By: Mia Taylor / Photo Credit: Gift Habeshaw
I grew up one of three children in an unapologetically Black household. The type of place where my Mom would make big pots of greens at Thanksgiving and perm my sister’s hair in the kitchen sink. My father had a small Pan-African library in the basement and favored music artists like KRS One, Marvin Gaye, Mos Def, Common and Sade. Black was coming at me from so many angles—the food I ate, the music I listened to and even how my mother styled my hair.
For many in the Black community, it’s all about self love and our African roots, but for me I saw that Black women were not always accepted as they are. Consider this paradox. Men will tell women that they look so much better without makeup on social media, and then chase airbrushed women in real life. Similarly, I’ve had Black men proclaim they want black women to love themselves, naturally, and then chase after women with Eurocentric or exotic features or “good hair.” That type of hypocrisy happened all of the time, especially when it came to my hair. As a kid, it was just an innocuous choice. I liked colored beads and flower barrettes in my braids. But as an adult, I started to realize that I was treated differently based on the hairstyle I had.
Weave, Wigs, and [Black] Woman-haters
I had a boyfriend named Ernie around the time that I was consistently wearing weaves. Ernie seemed less like a boyfriend and more like a consumer at times, giving me unsolicited feedback on my hair and putting in “orders” for what he wanted to see me in next. He was an odd guy who often contradicted himself when he talked about my hair. He would tell me, of course, that I looked so much better with my natural hair and then he would go on Tumblr and Instagram and like photos of extremely curvaceous women with waist length weaves.
At this point in my life, being desirable was one of my most important values, I wanted to fit the “standards of beauty” I was seeing all over social media. I felt that my value was deeply rooted in being beautiful and looking back, I realize I was reacting to entrenched internalized misogyny. I was early on in my college studies and I also found that the very men who liked me because I wore weave also liked me because I was light skinned. When I wore weaves I seemed to attract color-struck men with delusions of grandeur. I didn’t yet know that it’s not the inherent job of a woman to be beautiful and I’m not a product to be consumed by onlooking men.
Bold, Buzzed, and Bothered
Right after high school, the summer before college, I cut my hair. I decided that I wanted to have a buzzcut and I thought it would be really cute because my eyes would “pop” more and my neck would look longer. Shaving my head was one of the first decisions I made without anyone’s input. However, I found myself compensating more with the way I dressed and makeup. I liked to wear more halter tops and frilly skirts and also rocked heavy eyeliner. During this time I felt the least sure about my purpose and direction and I hoped that an external change–cutting my hair, would lead to an internal one–a greater sense of peace and stability.
There was no one guy I dated freshman year of college. I went out on a lot of first and second dates and then called it quits. The boys I encountered on dates were pretty vocal about the haircut. They asked me why I had cut it, if I had the intention to grow it longer and told me I would be prettier with longer hair. There was an underlying belief that their opinion was important enough to be shared and that I should be trying to comply with popular beauty standards.
I also noticed with this cut, I got a lot of attention from women. I think it led to a perceived level of sexual ambiguity that made me seem more fluid than I actually am. So shout out to false advertising, I guess?
Free, Fro’d, and Frustrated
After some personal growth that made me question my own reliance on weaves to feel beautiful I began to embrace natural hairstyles. I did twists and also wore a Pam Grier-style afro. I was at a turning point, and turned inward. I started to create my own standards for what beauty was and I stopped caring as much what people thought.
I dated a guy named Jordan who was deeply in touch with his inner child, take that as you will. He was the kind of dude who had every video game you could think of but probably no car insurance and definitely a strict diet of strawberry milk and take out. He was a “Hotep” type of guy. You know, the ones who think we all came from ancient Egypt and absorb conspiracy theories the way some of us breathe fresh air. We had movie nights where he screened laughably researched films like “Hidden Colors 2: The Triumph of Melanin.”
When it came to my hair, Jordan insisted on me using products without chemicals. When he came to visit me at my dorm, he went through my hair products with the disapproving demeanor of a parent viewing a bad report card. He said that I shouldn’t use conditioners with a bunch of chemicals and fragrance and that all I needed was honey and aloe. (Yes, because we all know the very best twisting gel is honey, it definitely wouldn’t attract bees or anything.) He also recommended the Taliah Waajid products he used for his own hair care regimen, which for the record, contain both chemicals and fragrance. (Hello pot, my name is kettle.) But we’re talking about a guy who thought women weren’t supposed to menstruate for longer than three days and that periods were a European construct. So… clearly he wasn’t an expert on hair… or much of anything.
I felt like my natural hair attracted faux pan-African men and that they were gravitating towards me because my hair evoked iconic images of the Black Panther Party. Maybe they felt that my afro said something about my level of strength and loyalty when it came to the Black community. Whatever it was, I’m glad that phase of my life is over, #saynotohoteps.
Loc’d and Loved
And finally, that brings us to the hairstyle that I rock right now. I have had locs for over 2 years and I love them. I love that I look the most like myself in this hairstyle. I also like that when people compliment my hair, they’re talking about my natural beauty and not some hair that I purchased online. (Let me be clear, I love women that are happy with themselves, if your ideal look involves Malaysian Remy and a full frontal, I don’t judge and I don’t care!!) I am the most secure that I’ve ever been in my personal image and that’s reflected in the type of men that I attract. Currently, I attract men from all walks of life. I’ve dated a diverse group that have come from countries like India and Saudi Arabia and they all say the same thing about my hair, that it’s beautiful.
The difference between the me that wore weaves and who I am now is that who’s attracted to me doesn’t really matter anymore. I don’t entertain men from a pre-selected pool that has gravitated towards me based off of my appearance. I only entertain men that I vibe with on a deep level and connect with non-superficially. Ironically, I now feel like I look my best when it matters the least. I’m happily “taken” I’m not actively trying to attract anyone and I spend more time with my head in a book versus gazing at a mirror.
Ultimately, how secure I felt in myself made me attract different individuals. When I was wearing a weave, I just wanted to be superficially beautiful therefore I attracted superficial men. When I shaved my head, I really pulled a Britney Spears and rebelled against pop culture, against former versions of myself and even against limiting beauty ideals. In a way I was trailblazing, because no woman in my family had ever gotten rid of her hair on purpose and that gave me a sense of uncertainty. Maybe I attracted non-commital men because I wasn’t even sure who I was at that point in time. The version of myself that wore an afro and had twists was someone who was starting to reclaim her power and read W.E.B. DuBois. While I still was dating the wrong types of men, they were still better than their predecessors so #growth. And now, still an ongoing and growing person, I can’t say that the hairstyle I have right now is forever. But what I can say is that I love my hair. I love what it represents, a level of freedom, just a dash of rebellion and a whole lot of self definition.
Let me know what you think in the comments below, have you noticed different hairdos attract different men? Which hairstyles mark the different peaks and valleys in your life?