By Niala Charles
When I first reached into my campus mailbox back in October I was so nervous. I had applied to study abroad in London for the Fall semester of my sophomore year, and I had no idea whether the paper that lay in the envelope would be an acceptance or denial. Once I read the word, “Congratulations!” I was ecstatic. I was finally going to be able to go out of the country, travel Europe, and meet some amazing people. But even with this excitement, I had one worry: “WHAT THE HECK AM I GOING TO DO WITH MY HAIR!?!”
All I could think about was how much of a hassle my hair was. If I went with it as is, I’d have to not only find someone to apply my “creamy crack”, but also forego all the tireless research that occurs when I have to go to a new stylist. I started thinking of why I always put so much emphasis on how my hair looked.
I realized that to me, my hair has always been more than something that grew on my head. It was how I viewed myself, and how I thought others would view me. Ever since I was little, I always dodged questions about my hair from my peers. I grew up in a predominantly white community, and I always thought that if I told them the truth, it would be a source of ridicule or some huge abnormality that others would see. I didn’t want to answer why my hair was still dry when I came out of the shower or why I wasn’t jumping the bandwagon on the highlight trend.
I liked my hair how everyone else’s was- straight. Even with my relaxer, I would leave extra time to do my hair every morning, and I wouldn’t leave the house unless it was perfect. This meant passing a straightener over it to smooth out any dents and curl the ends under, or styling it to create a French braid, poof, or high bun. Sitting in class, it felt GOOD to get compliments on my hair by my white counterparts. Even if they didn’t know how much work it took.
In High School I even remember one of my white friends asking:
“Why doesn’t (insert black girl’s name here) look like yours?”
“Well easy,” another said. “Niala has good hair!”
I couldn’t believe my ears. I definitely didn’t take it as a compliment. So the only way my hair looked good, was if I maintained it like this ALL the time? What did that even mean?
I just finished my first year in college, and maintaining my hair was very difficult. Without a car, I could barely travel anywhere to get my hair done. And the city where my college was had exactly ZERO options. So more than half of the time, my hair wasn’t the way I liked.
Now that I am going to London, the same issues are arising, but on a larger scale. Imagine searching a foreign country for the perfect person to do your hair!?! Because I am going to London for three and a half months, I don’t have time for trial and error.
I told my hairstylist about this dilemma, and she said I had two options: Either a full weave or braids. And to me, both options seemed pretty undesirable. With a weave, I’d have to learn how to upkeep it, and get it maintained. I had always had an issue with braids. I always thought that if I had braids I would look too “ethnic.” I wasn’t looking to make some political statement with my hair, and I didn’t think that braids should be seen as one.
On top of this, both options were expensive: 300+ for a weave, and 200+ for braids. Preparing to leave the country was already expensive. And now, I’d have to factor my hair into the equation.
I realized all the effort I was going through to think of something to do with my hair is dumb. I mean geez, I’m going out of the country for the first time! Our hair concerns triumph over more important issues too often. Look at Gabby Douglas. She couldn’t just be seen as an Olympian, but an Olympian with bad hair. Are you kidding me?
I’m not exactly the next president of the natural hair movement, but I do realize that I can’t always exhaust my time worrying about my hair. I don’t plan on going natural anytime soon, but I do want a low maintenance style when I go to London. And you know what? Braids aren’t so bad… If Solange can rock them, why can’t I?
*** What do you guys think? How do you feel about the term bad hair? Has your hair ever stopped you from doing anything?
(Chris here. Give a welcome to Niala Charles, our official BB&W international traveling intern. She’ll be reporting on her experiences while on her stint to London, so…say hello!)