I am not my hair.
I am not my skin.
I am a voice that lives within.
These are the lyrics to one of my favorite songs as a young adult, 'I am Not my Hair' by Indie Arie. It was a song of empowerment. It was a declaration that whether I decided to wear my hair straight or not, my hair was not who I was. To me, the song meant that neither I nor anyone else should be defined by a hairstyle. To this day, I love this song and when I hear it, I still turn it up and sing out loud. But, I have to admit that her words no longer resonate with me in the same way.
In 2015, I became a mother to a beautiful baby girl, Zinnia Grace, and she changed my world completely. Her bright smile and deep eyes melted my heart. Her small fingers and feet, that wiggled at the sound of our voices made me laugh with delight every time. And her hair--her dark, loosely coiled hair, was absolutely beautiful. I knew from day one that I wanted to send her the message that she was naturally wonderful and fearfully made. Over time, this resolve made me think about how I have masked my own natural beauty--specifically my hair.
Each time I processed my hair with chemicals, I thought about the day that my daughter might ask why my hair was straighter than hers. Each time I curled my straight hair, I thought about my daughter’s increasingly growing thick and curly baby afro and how one day she’d feel my hair and wonder why my hair felt much different than her own. When she was about 12 months old, I made the decision to start growing out my relaxer, and a few months later, I did the big chop; I cut off the straight and processed parts of my hair and began to wear my hair natural. I feel more whole and as if I’m living more honestly now, before my baby girl.
Now when I hold my daughter’s hand to walk together or when I hold her cheeks to mine and smile, I know that (in addition to other things) I am sending one message that I hope she will come to appreciate and love- that her hair is perfect the way it is. I hope she grows to understand that God made her to be exactly as she is and to give God thanks for her brown skin, deep dark eyes, wide nose, and all of her coils and curls. I hope that she embraces her natural beauty and enhances it with the playful, curious, and strong personality that is budding day by day.
I have come to the conclusion that my hair is a part of my identity and that the choices I make about my hair, do matter. They matter to me, and more importantly, they will matter to my daughter who will grow up learning to love who she is first, through me.
Yolanda Johnson is a public school teacher, and is very active in her local community and church. She lives in the DC area with her husband and their two fun-loving toddlers.