Naturally, my hair is very curly. It grows outwards before it grows downwards. It has been described as frizzy, wild, and intense. People like to touch and feel it. A somewhat strange feeling, especially when it’s a complete stranger you bump into in a bar. It makes me feel odd and like I’m not normal. It’s like I’m some sort of unencountered enigma that people have come to see and touch.
I love my hair, but this wasn’t always the case for me. I have only really learned to love my natural hair in the past couple of years. Before that, I was an avid user of straighteners. I straightened my hair all the time, and would always have my hair straight no matter what. My school photos are all me with long straight hair. I could be nipping to a friend’s house and I would make sure that my hair was straight. It would take up so much of my time, but I still did it.
I made sure that there was no evidence that my hair is actually ringlet-curly hair. I would tell friends that my natural hair was curly and they wouldn’t believe me. They would only believe me when I showed them photos of me when I was a kid.
“I often ask myself why I wanted my hair to be straight so badly. I’ve come to realise that it is very much to do with the Western beauty standards of femininity that have infiltrated the world. We are told beauty is long straight hair, clear flawless skin, and a slim body.”
The battle with my natural hair began around the age of ten. This was when my mum started blow drying my hair straight and I just fell in love. I loved how long and luscious it looked and felt – and that was that. I even asked my mum if I could have my hair chemically straightened, just so I could make my life a little easier, to which she thankfully said no. Even though my mum is the person who introduced me to blow drying and straightening and prefers my hair when it’s straight, she put her foot down when it came to permanently changing my hair. I guess she didn’t want me to make a potentially long term damaging decision at such a young age, and for that me and my hair are eternally grateful.
I often ask myself why I wanted my hair to be straight so badly. I’ve come to realise that it is very much to do with the Western beauty standards of femininity that have infiltrated the world. What is considered as ‘beautiful’ is what society has dictated and fed to us over time. We are told beauty is long straight hair, clear flawless skin, and a slim body. Anything outside of this is not considered as beautiful. It simply isn’t the norm.
“In my Arab culture, straight hair is actively sought out and actively pushed onto women, sometimes quite aggressively. Most of the comments I got about my natural hair were actually from my Arab extended family. Straight hair is so ingrained in them that to see me with my natural hair was seen as ‘messy’ or ‘untidy’.”
We are subjected to these beauty standards constantly. It’s in fashion and beauty magazines, we see it on TV, and we see it on social media. I will always remember seeing TV adverts for hair products that would always have a woman with straight glossy hair as the ‘after’ shot. And the ‘before’ shot was always a woman with curly or frizzy hair that was described as needing to be ‘fixed’ or ‘tamed’, as if it was a broken wild animal that needed to be shaped into something more acceptable. The fact some of these adverts are still shown on TV truly boggles the mind.
Hairdressers have never really known what to do with my hair, which they also verbally told me sometimes. They always ended up cutting or styling my hair like they would with a person with straight hair, which was of course fine at the time as that’s how I was wearing my hair. But it also reinforced the idea that straight hair is the norm, and if you want your hair cut or styled in its natural state, you’ll just have to seek out someone who is specialised.
We’ve all internalised these deeply rooted values around what is ‘beautiful’, and what kind of hair is preferable and which is not. It’s mostly subconscious. But it can be a conscious thing too. In my Arab culture, straight hair is actively sought out and actively pushed onto women, sometimes quite aggressively. Most of the comments I got about my natural hair were actually from my Arab extended family. Straight hair is so ingrained in them that to see me with my natural hair was seen as ‘messy’ or ‘untidy’. And certainly not beautiful.
“Once the natural hair movement gained momentum, especially when it entered the realms of social media, it completely changed things for me. I saw all these women confidently rocking hair just like my own, and they looked beautiful.”
So, not only did I have to deal with the beauty ideals of our society and culture, but also with the inherited Westernised beauty ideals of my Arab culture too. And it wasn’t easy! I learned to really dislike my natural hair and did all I possibly could to hide it from the world.
Once the natural hair movement gained momentum, especially when it entered the realms of social media, it completely changed things for me. I saw all these women confidently rocking hair just like my own, and they looked beautiful. They were in magazines, on fashion runways, and on TV. Articles and how-to guides were produced to show you your curl type, how to care for your curls, and how curly hair could be achieved. I couldn’t believe it. I finally knew what to do with my natural hair.
Soon after, I took the plunge and started wearing my hair in its natural state. Not only did it save me a tonne of time, but it actually made me feel good about myself. I wore my natural hair to work, to nip out to the shops, and even to go out out or for special occasions. To go to, say, a birthday party without straightening my hair would have been unheard of a few years ago, but it’s something I did and still do. I actually like it! I like how it makes me feel both beautiful and different. I expected to feel a little ashamed or self conscious but I definitely didn’t expect to feel good. I haven’t looked back since. I ditched the heat and the hair tools and instead invested in hair products that look after my frizzy curls.
The natural hair movement has shown women that all hair types and forms are beautiful. We shouldn’t feel the need to hide. We shouldn’t have to subscribe to beauty ideals that we don’t fit into. Beauty ideals that are made to be unattainable so that we would spend time and money trying to reach them. More and more of us, especially during this lockdown, are ditching the tools and embracing our natural hair, because our hair may not be the ‘norm’ but it’s beautiful too.
Shahed works in marketing and is a freelance writer and journalist. She is an assistant editor and writer for Aurelia. She is passionate about equality, the environment, and books. @shahedezaydi