Home Beauty The Beauty Shop: Let’s Start Talking About Our Hair

The Beauty Shop: Let’s Start Talking About Our Hair

by Erika Nicole Kendall

I was minding my business one fine afternoon, lurking on twitter, when I caught a glimpse of what Ebony.com was doing, and why:

A Central Florida teen told Local 6 on Monday she faced expulsion because administrators at her private school wanted her to cut and shape her hair. But a day later, administrators appeared to have changed their mind, saying she will not be expelled.

Vanessa VanDyke said she was given one week to decide to whether cut her hair or leave Faith Christian Academy in Orlando, a school she’s been going to since the third grade.

“It says that I’m unique,” said VanDyke. “First of all, it’s puffy and I like it that way. I know people will tease me about it because it’s not straight. I don’t fit in.”

VanDyke said that first the teasing from other students, but now, school leaders seem to be singling her out for her appearance.

Faith Christian Academy has a dress code and rules against how students can wear their hair. The student handbook reads: “Hair must be a natural color and must not be a distraction,” and goes on to state examples that include, but are not limited to, mohawks, shaved designs and rat tails.

“A distraction to one person is not a distraction to another,” said VanDyke’s mother, Sabrina Kent. “You can have a kid come in with pimples on his face. Are you going to call that a distraction?”

VanDyke said she’s had her large, natural hair all year long, but it only became an issue after the family complained about students teasing her about her hair.

“There have been bullies in the school,” said Kent. “There have been people teasing her about her hair, and it seems to me that they’re blaming her.”

“I’m depressed about leaving my friends and people that I’ve known for a while, but I’d rather have that than the principals and administrators picking on me and saying that I should change my hair,” said VanDyke.

“I’m going to fight for my daughter,” Kent said. “If she wants her hair like that, she will keep her hair like that. There are people out there who may think that natural hair is not appropriate. She is beautiful the way she is.”

School administrators told Local 6 in a statement on Tuesday, “we’re not asking her to put products in her hair or cut her hair. We’re asking her to style her hair within the guidelines according to the school handbook.” [source]

And, as I was skimming through commentary on Ebony.com’s efforts to host a #HappyAfroDay, I realized something very important, at least to me.

Once upon a time, when I used to write about my hair, I wrote about it being straight and relaxed, with no intention of ever “going natural.” In fact, I was one of those people who turned my nose up at the idea of being relaxer-free. I “have too much hair,” I “spent my entire life with straight hair and had no idea what the hell to do with non-relaxed hair,” I “couldn’t see non-relaxed hair as attractive,” I mean… just about every explanation you could think of was one that cycled through my mind.

I don’t think it’s on accident that those phrases are so common among relaxer-wearers. I also don’t think it’s on accident that natural-haired women also may find themselves going through a phase where they’re very anti-relaxer… almost to the point where it feels like attack mode. I think we’re all fighting for the same thing – albeit from completely different angles – and it all contributes to the same thing – healthy body image.

“Going natural” or “transitioning” is hard work, both mentally and physically. There’s a lot that contributes to our understanding of what makes us beautiful, and unpacking that is exhausting. I remember the first day I wore my half-n-half hair – half relaxed, half natural – in a slept-on braidout to run to the grocery store down the block, and the compliments just kept coming. I felt like crying – sad that I didn’t understand why I was so afraid to wear my own damn hair, and happy that it was affirmed that I was attractive in my own kinks and coils, even if I wasn’t mentally ready to affirm it for myself. It took me a long time to evolve from that thinking.


Obviously, things are different for me, now. I reached my four-year anniversary of going natural, recently. My hair is pretty damn long, and healthy to boot. Also, I live in the natural hair mecca, Brooklyn. We* have a special way to hug one another so that our fros don’t wind up tangling with one another. We have shops dedicated exclusively to our natural hair. We afro wearers give knowing nods to one another, as if to imply “I see you, girl, stunting with that lovely head of hair!” Most importantly, natural hair is so common here that it’s not as likely that you’d be insulted in regards to your hair as it might be elsewhere. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I wasn’t uncomfy in certain professional settings with my hair.

I’m not interested in opening persuasive conversation about why you need to be nappy and get happy. I don’t care to have conversations that villainize one side or the other. I am interested in talking about this from the perspective of “what are our relationships with our hair doing for us?” and “what contributes to our perspective of our hair, relaxed or natural?” and even “why are our hair choices so political?” I’m interested in what acceptance of “different hair” is like in other parts of the country (and the world, at that), and I’m interested in how that acceptance – or lack thereof – affects what resources you have to go natural, and even how it affects your desire to transition. I think that all of these things affect the way we look at ourselves and the world around us, and it colors our initial reaction to a school considering the hair of a naturally-bushy-haired child “a distraction” while simultaneously ignoring the need for young black girls to become acquainted with their own natural beauty. I think this is worth exploring here.


What do you think? I mean, aside from the usual questions that I get – “why is your hair so long???” which I’m totally okay with sharing anyway – what would you like to discuss? What do you think is most important, here?

*Not all, just some.. you ‘fro who you are!

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Durkia December 3, 2013 - 1:14 PM

Having to explain it to my non-African American counterparts. I constantly hear from them wow you change your hair a lot (I’m 9 months into my transition) and a couple of them have had the BALLS to say to me, “but I preferred your straight hair.” Explaining to some though they just can’t grasp the idea because they have always been natural. *le sigh* it gets exhausting trying to explain my decision.

I have a little cousin who is a fresh innocent 7 years old and lives in a predominantly white community and she came home to her mom one day crying because she wanted to have straight hair like her white friends. Her mom permed her hair. I wasn’t mad about the perm except that she did it for all the wrong reasons. Not because her hair was “unmanageable” but because she wanted to look like her white friends. NOW she has seen me transitioning and doing cool things with my hair and she has been begging her mom to let her do it. Her mom won’t. I think her mom needs to have a deeper conversation with her about standards of beauty because now she’s all confused. Wew a lot I know. Don’t kill me Erika lol!

christine December 3, 2013 - 1:26 PM

I’m probably one of the few women who have never worn a weave or a wig lol. I’ve been wearing braids in some shape or form for 20 plus years (damn I’m old) l I never got into the straight hair thang…My stylist asks asks me why I just don’t wear my own hair..I’m lazy lol, my hair tangles up and I’d end up shaving my head by the end of the week

LR December 16, 2013 - 11:41 PM

I don’t even know what a weave is. I wear my hair natural, but struggle, have had braids twice, & would love better guidance to keep my natural, long curls healthy & lovely. Having a white mother provided zero assistance. I’m almost 50 and still don’t know how to do my hair. smh

Olivia December 3, 2013 - 4:14 PM

I did the big chop a month ago after swearing up and down that I was never going to “go natural”. I did it on the spur of the moment as I was growing out my old permed hairstyle and braids was tearing out my edges. I didn’t do it because I wanted to get back to my roots, hate perms, feel any which way about straight/not straight hair…none of that. It wasn’t deep for me-I just wanted a change and exercising was messing up my permed hair. Maybe because of my culture (I am Jamacian) or how my parents raised me I have never felt such angst about being “black” or wanting to look white. It’s just hair people. I’m sad to see so many people (Black and others) placing so much emphasis on hair! Sometimes I honestly wish I hadn’t gone natural because it seems like I’m making a “big statement” and people are going to hate if I perm my hair again (which I might because I like changing my hairstyles!). I have what so many people say is “good” hair ( I HATE that term) and this is a learning process for me. I don’t have a daughter ( my one and only is a boy) but if I did I would try to teach her the same things my parents did so (hopefully) she won’t place so much angst and stress on her looks and especially compare herself to other races.

Lena December 3, 2013 - 4:14 PM

Hey Erika
Love you blog and your hair is lovely. I’ve been natural for a couple years now but I usually wear my hair in twists with the occasional twist out. I haven’t found too many YouTube videos with Afro tips and I was wondering if you follow any hair bloggers. Also, do you pick out your hair or use any products? I’m always on the hunt for hair tips.
Keep up the good work!

Brenda Walls December 3, 2013 - 4:17 PM

As a half breed (Puerto Rican/Italian) I have the thickest, wavy/curly, what the hell is that hair that most people just don’t get. Try finding a stylist-truly-it doesn’t work! I spent YEARS trying to fit in with the all white girls or the all Latina girls and my hair just never looked like theirs EVER! I was always bummed! I changed my hair every 6 months trying everything. Finally I said screw this! My hair is thick, wavy, confused and AWESOME! Instead of killing myself I embraced it and now its healthy and fabulous. I wear it 100% natural! I still get the “dang your hair is so thick, or that is a a lot of hair for someone like you 🙂 but its me..why fight against nature?? Though I will admit I still get a tad envious of people with naturally straight hair..I am a work in progress!

KjenNu December 4, 2013 - 1:57 AM

I would like to have a discussion about the politics of hair. I’ve been natural for years and I still become concerned about how people view my hair style. Not if they find my hair attractive, but I wonder and worry about what assumptions they are making about my values and beliefs. It can feel that my hairstyle/natural hair has an identity all of its own and the person wearing it – me – doesn’t factor into other perceptions at all. I confess these worries are particularly prominent for job interviews

LR December 16, 2013 - 11:48 PM

Agreed. Hair politics play a prominent role in the workplace, especially for WOC. I’ve been petted, asked multiple times if I was wearing a wig on Halloween, and called a troll doll. Yes, I was in a hostile work environment that embraced institutional racism, but it was a state government entity that allegedly did not tolerate such nonsense. I’d like to hear others’ experiences.

marie December 4, 2013 - 2:41 AM

I only think one thing: you are so beautiful in those pictures!

as per my own experience I have found it easier to accept and embrace my natural hair here in France than when I lived in the Caribbean. I was in high school and remember I had to wear box braid all the time because I couldn’t stand to see my own nappy hair. not bouncy enough like those mixed girls, not “falling” on my shoulders like the white girls. so braids was a good compromise. the one wearing their her nappy would often get comments especially if they dare to wear them in an afro!!! I eventually relaxed them and felt more “integrated” in that society… for a short time because my hair was so damaged that I soon got comments about how I should learn to take care of them… I suppose the teenage world is particularly mean…
when I moved to France it was difficult to take care of my hair as I was on my own, no auntie or mummy to braid it or relax it and hair salons were so expensive. I was doing it myself and endure so much suffering (that chemical burn!!!! and the braids were itching my scalp) and one day I decided it was enough I stopped the braids and the relaxer in 2009 and the same year I shaved everything. I remember going back to the Caribbean with my bold head but I can’t figure out if I got comments or maybe I grew up ?
anyway, that’s the beat decision I have ever made and some of my friends even followed me. I wear my funky hairstyles at my conservative work and it’s absolutely no big deal. I think the big deal is in our head , once you let go of taking care of what a society (which does not have your best interests at heart) thinks about your self, your identity, then you become free. <3

Jaime December 4, 2013 - 10:26 AM

i think your hair is beautiful.
so i am not a black woman, but a white woman with naturally curly hair. you would be surprised how often (more so when i was younger-im 33 now) i would be told that i would look so pretty if i just brushed my hair!!! or the oh so lovely “you look wonderful with straight hair” but its curly at that time. yes for my bridal show a friend of mine straightened it, and it took her well over an hour. im not interested in spending that time to do it.
i also used to get asked how often i got a perm (never!!!) and people just didnt believe me. older women come up to me and just start touching my hair on occasion (talk about weird).
my cousins on my mom’s side have it worse than me, their hair is crazy thick (their dad is Italian) and two of the three of them straighten their hair every day. they are a bit younger than me, so i just say i dont have time for that.
for me what works best is to just wash my hair, brush it out while wet and put a tiny bit of product in it, and never touch it again!!!

Jai December 5, 2013 - 6:59 PM

Hi Erika!
I haven’t commented in sooo long, but I wanted to chime in as well. Like you, when I was relaxed, I was all about straight hair. You couldn’t pay me to go natural. I worked out frequently, and maintained a cute look, so that argument never worked. I even commented to a girl friend that the only way I’d give up my relaxer is with a gun to my head (terrible, I know). Two weeks after making that statement, I was diagnosed with alopecia, and my dermatologist put a metaphorical gun to my head… I could keep getting relaxers, but I might go bald in the process.
While I was transitioning, I was miserable. I wore wigs and braids to hide my fro. Honestly, my boyfriend suggested I skip the wig when we were going to the movies, and I received so many random compliments, that I finally gained some confidence in just rocking my hair. I’ve been natural for about 3 yrs now (2 1/2 wig free, lol), and I love it!
Now, I am in a conservative profession (law student) in a pretty conservative city (Dallas) so I often wear my hair in buns to work. When I rock the occasional WnG, I get tons of positive feedback from my cohorts (but I often get the side-eye from older black women… am I the only who gets that? Sorry, I digress) Anyway… this has been a long way of saying that it took a lot for me to accept my natural hair. While the choice to go natural was imposed upon me, I’m very happy with my fabulous fro!

Nadine December 6, 2013 - 4:12 AM

Absolutely beautiful – love your hair 🙂

I think whatever you think is good is all that matters. Natural or straight hair – I think it can all work 🙂

Silent Observer December 6, 2013 - 12:50 PM

I just wanted to comment and say that I am a white girl who has been following your blog for a while now, have never commented, but find most of what you talk about SO relatable — even posts like this (where it might not be quite as obvious since white girls dont really struggle with this natural vs relaxer vs whatever debate.) Every single person, especially women, struggle with body image somehow…. we just all are fighting different fights daily! Some of our issues center around culture, like the one you’re talking about here, but I think most women can read any of your articles on body image issues and get that feeling of “girl, I feel you.” Why are we all so harsh on each other!? On ourselves!? You would think that since all of us are sitting here, fighting the good fight, working every day to accept and love ourselves, we could bond together and build each other up… but so often it’s the opposite. So I just wanted to ramble on and tell you thanks for sharing your thoughts and so much helpful insight on this!

I also wanted to tell you that your hair is absolutely perfect and beautiful!

lunanoire December 9, 2013 - 6:43 PM

Advice Please!

Any other twisted naturals who exercise in the morning? What do y’all do with sweaty scalps? Wash and use a blow dryer, risking heat damage? Air dry? I used to air dry, which worked living in a dry climate, but with a humid environment and an a/c at work on high, air drying means a wet chilly scalp for hours. Is there a great spray to use or some kind of heat protectant?

Courtney December 29, 2013 - 11:29 PM

I’m almost 3 years natural and I while I have learned to loved my natural curls/kinks recently I have been struggling with how others view my hair. When I decided to transition I had just been hired at a new company, 8 months later I cut my hair and wore it in a puff, no one said anything and if they had it wouldn’t have mattered. Since I now find myself in a position where I will have to start looking for another job I just wonder how accepting new potential employers will look at me. Will they look past my hair and notice my experience and skills or will they hold my choice to wear my hair naturally against me? I am not trying to be in the beauty salon every 2 weeks or so to get my hair blown out and have it potentially become damaged to satisfy someone else, but my hair could be the deal breaker between getting a job offer or not.

And speaking on being comfortable with your natural hair…I work with several ladies who are natural. One of my coworkers had some heat damage and had been wearing weaves to give her hair a break. She decided to take her weave out, cut the damaged hair off and start back a square one. She came to work the next day with a cut little TWA, can you tell me why another coworker (who of Indian descent) told her she like the straight (weave) hair better and offered to cut her straight hair to give her some because she didn’t like her curls. The girl was already self conscious about the wearing her hair natural again (after a lengthy break) plus she wasn’t comfortable with her length (shrinkage is a B!) and I believe that one comment sent her over the edge and she decided to have her hair relaxed. The attitude/comments made are the ones we need to work to change. I never understand why it’s ok for other curly haired folks to wear their curls but our hair is deemed unruly, unprofessional, ugly, unkempt…etc.

Bre January 11, 2014 - 11:48 AM

I feel this article so much. I’m going on six years natural and it’s been very interesting. I started out super enthusiastic about it, to the point where I made a youtube channel, and I was constantly doing my hair and loving it. I still appreciate it years later, the youtube channel is still up, but my enthusiasm has all but died LOL, hair maintenance is a trip for me at this point.

Why/how is your hair so long? I love hearing other women’s regimens.

Kyarra Keele August 11, 2014 - 2:34 PM

Beautiful pictures & a good article! Thank you (:

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