During a conversation with a Black man a few weeks ago, in the presence of another Black woman, it happened. Again. I felt the need to defend my hair length. As soon as the exchange ended, I was haunted. Disturbed by the incessant occurrence of having to exculpate my existence, my beauty. Before I could properly process what I was doing and stop myself, I had JUSTIFIED MY HAIR LENGTH. Justified. As if there was something wrong or ugly about it, as if I was less attractive because my hair length was modest, even average, for a Black girl. A Black man had informed me, proudly and perhaps innocently, in front of another woman with longer hair that his hair had been longer than mine “at one point.”
We’ve all heard or said The Defenses before. “My hair used to be really long BUT.” “That perm my mom forced me to get broke my hair off, girl.” “I told the hairdresser to just cut my split ends and she cut a few inches off. It’ll grow back.” “I did the big chop.” We’ve all cringed at the “bald head scallywag” jokes on the middle school playground, subconsciously brushed down gelled up baby hairs to ensure ourselves that we had edges, dodge that jab. Why is brushing down gelled up baby hairs even a thing? Doesn’t this act implicitly ingrain the message that natural edges are unruly or unsightly?
Then, the fact that this man prefaced the hair length comparison statement with “no disrespect but…” had clearly, immediately and innately activated the need for me to defend myself, defend my hair. It made the statement inherently disrespectful and suggested a hair inferiority. “Well, I’m not offended because I chopped all of my hair off. I did the big chop.” I blurted out as I recovered and attempted to hide my chagrin under the guise of enlightening my peers with indisputable facts. I might as well have said, “So you see, your hair was only longer than mine by default. You are not better than me, your hair does not grow longer or faster. I started over. So there. My hair is freaking awesome dude BE HUMBLE!”
A similar microaggression was facilitated by a white female coworker a few months prior. In the same breath of her complimenting how full, cute, and suiting my afro puff debut at work was, she denigrated another sister, A Black female acquaintance of hers that she couldn’t, for the life of her, decode why the woman had opted to wear a ponytail that was “this” (she demonstrated for dramatic effect with her finger and thumb barely separated) long.
That Sunday evening after The Defense, I moisturized and cornrowed my curls in my bedroom whilst getting lost and mesmerized by the gentle crooning of Jill Scott playing in the background of my makeshift hair salon. I was preparing for my next protective style while giving Queen Latifah in Set It Off vibes with my straight-back, tightly and neatly plaited locks. In my meditative thug life glory, I forced myself to decompress from the week’s weariness and anticipated the new beginning of the next week. I had survived yet another conventional beauty standard microaggression and had lived to defend myself another day. I wondered, “When?”
When exactly are we going to stop scrutinizing a fish by its ability to climb a tree? When we’re made of the same star essence and universe rain from which our hair, like trees and flowers, sprout. Spiral upward to greet the sun’s rays. Voluminous. Luminous. Copious. Billowing. Created to rise, magnificently blossom, and be spatially excellent. Outsmarting and gently defeating gravity in unique testament to an especially magic divinity. An enchanting intensity that somehow shines through even in a brush cut.
Our hair is meant to curl, coil, jump, and leap! Stretch and shout for joy. Vibrate, an antenna majestically intertwined with the galaxy. Humidity forecasts strong springiness with a slight chance of shrinkage and a high chance of slayage. Encounters with heat engender silkiness. Water, softly rippling waves. Air, flourishing kinks proudly riding the breeze. Requiring nourishment like the soil. A mirror of the Earth. Black Girl Radiance is not defined by hair length: Our magic is far too big and resilient for that.
Lacrisha is a healing, growth, and wellness enthusiast who likes to spend her spare time participating in sophisticated ratchet hippie thug scholar things like lamenting adulting and reading books. She is a proud alumna of both the illustrious Howard University and North Carolina Central University.