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Confessions of a bald-headed bride

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Jenene Asare-Mensah

Nearly every little girl, from the time that she is able to speak becomes fascinated with finding her Prince Charming and living her Happily Ever After. I don’t quite understand why girls, as opposed to boys, are socialized to seek marriage, but for whatever reason, it is a reality. And I, like many other girls, dreamed of one day meeting my husband, having a fabulous wedding, and living happily ever after. I imagined everything: the dress, the venue, the bridesmaids, and even how I would wear my hair. When the day came for me to be engaged to my “Prince Charming,” I began the process of turning those dreams into a reality.

Now I must add that I was not the stereotypical, Bridezilla type of bride. Though I had my own childhood dreams of being married and living happily ever after, I was a low-key bride for the most part, mainly only particular about two things: my dress and my hair. The latter would cause me to confront some very painful issues and truths in my life during this wedding process.

To understand this story, it’s necessary that I provide some background information. When I met my husband, I had waist length, jet black, and silky straight weave. During the course of our relationship I developed an allergy to the chemicals used to process weaves. Since I had already known of my allergy to relaxers, the only other choice was to “go natural.” Initially I had taken my hair out of the weave and worn it in straight styles, but that was not a healthy option for my hair. After so much drama with how to wear my hair, I decided to just cut it off. It was bold. It was drastic. It was fierce. So what was the problem?

The problem was that this short, edgy cut didn’t fit into my perception of how a bride should look. I actually liked my hair, but in all of the bridal magazines that I had viewed, even those geared towards Black women and in my dreams, I had never witnessed a bride with a TWA (teeny weeny Afro). Did I even have enough hair to secure the veil onto my head? Would my husband see me as attractive, or would he be less than thrilled by my natural look? He had always commented about how he loved my natural hair, but this wasn’t the way my hair looked when we met, which caused me to question the sincerity of his comments. All of these issues and insecurities that I didn’t even know that I had were now bubbling to the surface.

It also didn’t help that I felt constantly under siege by the opinions of other women, mostly other Black women. Some of this could have been my own insecurities over my hair, but there were also plenty of other instances where I was clearly being insulted. One such way was housed in the usual question, “So how are you going to wear your hair?” This question was almost always accompanied by a raised nostril and disapproving gaze, both signs of disgust with my answer and also hinted at their perceived superiority and arrogance towards me or my hair, rather.
One could view this scenario and say that the question is a natural one to ask any bride, but this was different. Each time the question was asked, it was either implied or flat out announced that my current hairstyle was unsuitable for a bride. How do I know this? Well, in the case of the negativity being implied, the follow up questions helped me reach this conclusion.

After being asked about how I would wear my hair, I was often asked, “So then, what are you going to do with your veil?” This time, the disapproving stares were often accompanied by hands touching my hair, doing what I call a “length check.” (For those who are unfamiliar with this term, a length check is when someone puts his/her hands in another person’s hair to gauge its length.) It’s extremely invasive and offensive, and contrary to popular opinion, White women/people aren’t the only ones guilty of doing this. This story is proof.

Then there were the outright blatantly rude comments about my hair. At an outing with my coworkers, another woman asked me the dreaded question with a hugely negative twist. “So how are you gonna wear your hair at the wedding because (pause) right now, it’s kinda wild (chuckles).” Now, in order to really see the shadiness of this comment, one has to see it in context. The lady in question and I were at an after-work function with our entire department. Although there are other Blacks at the job, everyone at this particular event was White, except for the two of us. So when the question was asked, there was an added awkward undercurrent to it. It’s one thing to debate/discuss intra-racially sensitive topics (such as good/bad hair or light skin vs. dark skin, etc.) with other Black people. It is a totally different dynamic, however, to have these discussions in the company of White people, especially if EVERYONE ELSE in the room is White, which is precisely how this conversation occurred.

When she asked me the question, I panicked. Instead of giving my normally falsely confident answer, I cradled and told her, in front of all of my White coworkers that I would be getting a weave, even though I knew that I was allergic. On one hand, the weave comment worked. My Black coworker was instantly relieved and said, “Ok good,” and went on to explain how beautiful I would look after changing my hair. On the other hand, the weave comment backfired because I had to explain what a weave was and how it was installed to all of my White coworkers, which was annoying and embarrassing at the same time. I was left feeling a whole range of emotions: frustration, sadness, but mostly shame. I was ashamed for not having the confidence to tell my Black coworker that I was proud of my hair and would be wearing my natural hairstyle to our wedding. More than that, I was ashamed for actually not being proud of my hair.

I left that event feeling less sure of myself than ever, and for the next couple of weeks, I frantically searched for someone to weave my hair for our wedding date, even though doing so would assuredly lead to an allergy outbreak at some point. At one point, I had even recruited my cousin, my only relative within 500 miles to search Instagram to find me a weavologist. My other Black coworkers were also text messaging me referrals of stylists that they knew. It’s important for me to note that I was somewhat new to my city, and my family, friends, and former stylists were all 500 miles away; also, the stylists that I had frequented weren’t returning my calls/texts and picking the worst time ever to be flaky. Additionally, literally every stylist that I contacted wouldn’t even answer the phone. It was as if my entire being was drenched in weave repellant.
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Almost at my whit’s end, I had a chance encounter with two additional coworkers, also Black women. While discussing my wedding plans, I let it all rip about my hair issues, and in doing so, I had an epiphany. I had been running around trying to fix something that wasn’t broken. It was as if God was trying to send me a message, and the message was that I should accept myself the way He made me. Now, let me be clear. There’s nothing at all wrong with wearing a hair weave. There is, however, something wrong with feeling like you have to add fake hair just to be beautiful.

After this epiphany and the general acceptance that I wasn’t going to find anyone to do my hair in the short time before my wedding, I decided that acceptance was the best option for me. So I decided to wear my TWA for our wedding, and it was absolutely beautiful because it was me.

Now, I want to add that although nearly everyone commented on how beautiful I looked, I did have one incident designed to test my newly found outlook. The morning after the wedding, my husband and I visited a relative, an older Black woman, who was more than happy to resume the previous critiques. Almost immediately she said, “You looked beautiful, but I thought you would do something to your hair.” I ignored her comments, initially, but she was set on discussing my hair. She continued with her comments and ended with a scathing question. “So why didn’t you do anything with your hair,” to which I responded with, “My husband likes it this way.”

This wasn’t the first time she had commented on my hair, but I had already learned how to diplomatically navigate such comments, so I was unfazed. Instead of being upset, I responded with confidence, and my husband backed me when he responded by saying, “Yes, it’s beautiful,” and proceeded to run his fingers through my hair. It was another epiphany for me because I saw how my confidence helped to shape the entire conversation. In essence, because I was proud of my choice and did not shrink back from her comments, it caused her to adjust her attitude, and instead of continuing to insult me, she ended up complimenting me.

I bring up this final story to illustrate the importance of truly loving and accepting one’s self. It’s true that I had just experienced an epiphany and had recently began the journey of truly accepting my hair, but that didn’t mean that everyone would share my same views. As a result, it was important for me to truly accept myself, and to do that, I had to refuse to care about the opinions of other people, even if the people in question were relatives.

Some may read this, and think that this whole article is incredibly juvenile and superficial. After all, it’s just hair. To make this comment, however, is to completely deny and ignore the politics of hair within the Black community. The struggle with hair can be a real one for every Black girl and women living in America and struggling to find personal beauty in a society that is loath to celebrate anything that does not represent Eurocentric standards of beauty. To those who understand and share in this story, I want to encourage and to challenge you to truly accept yourself. At the end of it all, acceptance is just easier (and cheaper too.)