I had the most beautiful 4/20 this year. I smoked a joint and let Beyoncé, India.Arie, Jazmine Sullivan, and Seinabo Sey serenade me into a corner where I could no longer fight. No longer lie to myself.
Music does a great job romanticizing the highs and lows of life. A good groove and good weed will force your mind to accept the truth. And the truth is we’re often lying to ourselves.
I unraveled the turban I religiously wore and marveled at my neglected crown. Underneath the fabric, my hair was a nappy and matted mess. And my hair, for so long, was how I expressed my beauty. If my hair looked a mess, then I was probably going through some deep emotional shit that I didn’t know how to handle.
I couldn’t stand to look in the mirror for one minute. For months, I continually became unhappy with the way I looked. My natural hair once was a source of liberation for me. What happened?
I Am Not My Hair
I went natural in 2011. It was right before being a beauty influencer became a taxable nine-to-five. YouTube was rife with black girls who wanted to share their natural hair journey with others. I’m sure all the girls on the other side of my laptop screen, their tinnie wienie afros (TWA) dripping with Hello Hydration, had fallen down the natural hair rabbit hole on Tumblr, too.
For months I’d been in a fantasy world where every black woman wore a chunky, small, curly, or kinky afro. I believed their hair connected them to some glorious hair God in the cosmos that blessed them with extra melanin to make their skin pop and curls extra bouncy. I had never seen so much beauty before in my life, and I wanted to be just like those women. MyNaturalSistas, Natural Chica, Naptural85, and SimplYounique became my teachers, and I would binge their videos every day after school.
I tried to transition instead of doing the big chop. My self-esteem was something I already struggled with, so why would I humiliate myself by getting a short cut? Naturally, I’m impatient so I only transitioned for a month, then I cut my hair. Back then, seeing black women rock their natural hair, outside of Tumblr and YouTube, was rare.
I remember the day I cut off my permed hair. I called around to three black-owned beauty salons in Sanford. I could hear the fear in their voice. Their apprehension about assisting me through this life-changing moment was loud and clear, so I went to the Dominican salon where I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about being judged. I was wrong.
Maybe everyone was afraid to see a little black Southern girl with short natural hair. The woman at the Dominican salon chose not to cut all of my permed hair off. Annoyed with everyone, I went home, stood in front of the mirror with my elementary scissors, and chopped off the rest of my straight ends. My mom was mad and I’m pretty sure my grandfather told me I looked like a boy, but I didn’t care. Because I finally saw myself. I finally felt beautiful.
In 2013, during my sophomore year at FAMU, I cut my hair again. Around this time, Instagram was becoming more popular. I thought natural hair brands were missing the mark and were only celebrating the girls with loose and long curl patterns. I was a virtual intern for Honey Be Natural! Magazine and I was writing a quarterly column featuring products every natural should have. I suggested we start the @HoneyBeYou IG account to show how unique natural hair is.
I was drowning in pictures of women with tapered cuts, and I decided I wanted a blond one. This was the beginning of my short cut addiction. Every other Friday, my friends knew where to find me: at the Rattlers Edge getting a new haircut or a new color.
After I graduated in 2016, I decided I wanted dread locks because I (mistakingly) thought it was a low maintenance hairstyle, which is what I needed in my life.
Prior to graduating, I was deeply depressed because I had no plan for my life post-grad. I had applied to a billion jobs and had only gotten one interview. Though I did eventually get a job, I ended up losing it a few months later. Sleeping on the couch at my grandparents’ house, jobless and depressed, I decided that I would take my writing career seriously, start a self-care blog, and grow out my locs. It was like the puzzle was finally coming together. I was so elated.
My locs represented how much I thought I was growing through my depression. They were my crown, and they connected me to a higher, more spiritual, aspect of myself. My world was in so much chaos, but my dreads represented the constant peace I was forced myself to feel. I was reading tarot cards daily, googling “angel numbers” constantly, and believing that the numbness I was ignoring would disappear the next day.
It never did.
I knew my worth shouldn’t have been based on my external world, but impatiently, my inner imposter was always telling me how much of a failure I was. Instead of trying to find another traditional job, I chose to work for myself. I didn’t know what I was doing, and for the longest I struggled to actually make a living. I was stubborn and wanted to prove to everyone that I could be an entrepreneur.
It was an uphill battle (that’s still proving to be worth it), but I took a huge hit to my self-esteem. My desire to create my own life kept me stuck in a reality where I felt less-than. I wasn’t being consistent with my work because I was sad all the time. I would try things, fail, and give up completely. It was an ugly cycle.
Though I loved my locs, I began neglecting them because I wasn’t happy with the decisions I was making, and I didn’t believe I was worthy of feeling beautiful if I couldn’t post about all the great things I was accomplishing on IG.
I cut my hair again.
I Owe You Nothing
Fast forward now, back to 4/20 of this year. That night, while looking in the mirror, I felt the most beautiful I had felt since I first went natural in 2011. I never realized that I was using my hair to cover up how much I truly hated myself.
When I smoked that joint, I let Beyonce show me how low self-esteem is a condition caused by internal misalignment. India.Arie reminded me that my worth is more than a hairstyle; Jazmine Sullivan told me that through it all I am perfect; and Seinabo Sey inspired me to be myself, unapologetically. In my heightened state, my ears were open. I listen to their words. Perhaps for the first time, I allowed them to sink in.
As I reflected on my hair story I realized a few things:
When I first cut my hair, I was trying to fix what I believed was ugly and unacceptable. Every time I tried a new hairstyle, I was trying to make myself become more beautiful because I didn’t understand that beauty, like love, is constant.
No matter how much I believed in black girl magic and no matter how hard I tried to make myself love my nappy hair, breaking free of the programming that told my mother, my grandmother, and their mother that black women are unlovable was hard.
Unconsciously, I thought I would never be enough if my beauty wasn’t filtered and perfect. Being an idealized black woman is en vogue. But being me—with my nappy hair and dark skin—would never be trendy if I continued to define my beauty by the Devil’s standards.
Learning to love myself is a lot like being high: it comes in waves.
And with every good high you need a good playlist that reflects what you’re feeling, in all its nuance. Every part of my being sings a different song. My hair—my crown—emits the most beautiful frequency. Every kinky strand is a word in a song that helps me understand just how loveable I truly am.