Holding space for your hair

A woman in a white outfit sits on a chair in front of a beige curtain

Writer Aleah Aberdeen pens an essay on her evolving relationship with her hair and its relationship to self-confidence

By Aleah Aberdeen   Images courtesy of Aleah Aberdeen    Wednesday 28 October, 2020   Short read

Changing your hair is a cathartic process. It is restoration and renewal. You can release your old wounds that you are carrying and start anew. The change in physical self provides a sense of liberation for the individual in which they can reinvent themselves. In many ways, hair has become a source from which we draw agency and control. It’s empowering.

But when changing your hair becomes a constant, our perception of what is natural becomes hazy. And what is natural to me could be scarce to you – we can’t easily transcend beyond our own cultural specificity, which really is part of the problem.

I spent my childhood growing up in the countryside, privileged in many ways, but I knew I was a little bit different from those around me. Being mixed raced comes with a whole sea of emotions. From a young age you become quite introspective… I am White, I am also Black, and I am very Black in this White space. It’s conflicting to say the least. Me being racialised as Black cannot solely be reduced to skin tone – without a doubt, hair constitutes this historically charged ideology, and I had lots of it.
A family photograph of a young girl smiling in bed
A family photograph of a young girl smiling getting her hair done
I always hid my hair in a bun in my teen years; I hated it down. The frizz, the attention, the inability for my curls to retain length. I straightened the ends every day just so that it wouldn’t ping back up. Length retention has been romanticised for a long time – just look at literary folklore like Rapunzel – but hair growing out or up was just not a thing. I vividly remember watching the makeover episode of Britain’s Next Top Model and seeing the three Black women have their curls relaxed, as this way they looked ‘more posh’. Not one other model with straight hair had a perm. 

‘You’re so lucky to have that kind of curly hair’ is what I was often told by my peers. What I now understand this luck to be is privilege. Having a looser curl and lighter skin meant I could conform to respectability customs that someone with kinkier Afro-textured hair could not. My whiteness could carry me further in a Eurocentric society that favoured colourism and sleek hair. 

Straightening my hair minimised the comments, the microaggressions, the othering. Every curl that was stretched out freed me from social inhibition. It was my catharsis.
A woman in a white outfit poses in front of a beige curtain
A woman in a white outfit poses in front of a beige curtain
Continuously manipulating one’s hair against its natural form, in my opinion, is a drastic means of assimilation that has been normalised by Western standards of beauty. 

Our hair does not need to be the vessel that takes the weight of our problems, even if it feels like it is causing the problem (in a non-accepting society). In Buddhist tradition, Tonsure is a practice that monks partake, shaving the head to renounce the ego that is intrinsically tied to our hair. I’m not advocating that we should all go and shave our heads and we will be free from the vice of vanity, but to reconsider the beauty in our vulnerability that is sometimes forgotten underneath.  

Spend some detox time with yourself. Sit with your wounds before impulsively seeking immediate relief from them, because they will just resurface. 

Get to know your hair and make time for it. Where time is viewed as a commodity in this modern juncture, it’s easy to place less value on looking after yourself. Understand your hair type and what nutrients it needs to flourish.

Be open to change, but know your roots. Respect and remember your natural and beautiful form. Be kind to yourself. And know that you can decide how much you want your hair to define you.
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