I grew up wearing natural hair, and I’ve only known my mother to wear natural hair or braids my entire life. It was always something to be celebrated in my house. My younger sister and I had box braids that we’d decorate with beads at the end. My mom did all the threading and would often stack them on in green, white, then green again for Nigeria, and I thought it was so fun. I loved swinging my head back and forth and hearing the jingle jangle of the beads. I thought it was so pretty. I loved it, loved it, loved it.
I remember how exciting it was as a teen to turn on the TV and see the Williams sisters who wore their hair just like ours. But there was an alarm going off in my head watching those two phenomenal athletes, who I thought looked beautiful, only to hear the sideshow commentary of how “inappropriate” their hairstyles were for the sport. I didn’t fully understand the world then to grasp the dog whistling that was happening. I wasn’t adult enough to understand the intricacies and the complexity of subverted racism. But even at that young age, I knew enough about coding to know it wasn’t just their hair—or the beads themselves—the commentators were criticizing. I knew there was a correlation between their hue and their hair.
How you could even have an opinion about the way someone’s hair comes out of their head naturally is confusing to me. Or how traditional hairstyles—whether that’s twists, braids, or locs—could be thought of as militant, angry, or unprofessional. Ultimately, these are ways to police a Black woman’s existence and identity. We are being encouraged to subscribe to Eurocentric and imperialistic standards of beauty as the default.
The picking apart of our beauty extends beyond our hair. It goes to our very existence. From colorism to imperialistic standards of beauty, our features are looked at as less than. Like how having a small, straight nose is supreme as opposed to a broad or aquiline nose. Or almond shaped eyes that are set wide versus if they’re more close together and round, like a baby doll. Our cheekbones, lips, hue, complexion, even our teeth are judged. Did you know that having a gap is a sign of beauty in Nigeria and throughout Africa? Here in America, we put braces on.
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