It’s fair to say that everyone is insecure about at least one aspect of their physical appearance. In my experience, women in particular routinely berate themselves for looking too fat, too old, too much of something, not enough of something else, and whilst the body positive movement is helping us to embrace our perceived ‘flaws’, for most, self-love doesn’t come easily. In fact, it can be a life-long battle, which isn’t surprising given what we’re up against. Advertising is more a part of our lives than ever before and, whilst not all ads are bad, on the whole, they still serve to reinforce the rigid beauty standards that exclude so many of us. This is no more evident than with hair.
Being of mixed heritage, I struggled in my early teens to find ‘my people’, never feeling I was quite black enough or white enough to belong. My hair, whether I liked it or not, was the main outward indicator signalling my difference. What I chose to do with it said something about how I chose to identify, that is, with whom I chose to identify. On visits to Boots in search of products I could use on my hair I came up short but I felt intimidated going into afro hair shops, clueless as to what I needed and too embarrassed to ask. It was a minefield that I felt emotionally ill-equipped to navigate and so my chosen hairstyle for most of my school years was no hairstyle at all, by which I mean, I scraped my hair into a bun drawing as little attention to it as possible.
By the time I was taking my GCSEs, I had been thoroughly wooed by the media I was consuming and concluded that beautiful hair was only ever long and silky, perpetually tumbling from shoulders in slow motion. I began straightening my hair regularly. It took several hours each time and the result was always worlds away from a Herbal Essences advert. Not to mention that all my efforts would be undone the moment it even threatened to rain which, living in the North of England, was often. It was a losing game that chipped away at my self-esteem little by little.
Until we start seeing more representation in advertising and the beauty industry, it may feel as though there’s only one way to be beautiful but of course, that’s not true.
Aged 25, following a disastrous adventure in chemical straightening, I lopped my hair off (often referred to as a ‘big chop’). At the time I hadn’t decided to go natural, I simply wanted rid of the dreaded half and half look – natural curly regrowth at the roots, relaxed hair towards the ends. When I’d taken the leap I felt like a teenager, once again faced with a choice… but this time around, the world was different. Natural hair was having a moment. More and more prominent black female figures were embracing their kinks and curls.
I took my first tentative steps, wearing my hair out at the occasional family event or low-key night out with friends, always to a chorus of ‘why don’t you wear your hair out more often? It looks great!’. My confidence grew and grew. Whilst Boots and the like still have a long way to go, luckily, we now live in the Amazon.com age, so with some trial and error, I was able to find a range of products that made my hair look healthier and more lovely than I thought possible, and I haven’t looked back since (it bounces rather than tumbles but it turns out, that’s OK!).
Last year I got married, surrounded by family and friends, amongst the confetti and blooms, head crowned by curls. The day was a perfect celebration of love but, on reflection, it was also the end of a journey – I had embraced my natural hair and felt more beautiful than I ever had.
When I look at myself in the photos from that day I see me, not me after a team of stylists and make-up artists have finished turning me into something from the pages of a glossy bridal magazine. Just me. I did my own subtle make-up and my hair was simply wash-and-go. In my early 20s I wouldn’t have dreamed of leaving the house with a ‘fro, now I can’t believe I waited so long. Learning to love my curls was the catalyst for so much positive change in my life. It prompted me to start celebrating black beauty in an art project, Black on Paper, embark on a personal journey, (re)discovering my Caribbean heritage and how it contributes to who I am and begin tackling some of my other insecurities, because if my hair story has taught me anything, it’s that they truly are a waste of time, and freeing yourself from them if you possibly can, is the path to a more joyous life.
As I wrote earlier, self-love doesn’t come easily. How we feel about our bodies is rarely a case of simply ‘I wish I were thinner’ or ‘I don’t like my hair’. It’s complex and intrinsically linked with our sense of identity which is in itself, complex. Until we start seeing more representation in advertising and the beauty industry, it may feel as though there’s only one way to be beautiful but of course, that’s not true. I encourage you all to seek out feeds like @the.atlas.of.beauty and surround yourself with imagery that acknowledges diversity. Celebrate how uniquely beautiful each person is, then, begin celebrating you.
Recently gone natural? Here are my top 3 products
Jim + Henry’s Eight
Using only 8 ingredients, including luscious organic Ghanaian shea butter and divine-smelling Roman Cammomile, this is my favourite product right now. They’re releasing a gel soon, too.
Cantu’s Coconut Curling Cream
This is my go-to product and it has never failed me. Curls are defined, moisturised and frizz-free. I love a coconut scent – it’s a classic.
Mixed Chicks’ Leave-In Conditioner
A fab product. They also produce this as part of a ‘Trial & Travel Trio’, minis that are perfect for taking on holiday (a rare thing for us curly-haired ladies!).