mind set impacted her as both a youth and an adult.
“I never felt that my hair was pretty or even that I was because of it. My hair was such a burden to me; the maintenance, the comments I would receive if it was too messy or too cute, the constant reminder that I was of mixed race so I didn’t fit in anywhere. When people say that someone has ‘pretty hair’ I never understood what that meant or where it came from or who decided which hair was pretty or not. I never took it as a compliment but as something slightly….off.
“Today people comment on how my son has my ‘nice hair’ and not hair like his daddy who’s Black, not realizing how offensive this sounds but I can’t let these comments rule my life or impact me in any way. There’s more to me than hair.
So does she think Bermudians are obsessed with hair types?
“I’m not sure if we’re obsessed with hair types but we definitely put a lot of weight on appearances, especially telling people they have ‘nice hair’. We’re definitely obsessed with looking our best, whatever that means to each individual and I don’t think that’s a bad thing, I think it’s beautiful actually and that’s what makes Bermudians so unique. We are unapologetically ourselves, with pride.
Reva says she has finally found peace with her hair.
I hated my hair for a long time. It was a loud reminder of my ‘otherness’. I didn’t care for it properly for years because I wished people wouldn’t focus on it so much, thinking that if I didn’t focus on it others wouldn’t either (wrong). The longer my hair would get the more it would show up in volume rather than length and I hated that effect. I very rarely wore my hair out, always tried to hide it, so when it was at its longest (halfway down my back but out past my shoulders in its natural state), I decided to do the most damaging procedures one can do to one’s hair – bleach and straighten it with the intention of cutting it off afterwards.
“I couldn’t be convinced to manage the mass of hair and ways to rejuvenate natural hair after such procedures weren’t all over the place at the time. After I enjoyed the colour and no curls I got a mohawk…and hated it. I hated the short hair at first. It took me years to grow my hair out to that length and in a matter of minutes it was all gone, literally. That was my pivotal hair moment.
“I said to myself, ‘This is me, this is my hair and I don’t need to prove anything to anybody’. I embraced the hair journey that it has been since I started growing it back and love it now but also realizing that it is just hair. If anyone else wants to see it as something more or less than that, that’s a reflection of themselves not me. It took me 28 years but I’m glad I’m here.
And, she says, she’s still learning more about her hair every day.
“I don’t think the natural hair journey is ever complete. As I get older I learn more, my curl pattern changes and can do different things with it, or try new things. I’m definitely enjoying the journey and looking forward to where it takes me.”
This story originally appeared in www.todayinbermuda.com.