I feel bad about my hair. I had a 7 a.m. appointment to get my hair cut this morning, and when I arrived at the barber’s shop, I was nowhere to be found on her schedule. I made the appointment through an online app and had an email confirmation, which I was holding up to show as evidence. Nevertheless, I received a short “I’m sorry” and no offer to try to work out any sort of reschedule or time to come back. Another person who had the actual 7 a.m. appointment was sitting in the suite waiting to get his haircut, and I simply had to walk back to my car in defeat.
As I sat in my car contemplating whether to let the tears gathered in my throat make their way to my tear ducts and down my face, I decided I didn’t have the energy to cry. I turned the car around and drove away. Later, when I returned home and thought more about the experience, I found my emotional response surprising. I would have expected anger or frustration, definitely palpable irritation. Instead, I was simply sad. I was looking forward to feeling more confident about my hair, which has become a source of consternation. These days, I wear my hair short and it’s been mostly a DIY operation. But as I look in the mirror and find myself frantically searching for points of diversion away from the scraggly gray strands and thinning edges of my mane, I’ve realized it’s time to seek professional assistance. That was supposed to be today. And even though the disruption was due to a technological error, I was still sad that the expected confidence boost was delayed.
The morning’s misadventure brought up hair sensitivities I’ve harbored for years. Finding someone to feel safe with and who creates an enjoyable hair experience has never been easy for me. Going to beauty salons as a girl wasn’t a journey of self-care or luxury. Instead, it felt like a chore to fit others’ expectations of what I should look like, and that feeling never went away in adulthood. After abandoning burning chemical relaxers, I contended with the sighs, stares and non-subtle eye rolls of stylists who thought my kinky, thick hair would be too difficult or time-consuming to work with.
At some point, I simply stopped going to get my hair done by other people. I adopted the stance that I would pull my hair up into different variations of an afro bun rather than pay someone to make me feel bad about myself. I’m willing to bet the natural hair YouTube movement was fueled by the frustrations of Black women seeking care for their natural hair and being met by salons only willing to blow dry their hair straight or put in a weave. No disrespect to those styles, but a compounding disappointment comes along with constantly receiving disdain for wanting support and nurturance for one’s hair in its actual natural state.
I hope things feel very different for younger Black women, especially those with thicker textures wearing their hair naturally. With more understanding of how Black women care for their natural hair, more natural hair-care product lines, and the popularity and revenue generation of natural hair content creators, perhaps things are different. My forty-something self still carries the wounds and insecurities of scoffs and side eyes to the point that the slightest hair rejection, even from an online app, can expose old wounds.
Ironically, my sensitivity surrounding my hair reflects its powerful role as a vehicle for my self-expression. Resisting individual and societal expectations of what my hair should look like has been my small act of rebellion and affirmation that the truth of who I am exists outside of other people’s projections. When I defied my friends and cut my shoulder-length relaxed tresses into a pixie cut in high school, several were angry at me for not abiding by the Black girl code of the 90s: if you can grow it, keep it. In college, I wore locs for a few years. After several weeks of contemplation, I decided I needed a change and took a pair of scissors and just started cutting. Going to class the next day, I faced stares of concern with people asking me, “What happened?” as if I showed up in a full-body cast. I even had one person tell me that I had lost my look. Defying perceptions regarding my hair in my twenties built a quiet confidence I relied upon. I wonder if today’s emotional reactivity to a technological glitch points to how far I’ve traveled away from that assuredness.
I feel bad that I feel bad about my hair. I want to reclaim the self-will my hair represented in the past. Back then, it felt reassuring to defy expectations. But today, I face the scorn of my own disappointments. While I embrace internal shifts and changes emerging so far in my 40s, I struggle with the physical realities of the aging process. (Hello, arthritis). Loving my thinning edges and greying hair requires self-acceptance for who I am at this age and stage of life. The same self-love that was defiant enough to upend larger narratives about Black women and beauty in my 20s is the same love I need to surpass internalized ideas of aging, beauty and possibility in my 40s. As I think about it, perhaps finding the courage to embrace the discoveries of being forty-something is this era’s act of resistance. I just need a little help from a hair-care professional with a reliable scheduling service.