Latest News

Hair Anxiety: a personal timeline

As a response to the online frenzy that occurred after Beyonce (gasp!) removed her weave last week, author Justina Ireland has invited people to write about their own experiences with hair anxiety. She also noted that while everyone can empathize with bad hair days and bad haircuts, there is a unique cultural component for black woman that has to do with hair, and as is always the case, the intersection of race and gender is a complicated one.

A great deal of history lies behind this issue (Chris Rock's "Good Hair" is a good place to start), but the bottom line is that there is no winning. If black women conform to the cultural standards of beauty (straight hair, lighter color), it can come with the guilt and shame of (perceived) internalized racism. If we wear our hair natural, we're bombarded with messages of how this choice is unattractive or makes us uppity. Of course, there's not one thing wrong with wearing your hair however you want: long, short, curly, straight, whatever. The anxiety comes from the fact that it's hard for a black woman's hair to just be...her hair. The context and history of hair politics exist no matter what we do.

I decided to join Justina's call for hair anxiety posts because my own hair has been such an ever present thing in my life. My hair is bigger than my personality, I think. It's loud when I want to be quiet. It makes me stand out when I want to blend in. It makes people ask if they can "touch it." And yes, being told I have "good hair" makes me feel guilty and sort of crummy in general. Anyway, I'm almost 40 now, and if you've ever met me, you know that I usually just wear my hair pulled back in a ponytail. It's easier that way and it suits my rather bland personality. But for today, take a walk with me through my years of hair!

This is me as a toddler. I kind of love this picture since I'm kind of fat and my hair's big and I'm eating chips. Life was good!



This is me as a young girl. My hair is still wild and has no idea what it's doing. (And yes, I had to wear an eye patch as a kid, which didn't do much for my self esteem. Not sure why I didn't take it off for the photo! I look like I'm going to cry...)



Me in high school. I wanted everything about my life hair to be super controlled. I used to wear all these clips and pins and things to make sure the top never puffed up. Oh, and in this picture, it looks like I'm going to a funeral, but actually I was at boarding school and I was going to the prom. Spoiler alert: I didn't have a date!


This is me in college. I finally got comfortable with my hair being crazy and stopped trying to control it.


Me with straight hair. I never thought this looked right on me, although it was easy to take care of. However it was also expensive and I missed my curls.


After having a third kid, I went with short hair. I was also really into running marathons at the time and the short hair was convenient. However, I hate going to the hair salon and I had to go all the time!
 Now my hair is just curly and shoulder length and I usually wear it pulled back in my mousy way.

Do you have any hair anxiety stories to share? Or is there anything in your own cultural background that you've struggled with in a similar way?
Stephanie Kuehn

Stephanie is the William C. Morris award-winning author of Charm & Strange, Complicit, Delicate Monsters, and The Smaller Evil.

Posts by Stephanie

website twitter

  • Blogger Comments
  • Facebook Comments

22 comments:

  1. Depending on the day, I can both love and hate my hair all at once. I wear a relaxed look, but have always wanted to be able to go curly. My issue is that I'm completely lazy and am not one to overly care about going glamazon, so I go with whatever is easy to maintain.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Trakena! Easy to maintain is a very good thing! And I definitely relate to the love/hate feeling.

      Delete
  2. Oh my God those baby legs!! Thanks for sharing your hair journey Steph :D Especially with (baby) photos.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha, thanks, Maurene! Wish I still had that swimsuit...

      Delete
  3. Love hearing your story and the timeline, Steph! (And yeah. That baby photo. The poochy belly and chubby legs. I can't. So. Cute.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hee, thank you. Can't wait to read your post!

      Delete
  4. Great post! You have such pretty hair, and you were such a cute baby! My hair is super curly too, and growing up I had such a love/hate relationship with it. I love it now.

    I actually posted an essay I wrote about my hair a while back on my blog. It fits into this "blogfest" perfectly. If you're interested, you can read it here: http://ghenetmyrthil.com/2011/09/23/ya-cafe-teens-and-body-image/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Ghenet! And I love your post. I relate to so much of it, especially feeling defined by the state of your hair. I'm glad you love it now. It's beautiful! Thank you for sharing.

      Delete
  5. I'm mixed heritage and had a love hate relationship with my hair. I had a relaxed curly perm for ease, for a lot of years, but maintaining it, going to the salon was a chore.

    I love my natural hair now and no longer bombard it with chemicals, except to hide the greys.

    I say take me as you find me, hair and all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love the "take me as you find me." Exactly. Thank you for sharing that.

      Delete
  6. Truth. Hair is politics for black women and it's not fair and it's probably not going to change. I could go on and on but instead I'll share this with a few people I know will appreciate it. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, the unfairness is frustrating. Thank you for sharing and for reading. :)

      Delete
  7. Thank you for this post. My hair is relaxed. There were many times in my life where friends and family members lectured me about how bad the chemicals are and why I should wear it natural. Sometimes the biggest hair critics are other black women.
    I also made a post about my hair anxiety

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I love your hair anxiety post! It's wonderful and thank you for sharing it. It is hard when people close to you criticize such personal choices. Your photos are beautiful.

      Delete
  8. This is a great post. For a while I felt like my hair HAD do be natural even though it's been relaxed most of my life. I think it's important to have a balance and be sure that whatever you do you keep it healthy !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Jess! Balance is so important and finding what feels good to you makes such a difference.

      Delete
  9. i love this steph.

    i always felt sad about about my sad limp hair.

    ReplyDelete
  10. My hair is completely connected to my gender identity. That is to say, I'm perpetually confused by myself. I don't like my hair long. I recognize that it fits my face shape better, but I don't feel like myself. The longer my hair, the more ambiguous I think my clothing needs to be. When I have super short pixie cut hair, I wear whatever I want, but frequently feel OK putting on earrings and dressing more traditionally feminine because it somehow "fits". While I identify as female and usually will present myself that way, I don't MIND being mistaken for male when I have short hair. When my hair is long, I almost never let it just be down, I have to have it up so it feels like it's short.

    For those wondering why my hair is long if it is closer to my gender expression and comfort level to have it short, I can't donate blood so I donate my hair. It takes me about two years to grow it out very long and I usually give myself 9-12 months of short hair between it so I can cope ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. Yes, that makes sense and is really interesting to think about how your presentation and comfort with clothing shifts with your hair length. I relate to a lot of that and really appreciate your insight! Thank you for sharing.

      Delete
  11. Am I allowed to comment? :-)

    (Seriously, I feel sorry for all the guys who keep Rogaine in business. I do feel very self conscious about my baldness, but it's who I am, and frankly it's far cheaper and easier to be bald.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Of course you are allowed to comment! :) Losing hair does often come with a great deal of anxiety, some of which is very gender specific. I think it's always interesting how we can let something like hair define how we feel about ourselves and where we get the messages of what is and isn't acceptable. Thank you so much for sharing your own hair anxiety experience!

      Delete

Comments are moderated on posts two weeks old or more -- please send us a tweet if yours needs approval!

Item Reviewed: Hair Anxiety: a personal timeline Rating: 5 Reviewed By: stephanie kuehn