As salaam alaikum,
Gente, say hello to my tresses:
I used to wonder, and I still don't know, if you can refer to a lock of hair that is not somewhat straight as a tress. In spite of myself, it seems somewhat inappropriate.
It must be because usually, when someone is referring to their tresses, they are referring to long, straight hair...or at least loose curls. Or at least looser curls than what I've got here, growing out of my head.
When I was 20 years old and contemplating hijab for the first time, I was about one and a half years natural. At 18, I just stopped getting relaxers at the beauty shop my mother had attended since I was a kid, after 6 years of frying my hair straight...straight off of my head. I had nothing against relaxers, really. If my hair weren't my hair, I would have continued doing them for longer, I think. My hair would just not grow when chemically straightened.
No, it would grow. I'd have that crunchy new growth that required "touch-ups" every 6 weeks without fail because the crunch of that new growth was so different from the crinkly straight of my relaxed hair, it could inspire breakage.
Like that was new. Everything inspired my hair to break. Too much heat was the first culprit, as my mother used to press my hair, because that's just what you did with tightly coiled hair. You pressed it straight. The hair, especially the tightest hair in the back, began breaking. Next stop, extensions. I was one of the first little girls in my school to have the extension braids, and I wore them from age 7 to age 11. The low maintenance style helped me to attain length that I hadn't seen since before my mother started pressing my hair. Next stop, relaxer. And my hair never got longer than below my ears.
Breakage. I used to say if I look at my hair, it will break. It's not novel to me, it's just my hair type. According to all the natural hair descriptors I can muster, I have type 4b, thick, medium to fine hair. My hair type is naturally dry because the natural oils of the scalp have a heck of a time traveling up our coils. Given my hair is dry and much of the hair is fine, it is prone to breakage on its own, without the help of heat and chemicals.
And that is what I've witnessed for much of the 7 years that I've been natural. Unless my head was covered with extensions or the hijab, my hair was breaking and growing and breaking and breaking and growing.
With the advent of the new naturals of the natural hair movement and such blogs and CurlyNikki and Naptural85 and forums like LongHairCare Forum, I've been getting my hair act together. Inspired by kiddie hair movements like Sesame Street's I Love My Hair and the now-defunct Happy Girl Hair blog, I'm able to enunciate something that I've always felt: I, too, love my hair!
I love it all the ways I've worn it. I love it straight, I love it kinky. When I do it right, I love my puff, I love my two-strand twists, I love my twist-outs and braid-outs. I've even come to love my little longer than teenie-weenie afros (TWAs). I don't wear it straight a lot because that always inspires some breakage, and now that I've moved to the Pacific Northwest and workout three to four times a week, it doesn't make much sense. And now that I'm taking care of my hair and actually retaining health and length and not having huge breakage cycles that sets me back, I really love my hair!
But back to me at 20.
At 20, I was contemplating hijab and would begin wearing it later that year. I had a lot of questions in my own mind when I began wearing it. I transitioned out of the last set of extensions I will ever have (insha'Allah) and back to my natural hair while wearing the scarf, and my hair at the time was big and glorious, even bigger than it is now. Sometimes I would wear a puff under my scarf and therefore have the most uniquely shaped hijab around...which was easy, being the only black Muslimah I knew on my college campus. Sometimes, I'd have a slightly lumpy hijab from my box braids underneath. To this day, I still own all of my scarves that I wore as a hijabi, and more. I keep buying scarves as if I still cover my hair so frequently. I like wearing scarves. I don't like isolation. But that's not a subject for today.
One of the questions I had as a woman with natural hair with a scarf was...wondering if a future husband would be pleased with me. I don't know. Men's perceptions of me are the root of nearly all of my insecurities.
I'd always been told that, for men, physical attraction is a stronger element of their attraction schema than it is for women. So if I'm a covered woman, a covered black woman, and men have some preferences for what they want in a wife...could I, in fact, end up disappointing my future husband when he finds out that I do not have straight hair and I will not permanently straighten my hair?
And given ghusl requirements, I will not be able to keep up heat straightening my hair, either?
My hair can be long, but it won't be flowing. It won't be slick, sleek or shiny. It won't bounce and behave, I won't swing it from side to side. I'm sorry, babes, is that something that you wanted?
At 21 and donning hijab, I still didn't know how that would work.
Somewhere in my personal journal or the recesses of my mind, though I loved my own hair, I wondered if my type of hair was ever the beauty that Muslims sought so vigorously to protect and defend when they asserted the importance of hijab. I would be guarding my beauty for my husband, they asserted.
But what if my husband doesn't find my kinky hair beautiful? Did I just defeat the purpose in more ways than one?
I was told that the Bible says that a woman's hair is her crown of glory (investigating further, looking at Proverbs 16:31, it's actually talking about gray hair, for wisdom). And I wondered if hair like mine was what was in mind when such ideas were created.
As a black woman who wore her hair as it grew out of her head, covering my hair didn't necessarily feel like I was guarding my beauty for my husband or protecting myself from other's judgment of my beauty. It was respite from trying to find ways for my natural hair to look "presentable," to be sure, it was respite from manipulation and it allowed my hair to grow without breaking so much, but covering my hair was not a respite from judgment. And it did not inspire respect from most of those around me...
But that's not a subject for today.
I tried to rationalize, as I covered my hair, why my hair was worth covering in the way that many hijabis spoke about the benefits of covering their hair. There were many things that black women with shorter, kinky hair did to their hair to ornament it, make it beautiful, that warranted it being covered, to keep the beauty concealed...braiding and beading, all of the styles that have been lost on some of us women of the Continent in favor of weaves, wigs and chemicals.
And I just realized...this is all messed up. Why am I trying to rationalize my reason for covering? Why am I trying to figure out if my hair was what was in mind all the times when people called upon women to cover? Why am I suddenly worrying if my hair will be what a man wants?
What if I love my hair? It's not a curse of Cain or anything else that makes me who I am. It is the love of God and the beauty that he instilled in all of us, His creation. I am no less of a beauty than my sisters with long, straight hair or my sisters with looser curls.
Thus began the long and unpredictably arduous task of defining myself outside of the realm of men.
But above is my hair. My locks that are not locs, is not an afro, is not a natural, is my hair. It's actually a days-old twist-out that I pulled into a puff with a loosening headband that is obscured by my hair, but it's all me.
Will a man find it beautiful such that he prefers it over every other type of hair, want it for himself, be offended that he sees it and demand that I cover it, for the sake of Allah (swt), for my own sake, for my protection, out of respect for me, that such a thing of beauty should be only for my husband and those of my mahram?
I don't know, but I can't care.
This post was inspired in part by a series started by Saliha. The rest of it was inspired by that particularly cute twist out puff that was super moisturized and made me reflect on how so many times, I won't allow myself to love myself because of fear that a man won't love me the way I love myself the most.