Mum, why can’t I be like the other pretty girls?
Afro hair in a white society
In today’s society we are obsessed with the media’s beauty ideals and we are driven to compete with our peers to have the best skin, longest hair and prettiest faces.
From a young age the idea that my hair was messy and difficult was ingrained into me. I remember each year the dreaded day would come when we had to get our photos taken for the year book. No matter how hard I tried to “tame” my hair I would always be pulled to the back of the queue to have my hair vigorously combed often with the teacher sighing and making comments about how my mum should have spent more time brushing my hair- which she did!
In fact my mother, who is an incredible mum who has struggled for years spending copious amounts of money on various hair products, even took it upon herself to take a hairdressing course whilst already working full time because she cared so deeply about my hair. So you can imagine my frustration when my lovely curls were being tugged and destroyed into a frizzy mess by my teacher. I hated all of my primary photos and wished to be allowed to stand in that queue and have my hair left alone- I wanted to scream at them and say “don’t touch my hair, you don’t touch any of the other girls hair!” Which of course I didn’t as I have been a well behaved child throughout my education and knew when not to answer back.
But moments like these made me ask my mum- “Why am I not beautiful in society’s eyes? Why can’t I have long hair and be pretty like my friends?” Which truly broke her.
From around the age of 7 I had my hair straightened, relaxed and blow dried- every single day. My parents had to comfort me through many hours of crying about my hair and cope with a lot of abuse and screaming from me whenever it had to be brushed. I’ve grown up in Bath which is a predominately white city so it was easy for me to stand out in every classroom as a mixed race girl and my hair made it worse.
Being a child with anxiety I used to cry my eyes out if I had to go to school with my natural hair and often complained to my mum of having stomach aches and not being able to go.
By the age of 13 I found out about weaves- could I finally achieve my dream of fitting in with the other white girls? My parents spent hundreds of pounds on various weaves and braids but instead of feeling pretty I felt like a traitor. This hair wasn’t mine, this hair wasn’t me.
I simply just wanted to fit into the mould of what society deemed as beautiful. I remember thinking that no one could ever fancy me and this was reinforced by comments from people at school such as “your hair looks way better like that, you look way prettier.” This wasn’t children intentionally being malicious or cruel, they just didn’t understand. And why would they? I often was one of few people with hair like this that they had ever seen so no wonder it came as a shock.
By my first year of sixth form I finally decided I wanted to try and begin to appreciate my hair and to my surprise the response was nowhere near as bad as I feared. In fact people regularly began commenting on how beautiful and different my hair is and for once they didn’t mean “different” in a bad way. I began realising people liked me for me and I no longer had to hide behind extensions and various hair products attempting to look like my peers. I even managed to overcome my irrational mindset that no one would ever fancy me with hair like this.
I’m currently training to be an actress and now every room I walk into I feel blessed that I am different, I finally don’t feel compelled to fit in and I’ve realised that having long straight beautiful hair is NOT the root of happiness.
So my advice to young boys and girls who may have similar experiences to me is appreciate your hair. Appreciate standing out and use it to your advantage- your hair is beautiful in its natural form. I wish that my younger self had heard these words many years ago.