Being the youngest of my siblings, I watched them navigate many family gatherings where they were asked questions about their career goals, relationship status and state of womb occupancy. For a long time, I was always seen as the baby, and no one seemed to be rushing me into those next steps.
It wasn’t until I started to transition to natural that a new line of “home for the holiday” questions began to open up—about my natural hair. Six years of being natural, and I still struggle to remember that my textured black hair is beautiful—in all states (shrinkage, kinky edges and all), especially when faced with someone reminding me that textured black hair still isn’t the normalized standard of beauty.
Even in my very supportive family, I had to field comments about my natural hair looking wild or crazy in my early days of transition. The one that I remember most is when I was told that I was “still very pretty,” and then was asked if I ever thought about at least using heat to straighten my hair. These comments were from one of those distant play cousins whom you only see at family gatherings where food is involved, so I didn’t take it too seriously; but it did make me think how difficult transitioning might have been if this were the opinion of my close family.
I have heard many stories from new naturals who had similar not-so-positive reactions from their loved ones about their decision to transition to natural hair. A close friend of mine told me that the first 30 minutes of her first Thanksgiving home with natural hair was consumed by her parents asking when she was going to get her hair done and whether her boyfriend was happy with her hair “like that.”
The stigma attached to kinky black hair isn’t always from outsiders; unfortunately, some black people agree that black hair looks unkempt or undone in its natural state. The thought that textured black hair is only the “before” of a finished hairstyle is still a widely held opinion in the black community. The existence of these assumptions shows that there is still work to be done in reversing the anti-black rhetoric regarding black features that has been passed down through generations.
Coil criticism may be on the menu for your trip home for the holidays. But here are a few tips that helped me get through those first days of tress stress and strand side eyes:
1. Find the actual compliment in every backhanded compliment.
Listen, if you could find the pseudo-nice part of your uncle’s “You may look young, but that clock is ticking” reminder, you can grab a compliment from the backhanded comments about your hair. It's easy to say that the comments shouldn't be taken too seriously, but your family’s negative reactions to your hair can be hard to deal with. Find the silver lining in the comments and use them to boost that ever growing hair esteem.
2. Reach one, teach one—if you want to.
If you're feeling up to it, use this time to educate your family about the backward thinking of rejecting hair that grows naturally out of their heads. Let them know about your reasons for deciding to go natural, and the flaws in thinking that straightened strands are the only option for black hair. Put on your teacher hat and hopefully open their minds to accepting a part of themselves that they are rejecting through their attitude toward your hair.
3. Morning mirror affirmations aren't just for adorable babies in Instagram videos.
I used to think that morning affirmations and sticking encouraging words on your mirror were a bit too self-help, but reminding yourself of your worth and magic on a daily basis can definitely be helpful. If you know that you may be faced with negative opinions about your hair, double up on affirmations that confirm that your hair is naturally dope and every day is a good hair day. It will surprise you how these pop into your mind when someone tries to tell you otherwise.
4. Remember the #MannequinChallenge.
When all else fails, just hit that #MannequinChallenge on them. Freeze where you are and wait for them to get the hint that you're not paying the tiniest bit of attention to their subliminal put-downs. Your hair, your body, your business.
Shayna Watson is a freelance style and beauty writer who can be heard saying “Natural hair is a lifestyle” at least once a day. A Pittsburgh native, she currently lives in a shoe-box apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y.—which is fitting, since she really loves shoes. You can check out her personal style musings on A Nu Creature and follow her on Instagram.