Letter to the Editor: Uplifting the Narrative, Adding Context


“A Love Letter to My Curly Hair” by Deputy Sports Editor Amanda Rowan, released March 2024 in The Brown and White, caught the attention of many people of color on campus due to its oversight in discussing the history of self-esteem and hair discrimination, which has been occurring in communities of color since the early 20th century.

After reading the article, I completely understand why Rowan decided to write a personal reflection piece about her struggles with embracing her natural hair texture. I understand the urge to manipulate hair texture to fit the societal representation of feminine beauty, and I understand the personal pain it can cause — choosing societal representation over personal health and well-being because everywhere around us, the media particularly, says we must choose normativity. 

As much as I am able to empathize with these experiences, I cannot help but wonder why there was a lack of acknowledgment of other communities, particularly communities of color and our struggle with embracing natural hair textures due to constrained societal beauty standards. 

As a Black woman, I’ve encountered my own journey with natural hair, deeply intertwined with personal struggles and societal pressures. Frustrated by the challenges of managing my natural texture, my mother sought a solution in relaxers. She was often tired of having to balance frequent trips to the beauty supply store for new combs. Eventually, she suggested a perm, promising ease of maintenance, and I readily agreed.

After years of chemically treating my hair, I made the choice to embrace my natural hair. This meant embracing the “big chop,” which is a hair process that consists of chopping off chemically treated hair and waiting for my natural hair to grow. 

Although I knew the “big chop” was a healthy alternative to chemically treated hair, I still battled with social insecurities related to natural hair care. Navigating an unfamiliar naturally textured terrain was one thing, but doing so while Black peoples’ embrace of naturally styled hair was being criminalized in corporate America and educational spaces is another thing. 

To manage the competing dilemmas of a Black community that strongly supported my natural hair journey and majority white spaces that often discriminated against people with Black natural hairstyles, I resorted to straightening my hair and relying on quick weaves as my default style. Quick weaves are considered culturally Black, and straight hair, like Rowan wrote about, is culturally comfortable for the predominantly white society. 

There is a connection between my experience and Rowan’s, even as boundaries are drawn. We can look at the criminalization of natural hair starting with communities of color and the persistent resistance on part of those communities to understand more why young people like Rowan and myself have a hard time embracing our natural hair, even as we both realize it is the healthiest choice for our hair. 

Many Black people have written about natural hair — its struggles and points of resistance. Sources like The Well article “What Explaining My Natural Hair to PhDs Taught Me About the Art of Persuasion,” by forthcoming NYU Press natural hair book author Dr. Chelsea Johnson Rabb, argues Black women’s choice to go natural is a politicized trend commonly met with “coworkers who’ve called their natural hair wild, ugly, masculine or unprofessional.” The impact of this is not unique to the Black women Rabb interviewed.

 Further, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley in The New York Times article “Ayanna Pressley Opens Up About Living with Alopecia and Hair Loss,” bravely discussed her journey with alopecia and feeling as if she was culturally betraying young girls for wearing a wig. To confront this internal battle, she decided to become vulnerable and rock a bald style. And, despite the recent enactment of the Crown Act in 2019, which prohibits discrimination based on hair textures and styles, it is still being challenged in places like Texas where a young Black teenager is still facing challenges related to an extended suspension from his school due to his naturally styled dreadlocks. 

Each of these stories reveals just how political it is to choose natural hair and why many of us go through a “love letter to my curly hair” experience. These headlines demonstrate that natural hair and styles are still criminalized or marginalized to the point that someone like myself toils with hairstyles that appear professional, less masculine and essentially more Eurocentric.

What may seem unique to Rowan and myself, has larger implications. Like Rowan, I remain on a journey of self-discovery and acceptance, still learning to fully embrace my natural hair. It’s a path shared by many people of color, each navigating their own unique experiences and challenges along the way.

Whether we adorn kinky curls; curls; hijabs and other religious identifying head coverings; or dreaded locs, hair matters for everyone. We got a long way to go when it comes to natural hair love letters. 

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