The latest controversy involving Madewell, the fledging brand under the umbrella of big sister — J.Crew and the flawless model with the messy bun is just another reason why “hairy situations” can have an unnecessarily prickly effect.
As a Black woman with a grade of hair that most wouldn’t consider ideal — I have weathered my share of judgments and unwarranted advice about how and why my wildly erratic tresses need to be appropriately tamed.
Before natural hair blogs hit the scene and way before my gorgeously coiled black strands were cast under an unyielding gray spell — I was completely in love with the my crowning glory. The only issue was the frustrating fact that I was never given permission to groom it accordingly to my will.
As the only daughter of my Nigerian mother — I was lucky to have her devotion through out the years of my childhood — and her apprenticeship also subbed as bonding moments. My hair type required that level of care because of the wondrous entanglements that led to thorough detangling sessions — and the combing exercises that ended with me delightfully stuck between my mother’s thighs — as she proceeded to expertly secure the plaits with love.
Once I was deposited in boarding school at the age of eleven — my routine became complicated as I was tasked to follow the stringent rulebook that demanded no chemical treatments and the guarantee that our hairstyles stayed within the realm of cornrows, braids or threading.
Basically we weren’t allowed to have carefree Afros or bushy buns or anything that deviated from the mandated descriptions. The issues unfolded quickly — as I was suddenly forced to learn how to manipulate the strands of others in order to ensure my continued safety at morning assembly.
As soon as my graduation was complete — I celebrated my exit with my very first perm. The experience was notable because not only was I mesmerized by the loose and movable texture — but that shit hurt like hell. It felt like my scalp was literally on fire and the worse it got — the more I was encouraged to grin and bear it.
When it got to the point where my eyes began to sting involuntarily — the stylist casually noted that “beauty is pain.”
Since then I have vacillated back and forth with ease and gratifying authority as I have navigated the spheres of options that Black women are extremely lucky to be with gifted with — except the freedom comes with a price.
I peeped that during my experimental phase — back when such a thing wasn’t exactly kosher. As a young adult — I was expected to mimic the girls in music videos or at the very least work diligently to keep my “edges” sleeked to perfection.
There was no ode to #BlackGirlMagic and how that spreads into the relationship of how you represent not only yourself — but the sisters who won’t stand for the cringe-worthy moment when you’re caught looking a “hot mess” — in public.
When relaxing my hair became to expensive after living in New York proved to be an ass-kicker — I decided to allow my hair to breathe. I developed a pattern of survival for my strands that was simple and straight-forward. I sport braids during the winter months and then release my tresses in the spring.
It felt good to take the braids out after months of subjection — and examine the growth spurt — and as I stood in front of the mirror with the huge mass overwhelming my template — all I wanted to do was show it off.
And so I did — in various ways that included fro buns and other styles that didn’t prove to be popular with colleagues or loved ones — but thankfully my stubborn nature provided the reactionary cushion I deserved.
Years later — the climate has become a lot more lax and heroically less rigid — as Black women are enjoying a season of guilt-less quests that give us the power to proudly display the accessory that ultimately sets us apart from the rest.
It’s a maze of confusion when you attempt to label hair patterns and even within the community — the mislabeling is just as rampant. Instagram pages are filled to the brim with over-used hashtags that are assigned to women with silky, wavy buns who are also claiming adherence to the complexities of #naturalhair and the #Afro that birthed it.
The truth is that we wouldn’t be making this such a big deal if it wasn’t and it’s a big deal because certain hair types — particularly my own — have an uphill climb to the top. The top is the place where you fit in without question and it provides refuge from being disgracefully penalized for not having straight roots — to begin with.
We pretend as if we’ve made advancements with this predicament — but we are still seeped in shame and mental negligence and it shows in the ways that we berate mothers for their daughters and strangers for their personal choices.
The model in the Madewell ad is sporting a style that is relatable and real and the criticisms only point to a deeper issue that unfortunately will always be activated — due to the sensitive nature of ever-evolving tradition.
This has forced J.Crew to issue a statement apologizing for something that never happened.
And while most of you are relieved that the company followed protocol — we can’t assume that this where it ends because “natural hair” is just that — It’s effortless, breezy and easy. It’s not supposed to be concocted to the will of the maddening crowd that dictates how “shiny” or “dry” or whether the comb broke in the middle of its duty.
It’s time to step back and examine the reasons behind the fear of our presentation and determine whether or not we really comprehend the freedom of naturally tending to our tresses in ways that match our disposition versus what we prefer to offer the competition.
At the end of day — hair is just hair — even when it’s breathing. And that can be neat or messy. Either we we should be able to choose without query.
Everyone else does.