I love being Black. I love being Woman. The two together make me feel strong and powerful AF, and I feel great joy and pride to think about my ancestors and who they may be and what they fought for. I feel a strong sense of connection to other Black people, giving a nod, or smile as if I belong to a secret society of magical melanin. I love all people, but I love my people in a unique way. We are a people of triumph. And black women, well, we come in shades, sizes, and shapes of wonder. We have learned to celebrate our beauty.
Well, kind of.
Like any group of people on this planet, we have adopted some oppressive beauty standards and use those to ostracize others, and promote unrealistic and unhealthy ideals of beauty. Two of these include hair and ass. Both of which I personally struggle with.
This is an extremely difficult meme, as funny as it may be to some, because honestly, these both are hard for me, and one time, this may have made me feel depressed for days.
Today, I will discuss hair, in particular, edges.. Edges seem to be the holy grail of beauty in our community or the foundation of endless humiliation. For those of you not familiar with this seemingly very important issue, it is when you don’t have much hair or have some loss of fullness around your temple, sometimes even a little further back, often due to tight braids or hairstyles (especially when young), but also due to, and often complicated by, nutritional issues, genetics, medications, and stress. This can result in alopecia, specifically traction alopecia, but also often in combination with other types, if any of the factors are involved. You scalp may easily scar and this can kill the follicle, making it difficult for hair to regrow. Some women can do whatever they want to their hair and never experience hair loss, and some may have one hair style, med, or accident, that causes this to happen. Many times, it isn’t our fault, or we didn’t know better, or a well meaning hair stylist, over relaxed, too tightly braided, or over-styled our hair. And we all know how hard it is to sometimes correct a hair stylist, especially if you’re shy like me (I tend to just go home and cry when I hate my hair lol).
It’s not a fun thing to have. Trust me, I know. I have some hair loss in my temples. Additionally, if my hair does not remain braided or put up, I begin to lose hair in the middle of my head. I have been ashamed since day 1, when it started happening around ages 10-12. I wore styles to hide it (making it worse over time), I used sprays to make my edges look fuller, I cried every time I thought about it. Every blog, every joke, every rant about edges made me feel like a personal failure. Like I should have known better, prevented it, etc. I wouldn’t (still won’t) go to new hair stylists for fear of being judged (I had a wonderful stylist once in Charlotte who was so kind and actually helped stop future hair loss and now designs wigs for me). I would be scared to show my friends my hair. I wouldn’t look at myself in the mirror. And even though I realized there was treatment for this, I did not seek treatment until 4 months ago, because of the intense amount of shame I carried about my temples.
Why was I so ashamed? Well, men (who are going bald, which is baffling to me) would make jokes and comments on the web. Stylists put things about hair loss and who they won’t serve on their website. Websites talk about how Black women are losing their hair and edges because of their vanity. Everyone has a topical solution or a vitamin that will restore your hair, and every time it fails, you feel like you fail. And well, a quick Google search shows the feelings about hair loss in our community, as we joke about anyone struggling with this.
These seem funny… I have laughed to hide my pain when these are posted or people joke, and I’ve learned to not take them so seriously, but they are emotionally damaging to many people.
One thing that really gets to me is the way other Black women talk about one another in this situation. We tear each other down about it. We humiliate one another. We act like this is the worst thing that can possibly happen to a person. It also seems that Black women are made to feel that this is wholly our own doing and we are failures because of it. What’s interesting, is when other women of different races have hair loss, there is a different take on hair loss. It seems to me that it is looked at as more of a medical issue; something to get treatment for, embarrassing, maybe, but not a telltale sign of your worth. I am guessing this stems from the complicated relationship Black women with have hair, which I believe pre-dates me and results from historical racial trauma and many years of internalized oppression. We have come to see our worth in physical terms and beauty as very one dimensional. Along with hair, comes the natural versus relaxed, weave versus non weave, the right way to be natural versus the not right way to be natural. I’ve been judged by all of these things – not natural enough, wearing wigs, too kinky of hair, all while dealing with this shame – it is difficult to be a woman.
As I mentioned, 4 months ago, I ventured for the first time to see a dermatologist after trying every remedy ever; a beautiful, smart black woman doctor, who had excellent reviews. And I muttered those words that I have been scared to tell anyone, “I have hair loss.” She took a look and I wasn’t sure what I thought she’d say, but prepared myself for a lecture as I’d received from so many other women. Instead she was the most reassuring human being I had ever met about this. She was compassionate, she didn’t blame me, and she didn’t make it seem like a big deal. I was so ashamed I didn’t even once consider this as a medical condition, that would be covered by insurance. She assured me that it was, and that this was as real of a medical condition as any condition. She made me believe I deserved treatment. I didn’t realize that up until then, I truly believed I didn’t deserve treatment for my hair loss. It was another thing that I used to validate the idea that I wasn’t worthy or good enough. And so, I began injections, the standard treatment for alopecia of all sorts. The rest of my hair is luckily a big full kinky afro (mainly because I keep it braided – like I said, I lose my hair in the center of my hair easily), but I know that is just luck. It’s early, but the prognosis of my hair recovery is good, but slow, and I can see a little improvement. Had I not let my shame stop me, I might could have had better results faster.
Many women, especially Black women, probably know how hard it is to write a post this vulnerable and transparent about hair. I’m putting myself at huge risk of being ostracized and criticized. Maybe my future boyfriend will read this and decide to not be my future boyfriend. But I want others to know that those seemingly harmless and “funny to you” jokes might be hurting someone. It may be reminding them that they are not worthy for yet another reason. It may be reinforcing stereotypes of beauty. Also, really, is losing your hair the worst thing that can happen to you? I mean why is that even a thing? Men get to go bald and look debonair or distinguished (I admit to loving me a bald man). Wigs and extensions exist for a reason (for both fun and functional reasons – which I use them for both and probably always will, I don’t care what you think about me). For heaven’s sake it is JUST HAIR.
There is an amazing online website for women with hair loss. I don’t ever comment (yet, anyway), but listening to women – both in treatment and others just accepting it and rocking their hair bald or with extensions and wigs – has been eye opening for me. I remember one woman saying, after many failed treatments, said something like “fuck it, it’s not that serious, I’m just going to rock my fabulous wigs, because I am still beautiful. Life goes on. This isn’t the most important thing in life.”
Her stance is what I’m coming to adopt and accept in my life. Do you think my courageous ancestors that walk with me are concerned about my edges as part of my life purpose? Do you think Harriet Tubman worried about her edges while trying to free slaves? I think not. She had a purpose to fulfill, a great life to live, people to help. And no one ever doubted her impact on the world. People write about her heart, her bravery, her convictions, but never her hair. And I’m sure men and women fell in love with her soul. And I’d rather have a full soul, than full edges. And maybe I can have both. And if not, that’s ok too.
So please, stop shaming other women about a medical condition. We’re all beautiful. Edges or not.