Don't Touch My Natural Hair
Photo: Lynelle Knowles/Author
"My mother is white, and many memories I have about my hair involve her use of multiple tools, everyone that a white womxn could possibly think of, standing over me staring at my hair like she was staring at a foreign language she didn’t know how to speak. "

My hair is more than simply hair that grows from my scalp; my hair is my home. It is my shelter, my friend, my enemy, my confidant, and my reflection. I have very thick 4c hair. It is curly, kinky, complex, textured, and sophisticated. Most of my youth was spent in tears about my hair. It was always too short, too dry, too thick, too big, too frizzy, and too distracting. My hair has always been too… something. Too many combs and bristles have met their demise upon meeting my hair.

My mother is white, and many memories I have about my hair involve her use of multiple tools, everyone that a white womxn could possibly think of, standing over me staring at my hair like she was staring at a foreign language she didn’t know how to speak. From relaxers to afros to blowouts to braids, I really didn’t know how to deal with my hair until I was an adult. And it was then, as an adult, that I began to realize what my hair meant to me, and how it was a reflection of myself: it’s thick, untamable, layered, textured, kinky, complicated and has an independent mind of its own.

When I started viewing my hair like that, instead of a frizzy mess on top of my head, it became more special to me. Learning to love it was a process of realizing that every second I was spending on my it, was my body forcing me to spend time paying attention to, love, and take care of myself. My hair is and will be my first and last love, companion, and mirror. Doing my hair ranges from about one to fourteen hours, depending on whether I’m blow drying it or braiding it.

My hair has also forced me to be strong, independent and self-loving. I didn’t wear braids or weaves ‘til I was older, and I started to realize that men seemed to like them a lot better than my afro. This means that my adulthood and most of my teenage years were spent being treated a certain way by men because of my hair, which forced me to choose who I loved more: my natural hair, an extension of my own soul, or men who just couldn’t accept its depth or reach. The answer always has been and always will be my hair, and I know that if a man can’t handle my natural hair, he certainly can’t handle me. This was a hard lesson to learn and accept, but one that was necessary for me to blossom and thrive. It also made me realize how much power lies in my hair. Everyone wants to touch it. And I have the right to say “no”. I am not obligated to let anyone touch my hair, my time, my tears or my soul. I can say no, and I do often. If I do let someone touch my hair, it is because I am choosing to send the invitation. And within these powers also lies the power in knowing that this beautiful mane on my head commands the attention of every eye that encounters it when I enter a room.

I have grown to cherish all the lessons that my hair has taught me, the oldest and most obvious being that I cannot take care of my hair without pain. Whether I’m combing, brushing, detangling, braiding, weaving, none of the reward hair wise or life wise comes without some hard work and pain, which is the most complex, necessary, and empowering lesson that I could have ever learned. Also, nothing beautiful, satisfying, or something worth achieving can come about without the proper time, care, and attention to do so. Where my white mother often came up short trying to give me advice and wisdom to me, a black womxn, my hair filled her shoes and did the job for her.

Braids are time-consuming but I love them. It’s my favorite way to wear my hair. I’m lazy, I love just being able to wash them once a week, wrap ‘em up at night, and flaunt them all day. They are also a mirror of my soul: they require diligence, commitment, skill, and care. Once they are finally all done, they make me feel so free, and they always make me feel carefree with their lovely sway.

I never take my braids out until I’m ready. I know that you are supposed to take them out at a certain time after you put them in, but my soul won’t allow it. In order to take them out, I have to have time, energy, and the urge to do so. I set aside time and let each one unravel through my own fingers. Every time I take my braids out, I can’t help but think about all the black people that have gone before me who have made the same exact motions, countless of times, since the beginning of humankind. Kings, queens, warriors and leaders, priestesses and fighters, and we all are connected through our hair. There is so much wisdom, culture, complexity, and beauty in our hair. It isn’t simply hair; it is our crown, our pride, our glory, and it is all unique and powerful. It is us.

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