I have something to tell you and it isn’t an easy thing to admit about myself so I’m grateful for the measure of anonymity afforded me on this forum. You see, I am, in every sense of the word a contradiction. I am a black woman embarking on a journey to discover who she is; while everyday I’ve been lying to myself about the way I look. Should anyone have asked, I have always claimed to be a proud black woman because the fact that I am black is undeniable, (well at least in theory any way). My skin, nose and natural hair all tell of my lineage but for the last year and a half I have been desperately trying to cover up or maybe just improve my blackness by weaving my hair. But now it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore the call to return to my roots. I’m sure the idea of a black woman with weave might conjure up images of flamboyant, radical colors and styles but no, that’s not me. I’m not the black woman who chooses to weave her hair to express her own freedom, individuality and uniqueness. Nope, I’m an even bigger hypocrite than she is, you see, I weave my hair for one reason and one reason only…so that I can quietly fit in and not offend anyone with my blackness.
Now to be truthful, I haven’t had to struggle to defend my blackness the way some have had to. I don’t face open racism and discrimination at the office but then again I am also decidedly non-threatening with my European hair and barely noticeable blackness, that it hardly seems worth the time discriminating against me for something that I haven’t quite claimed yet.
Social psychology states that our physical appearance becomes one of the first categories of the self concept to develop. In fact babies from as young as 6 months can recognize and accept their image in the mirror. It is only as we get older and become socialized into various belief systems, does that acceptance of self begin to falter. For instance, a few years ago as I started the job I have now, I briefly considered losing my fake hair and locking my natural hair. My boss, who I respect very much, is kind, understanding and supportive but one day, she randomly confessed to me that she still associates ‘rasta’ hair with being dirty and unkempt and has difficulty seeing it as a professional look. I immediately changed my mind. A few months ago, I told a girlfriend I was thinking about locking my hair to which she replied “Oh no but you look so pretty with the long weave…”
Again, I changed my mind. Another woman on work “Oh that hair makes you look so pretty and professional, just now you would be the boss in here…
” You guessed it, I changed my mind. And these are just the women; I won’t even speak of the men. Now don’t get me wrong, I am an adult, I cannot blame any of these people for their feelings and opinions on the matter and certainly the fact that I have allowed their opinions to affect my feelings and behavior toward my natural hair AND my natural self is no one’s fault but my own. However, I cannot deny that the society I find myself a part of seems to prefer the fake me and so for a while I also got quite comfortable being fake. And because I got comfortable, I am buried deeper and deeper under a mountain of fake because with fake hair, comes fake hair color, comes fake fingernails and toenails and yes even comes fake eyelashes. BUT as a fake I am pretty and attractive ( very important!), as a fake I fit the mold and have no responsibility to be true to who I am and as a fake, I am non-threatening and could make my way up the corporate ladder.
So what exactly am I trying to hide? That I am black? - I did discover that if I used jet black weave, my skin tone appears a lot lighter. Maybe it’s that I have kinky hair - Never have I weaved with kinky or curly hair, every month I would select long, straight, European style weave as my costume of choice. Or maybe it’s that I’m overweight – Long hair slims out your face oh so nicely and the compliments… well the compliments kept coming. “You look so pretty with that hair”, “Oh wow, did you lose weight, you look so different?”, “Are you a model now? You should think about it”.
And again, these were just the females; I won’t even bother to tell you about the males.
Every month I would make an appointment at the hair salon and as best as I could, I would try to get appointments for the weekend when I would not have anything else to do outside my apartment. It takes me two days to take out my weave. One day to cut it out and loosen the braids and one day to rest my overly sensitive scalp and prepare it for the tight pulling and plaiting. Still, occasionally I would find myself with no choice but to wear my natural hair (usually because of scheduling conflicts with my hairdresser) and on those days, I would be completely confined to my home. On those days I would call in sick at work, on those days if a friend asked to see me, I would pretend to be busy, sick or like one time I would even pretended to be in Tobago. If I have no food to eat at home on those days, I would have tea and crackers for breakfast, lunch and dinner because I would not leave my home with my hair undone. When I was in a relationship, my partner at the time would know not to bother me during those two days because I never wanted them to see me in my natural state and because they loved the fake me and wanted to continue to see me this way, they willingly obliged.
I would schedule my hair appointments early in the morning so there’s less chance of me running into someone I knew without my costume. And while all this hair drama makes me quite good at being inconspicuous (I have several hats and large pairs of sunglasses reserved for those ‘bad’ hair days), and while I suppose I became quite resourceful (being able to think up a lie on the spot as to why I couldn’t go to the mall or movies or beach or where ever) the fact is that I am ashamed of my hair. What I am now beginning to realize, or maybe I always knew and chose not to acknowledge is that by hiding my hair under the weave and under my hats of shame I am attempting to hide a very important part of who I am.
This worked nicely for a while, until I started these readings:
"SELF IMAGE IS A MASTER-KEY TOWARDS SELF-LOVE”
–The Goddess Black Woman.
Self image is a master key towards self love? So we have fake hair, nails and eyelashes. I can’t remember when last I went more than two days with my real hair in fact there are people who I consider good friends who I have known for a while who have no idea what I look like without extensions or weave and are shocked when I tell them I am a natural haired woman. “Aren’t natural haired women supposed to be all proud and stuff???”
But like I said, I am a contradiction. So just what does my self image look like? Well I’m not quite sure. I don’t even know if I’m beautiful without my weave. Sad but true. So can I still achieve self love????????
“…I want you to be courageous enough to really ask yourself, “why” are you paying all of that money to get a “temporary-permanent” in your head? “
This kinda strikes a chord with me, never before have I thought about the price that I was paying for my costume; I mean it just became part of my living expenses like rent and food. Every month when I make an appointment at the hair salon, I incur a cost of about $750.00.
• 2 packs weave - $250.00 (125 per pack)
• Hairdresser fee - $300.00
• Fake Nails - $150.00
• Fake Hair color (Jet Black)- $45.00.
I have been doing this every month for the last 18 months, that a total of $13,500.00. $10, 710.00 of which was spent on my head alone (no wonder my hairdresser loves me). I literally have to stop and take a walk.
Ok i'm back. When I began writing this, I was mainly concerned with the non financial costs of weaving, the lost of identity, lack of self love etc. I knew weaving costs me money, I’m not an idiot (although I did spend $13,500.00 at the hair salon) but this literally blows my mind. $13, 500.00 could pay my rent for the next 5 months, it could help fund my master’s study, it could assist needy families, it could be a down payment on my first car, and it could send my mother on a nice vacation, hell it could send us both on vacation. But no no no no no no, $13, 500.00 is the cost of my fakeness. It’s the cost of other people’s approval; it’s the cost of being complimented.
Now in case I may have given you the wrong impression, I am not bald, I have natural hair that kinks and curls as it pleases, its short, soft and kind of cute and it costs me next to nothing to wear. I don’t have to purchase any hair (maybe some hair products every couple of month, I’m assuming because I really don’t know how natural hair works) and I don’t have to pay anyone to put it on. Largely my natural hair comes free. But my fake hair keeps me in my comfort zone. My fake hair protects me from other people’s scrutiny but my natural hair may free me from feeling like a phony. My fake hair is pretty but my natural hair is my birth right. My fake hair keeps me tied to other people’s opinions and expectations but my natural hair could free me to be anything and anyone I choose. My fake hair ensures the approval of some as long as I look the part but my natural hair frees me to see the true affections of those who are genuine. Fake or Free. It seems so simple, if only it were. I know I’m not the first or the last to make the decision to be Fake or Free but I’m scared.
On my wall there is a calendar, with the date of my next hair appointment marked off. Fake or Free. It’s in 3 weeks and I don’t know if I will be ready to reject the hair salon. Fake or Free. So I’m doing the only thing I can think of, I’m reading and searching and asking the advice of others. I know Fake or Free is a decision that only I could make, but I need help. I need to know its okay to remain in Fake until I am truly ready to be Free; I need to know that if I do decide to be Free that black women will remember to compliment each other for their blackness and not in spite of it, because there is no shortage of people complimenting me on my fakeness. 3 weeks… Fake or Free…in 3 weeks Lullum will be Fake or Free.