Recently, upon seeing a photo of my daughter, someone close to me said ‘I love her crazy hair.’
This was said with a great deal of genuine love and affection, I know, but deep down, it offended me. I thought to myself, what about her hair is crazy?
I thought maybe you’re saying this because you're so used to seeing people with straight hair, or tamed curls or waves, or hair tied back in ponytails, or braids.
I think when someone dyes their hair 20 different colours or when you wake up after a deep sleep and your hair is sticking up in every direction, then to call this hair crazy is fair. But to call hair which naturally grows outward in beautiful curls crazy is unfair. It’s naturally this way, there is nothing crazy about it. To me, the terms ‘natural’ and ‘crazy’ are inherently opposite - to be crazy is to be unnatural, and to work to be too unnatural (in my opinion) is also crazy.
When I shared my feelings about this with a close friend, she said, ‘well that’s something I would say too’ and I said, ‘yes exactly, because no one in this society is accustomed enough to seeing African hair in its natural state’. It’s not uncommon to hear comments like, ‘he had this crazy Afro’ or for people to be so fascinated with African hair that they ask to touch it. I know these comments are not meant in a negative way, but as my friend said shortly afterward on reflecting, ‘I think it’s a fundamental lack of understanding of African hair.’ I agree with her on this.
But there’s more. I also think there’s a deep-rooted misperception in our society that tame hair is better - more so among the people whose hair is not naturally straight. This is why so many wear weaves and so many others among us work hard to straighten, relax, braid or tie back our hair. This is presenting a false image of our hair, and when someone decides to wear their hair natural, however beautiful, it appears so different that people call it crazy, albeit with love, fascination or even envy.
I was sat in a hair salon today where I read a rave review of a hair product in a magazine by an African man who said, ‘it helped to straighten and tame my Afro hair'. Now, I am not by any means judging people who choose to straighten or braid (or bleach) their hair. But I don't think they’re more (or less) beautiful for it either. This is a personal, and often fashion-inspired, choice - which is fair and also fun.
But sometimes it’s not as simple as fashion. We have a long history where the privileged and valued were European with straight fair hair, and fair skin and eyes. There are too many people who were made to believe that this is the more beautiful way to look and who passed this view onto their children. Among South Asians, the misperception that fair skin is better is still widely held and I have friends who work hard not to get too tanned when they go on holiday for fear that their families will berate them for getting too dark.
This hierarchy of beauty is false – and this isn’t just a matter of my opinion.
Beauty as a matter of fact comes in all shapes, sizes, colours and hair types. Our perception of beauty as a society is distorted and narrow. So is our perception of what is crazy, and what is real. But on writing this post, I am beginning to make the connection that natural and normal are no longer one in the same – perhaps natural is both beautiful and crazy afterall, and normal is not. What do you think?