“Is that your hair?” This was not, by any means, the first time I had been asked this. I get it quite often. I always answer truthfully, although it always baffles me why people don’t think of this as a rude question to ask someone. I mean really, if it is mine, why don’t can’t you fathom that it’s real enough? Why must you ask? And if it is not, do you really think I went through the process of blending the hair with my own, just to satisfy your own unbelieving curiosity?
I fought the initial instinct to ask her if her eyebrows or teeth were hers, which they clearly were not. And I most definitely knew the question would have been rude and made her feel uncomfortable, instead, I simply responded, “No, it is not; it’s extensions.” She didn’t stop there but proceeded with, “Oh, it’s a weave, horse hair, fake hair!”
I was moderately annoyed by this point, but I still was not sure if she was uninformed about the subject or simply being an ass. So, to be fair—because I am a fair person I like to think—I continued with this awkward exchange although all I wanted to do was get back to reading my novel.
“No, it’s not fake hair or horse hair; it’s real hair. And although one of the ways to attach extensions is a weave; this is not a weave. It is, however, not all my hair,” I responded.
But it did not end there. No, it was confirmed by the next remark that I was dealing with someone who wasn’t curious about the hair process but only wanted to invalidate my beauty: it had to be analyzed and broken down, understood because it simply could not just be. I understood this since I had been there before as well. Dissecting other beauties in the past, dismissing them because—well, it’s not her real hair, or eye-color, or boobs. She had plastic surgery to look like that. By breaking down the other individual, I was allowed to excuse why I didn’t look as good in my own eyes. It gave an excuse for their perfection and my imperfection.
“Oh, it’s all the same thing. It’s all fake hair anyways. Can you even wash it? Do you wash your hair?” she mused. Questioning my hair was one thing, but questioning my hygiene was entirely different. And I had absolutely no patience for that. Would she have asked such a question if I were white or anything other than Black? White people wore extensions too, did they not? Was my dark skin making her question my cleanliness? Hairpieces, wigs, extensions etc. have been worn for ages. The Egyptians wore wigs; Marie Antoinette, queen of France wore a hairpiece; even Queen Elizabeth I of England, the last Tudor to reign, wore fake hair. Hairpieces are not inventions—so what was behind the need to know what exactly was on my head? Don’t get me wrong, some people want to know because they want to try it, or they like the look. Some people, including several family members, want to understand how to change up their look. They’re curious to learn new hair tips. But there are those who simply want to belittle the process, and they come from all cultures and ethnicities, including my own.
Some of them are from other ethnicities and want to make sure I know, “Girl your hair looks good, but it ain’t yours.” Yes I know. But it still looks good, just like that extra piece they put in to make your hair look fuller and the tattooed makeup you had done. Some questioners are Black with conceptions of what they think is good hair. Some people have defined themselves by posting things like “my real hair” or “Curly hair girls unite,” so everybody knows it’s real. This especially make me laugh. Perhaps they are so proud of their hair that they use it as a way to feel better than others or separate themselves from being considered totally Black. Or perhaps it’s what makes them feel special, so it pisses them off when someone else gets the look and wasn’t born with it like them—but most people can’t tell the difference. Maybe it takes away from a most prized claim to beauty, and they must clarify to the world that their hair is authentic.
Folks make remarks like “why do you wear fake hair, you don’t need it.”
Really? “Why do you wear that fake color in your hair, you don’t need it.” “Oh, it’s because you like that color right? You feel like wearing it because you want to? Well, me too.” Some black girls, the naturalistas, can make me feel as if I don’t love myself because I don’t wear my natural hair. And these remarks hurt the most, because I love my hair in all its varying forms. And I don’t want it to define who I am. I am who I am; my hair doesn’t change that. I hate limiting my self-love to a one-dimensional reading of my hair.
“You’re aggravating me,” I snapped. “Do you really mean to ask me if I wash my hair? How obnoxious are you? My hair is not dirty!” My reply was accompanied by the most vicious side-eye imaginable. She said nothing. This was the first time someone implied that my hair was dirty, but it wasn’t the first time my self-expression through hair came into question.
At a time when I was feeling myself and was finally starting to feel at peace with who I was becoming, I had a gentleman imply that I was not happy with who I was, because I didn’t wear my hair in its natural state. I knew this implication said more about him and what his idea of what a happy, self-evolved woman looked like, than it did about me. Although I was a little shocked that he couldn’t see by the light in my eyes and the width of my smile that I was in a better place mentally, I knew that his view of me was not accurate. I knew that I was my own masterpiece to paint and create as I saw fit; I was my own creation, and I could not be defined by another person’s narrow view of what I should be.
This gentleman was a person I had only known professionally for a few months; he didn’t know me in my twenties when I wore my hair in natural dreadlocks for nine years. And in fact, was probably the most lost, unhappy, and lonely I had ever been in my entire life. It had absolutely nothing to do with my hair, because how you wear your hair has nothing to do with how happy you are. A hairstyle is not what fundamentally makes a person happy or sad. That happens on the inside and manifests on the outside through a skip in your step, a smile on your face, and a twinkle in your eye.
How I wear my hair is similar to how I wear my clothes: it’s what I feel good wearing that day and another avenue through which to express myself like my shoes or accessories. I enjoy trying new styles and expressions, so what my hair really says is that I don’t want to be boxed in or defined as one thing. I am an evolving woman in process, and I cannot be defined by my hair. I cannot be defined by another person’s definition of life. I can only live happily by my own vast definition. I do not have any time to be limited by another person’s definition. However, if your hair has a different definition in your life, it means something else to you, then it’s your life to define as you see fit. My hands are too full figuring out my own shit. As anyone with even a little insight knows, once you figure out one aspect of your life, here comes another obstacle for you to conquer and learn a new thing about yourself.