embracing my standard of beauty After 5 years of hiding my hair. I’m finally Letting go of Euro-Centric beauty standards, damaged hair and low self-esteem.
This is my journey to the self-realization that “I am not my hair”
The early years
Since I was younger, hair has always been important to me. It’s been a way for me to either express my self boldly or hide my face from the world. My first “big chop” happened at the age of 14 while in middle school. My grandparents who had raised me majority of my early life had passed away and I had just hit puberty. “Chicken head” and fat ass were insults I heard all too often from classmates who bullied me for being chubby and having big lips with a natural brown line on them. My grandparents graciously took on the responsibility of raising me due to my mother not being allowed to have custody of me because of her ongoing battle with Schizophrenia and a father who has been absent since before my birth. As my grandparents grew older it became harder to take care of me, so I was forced to move to a new city and school to live with my aunt. Of course, this move and their death during middle school, devastated me!
My body and life were changing faster than my maturity!
I spent most of those 3 years in middle school troubled, just trying to survive; I was an insecure teenage girl doing my best to navigate all the physical and mental changes happening to me. I became increasingly angry at the world and my family. I was irate with my teachers, classmates and family because I felt like the ugly duckling that was out of place. The only way I knew how to express my anger with the world was to pick fights with boys in school, which lead to being suspended from school over 5 times. I was extremely disrespectful to my teachers and family and spent a lot of time home from school, isolated in my bedroom on punishment for my dreadful behavior.
No one knew how to control the “Angry Monique,” including myself. This negative behavior was my way of getting attention from the world but I knew in my little 14 year old heart I wanted to change. I felt like it was time for a “rebirth.”
But…I mean, I was only 14, what did I REALLY know about rebirth?
However, I was still determined to prove to world and my family that I was going to be a “New Monique.” This new Monique was going to shave off all her hair in a defiant “FUCK YOU” to my teachers, bullies and family for treating me like the girl who was a burden that would never amount to anything. I commissioned my best friend at the time to shave my hair! We took her dad’s razor and went to work on my head. THIS WAS MY BRITTANY MOMENT sans mental breakdown. My family and classmates were shocked! Bald and feeling like a new Monique, I confidently went out into the world.
At that time in my life, shaving my head symbolized that despite my negative attention seeking behavior; I was going to grow into a strong woman!
The year was 2006 and I had just graduated from high school. I left all my friends and family in the big city of Seattle, WA and moved across the nation to little ol country Petersburg, VA. After a 5 hour plane ride and a 45-minute taxi ride, I pulled up in front of Davis Hall, stepped into the Virginia State University’s Trojan Explosion Marching band room and started my new journey as a freshman majoring in Music.
During the 4 years I spent in undergrad at VSU, I had the time of my life. I met so many friends that turned into family. Known to be goofy, quirky and energetic amongst my friends, I marched and danced in the band, joined two sororities and loved every minute of those undergrad days. I felt like I was in the prime of my 20s!
I grew from a girl to a woman and learned some of the most important lessons in my life, all while finally embracing my natural hair.
Before the natural hair movements and campaigns of today, a lot of African American women had relaxed straight hair or weaves. Despite that, I rocked my natural twist outs, curls, presses and braids. The Sundays before band practice were my wash and twist day, I loved my hair and felt confident in my natural curls. My curls were what I was affectionately known by at VSU. I received the nickname “Shirley” because my curls were similar to Shirley Temple the actress. People recognized me as “Shirley girl with the curls” and I lovveeeeddddd it! You couldn’t tell me nothing! I no longer felt angry at the world, that shaved head in middle school got me to the confident Shirley.
“Shirley” was who i was. the way i wore my hair still held a lot of weight in my life but for the first time, I was confident about wearing my natural hair!
The mid-late 20s.
Undergrad was over and it was time for me to really start adulting. Shit got real!!! This was the time period in my life where I had my lowest moments. I had just graduated with a Bachelors of Arts in Music and had no idea what I was going to do with my degree or what I even wanted to be in life. I was also in a on and off toxic relationship that was taking a toll on my self-esteem. I spent a good 3 years of my life putting up with a man who constantly cheated on me and made me feel like I wasn’t worth shit! My self-love was at an all time low. Because of this, I felt like I had to keep up with society’s standards of beauty at the time. Natural hair just wasn’t in, closures with weaves and wigs were starting to become extremely popular and I was determined to keep up with the times. My weave obsession started small, I started to get extensions installed with a leave out, but quickly realized my natural hair was going to get seriously damaged from pressing it everyday to blend it with the straight extensions. Next, I got into extensions with a closure to protect my natural hair, but I still wasn’t satisfied. I needed something that would last longer than a couple of weeks, so I learned how to make wigs. I quickly realized that wigs were my holy grail, I could wear soo many styles without showing or damaging my hair.
Wheeewwww chile, I thought I had “arrived”!
I felt like Beyoncé, literally!
Whether it was a blonde bob, wavy tresses or 24in curly, I was all in and I wasn’t turning back. I could hide my low self-esteem and keep up with societal standards by changing my wigs frequently. I felt sexy with long full hair and to be honest, I received the most attention from men when I had a wig on verses my natural curls. Most cultures believe long hair is gorgeous and feminine. When you turned on the tv, looked at billboards or went to the store you saw ads with white women with straight long hair and black women with relaxers or 2a-3a curl patterns. Representation for black women with all types of hair was scarce especially natural hairstyles. If you were natural, it was extremely difficult to find representation or products to match your hair type.
Target didn’t have the isle dedicated to natural hair brands and there wasn’t 1,000s of blogs, social media pages, TV shows and movies dedicated to showing images of black women with all types of hairstyles.
I fed into the hype and there was no sign of turning back.
Time for change
In 2016, I moved to Abu Dhabi and began my journey teaching abroad. I continued my quest to keep up with the Euro-centric standards of beauty with the constant wearing of wigs and braids. My hair started to become thin and damaged from constantly being covered by wigs and the tension from braids underneath the wigs. Men constantly complimented my wigs and that fed into my preconceived notion that I was only beautiful with long hair. I had developed a deep insecurity that “I was my hair” and without longer hair I was ugly.
A lot of women struggle to admit that they try to keep up with society’s standards of long hair. Now don’t get me wrong, weaves and extensions are not only something black women wear, women from all cultures engage in wearing hair extensions. It’s becoming an increasingly popular way to achieve different looks and length with out damaging your hair. However, I knew deep down inside, keeping up with these standards was doing great damage to my self-esteem externally and internally. I knew it was time for a change If I wanted to grow into a woman who fully loved myself from head to toe.
I had to prove to myself that i could be beautiful with long or short hair. A dramatic cut was the only way to achieve self-realization and healthy hair.
July 2019, it was time to prove to myself that my hair didn’t define my beauty. I quickly found a stylist while on holiday in NYC and made an appointment. This was IT! I was going to cut my hair off and find my inner and outer beauty beyond hiding behind hair that wasn’t mine. I made my way to H2Salon in Brooklyn and allowed Lorraine to chop off all my damaged hair. I promise it was the best feeling ever! Cutting my hair off was like a spiritual cleansing that left me feeling sooo relieved, rejuvenated and refreshed. I felt lighter, like a burden had been lifted. I had invested soo much unneeded baggage into my hair that letting go was like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I quickly fell in love with my cut and held my head high! This was my hair and I was going to wear it however I wanted!