Love + Sex, Love

I was nine when I realized sleeping in my headscarf wasn’t ‘sexy’

How would I expect him to like me or love me if he saw me with a bonnet on?

 

The first time that I considered the role beauty politics played in romantic relationships, I was about nine years old. I’d just gotten my hair done professionally for the first time, ever. I got my hair straightened with a few curls for my oldest brother’s wedding.

Although I probably should have been wearing a headscarf to bed for years (PSA: cotton pillowcases are murder on the hair), this was the first time that I had to wrap my hair at night. You see, tossing and turning all night + night sweats + the amount of time, energy and cash that went into getting a 9-year-old’s hair done professionally = a strong need to keep that look in tact for as long as possible.

And so my mother helped me put in rollers and tie on a headscarf. I was incredibly excited to get my hair done for the first time. To me, getting your hair straightened was a “grown up” thing to do. Plaits and braids were for little girls. My older sisters and my mother all wore their hair straight. It felt like a rite of passage. The one drawback? The amount of work it took to keep my straightened hair from “going back” or reverting to its natural curly state. I quickly realized that wearing my hair straight meant dreading unexpected rainfall, trying my best not to sweat and most of all, neatly tying on a scarf at night.

[bctt tweet=” Plaits and braids were for little girls.”]

It was the last part that really bothered me. Bonnets and headwraps play a necessary role in keeping my hair healthy and my style in tact, they are not exactly cute bedtime accessories. (The women who feel comfortable going to the grocery store/bank/mall/anywhere outside of the house wearing them are perhaps some of the most confident people ever to walk the Earth’s crust. I do not fall in that number.) And for the first time in my life, I began to consider what my hypothetical future husband might think. How would I expect him to like me or love me if he saw me with a bonnet on? I looked like a shabby Little Bo Peep. And while I don’t think I really understood what sex was, I knew that my current night time look was not necessarily “sexy.”

I thought about all of this while reading this hilarious BuzzFeed list of “13 Charts Every Black Girl Can Relate To.” The one that stuck out the most was the Venn Diagram that broke down which people “deserve you at your twist out.”

Now that I’m older, I’m bothered by the fact that my 9-year-old self was worried about looking good for someone she’d never met. I really fretted over what my Future Husband would think of the bonnet/scarf that I needed in order to keep my hair healthy. And that really wasn’t a complex that I could shake until I got much older.

The thing that helped? Learning how to take care of my own hair. I started playing around with wearing my hair natural in middle school. After I aged out of plaits, I spent a year or two faithfully going to get my hair straightened, usually by maternal grandmother, a retired beautician who would put a hot comb over one of her stove eyes and go to work on my defiant curls. If I didn’t go to her, I spent hours upon hours in hair salons (that same BuzzFeed list features a chart that breaks down exactly how much time one can expect to be in a salon during any given hair appointment. So freaking accurate).

But this was all time-consuming and, if I wasn’t having my grandmother do my hair, expensive. At first, I just wore my natural hair tied back into neat buns, but at some point, I began to play around with wearing my hair in a big, curly fro. Now, this was before the natural hair care blogs and YouTube tutorials, so basically, I did a lot of damage to my hair and was using terrible mousses and jheri curl-like products that I found at grocery and beauty supply stores.

My saving grace came in college, when I discovered Mixed Chicks products. Soon after, more and more natural hair products began hitting store shelves and the Internet helped me figure out what my hair needed, which includes before-shampooing hot oil treatments a.k.a “prepoos,” regular deep conditioning, gentle detangling and nutrient-rich hair products that are free of sulfates. But most of all? I needed to wrap my freaking hair. It helps to cut down on breakage, retain moisture and minimize the amount of styling-related tension my hair is under each day.

I now understood the intense importance of my scarf, not from a “this is just what black women do” standpoint (which was the case when I was younger) but from a scientific one. And though I’m a lazy naturalista who might not wear one as diligently as I should, I always have a scarf on hand.

However, I must say, nine-year-old Lauren was kind of right about some men’s aversion to headscarves. I’ve seen men complain about them on Twitter and had them sigh when I donned one before bed. But here’s the thing: 25-year-old Lauren does not give a single damn.

[bctt tweet=”HOW DO YOU THINK WE KEEP OUR HAIR THAT WAY, DUDE?”]

Conversations about black women’s hair are full of some right-stupid paradoxes and stereotypes. There are people who think your hairstyle is indicative of your “wokeness,” believing that having heat/chemically straightened hair or a weave means you must be shallow and self-hating. Some people think you “shouldn’t go natural,” an idea that is usually overflowing with colorism (while you’re at it, read this entire post about colorism and natural hair, please). And of course, the one most pertinent to this essay: some men hate scarves, bonnets, protective styles, weaves and braids but want to date black women with healthy heads of long and/or thick hair. HOW DO YOU THINK WE KEEP OUR HAIR THAT WAY, DUDE?

It’s like going in intense, stupid circles. I’ve dated men who love my hair straight, even though they know that 1) I like it curly (most of the time) and 2) straightening my hair takes time, energy and money that I don’t like to spend. I’ve also dated men who fetishize my 3C/4A curls – but have made it clear that they’re okay with my natural style because it’s not “too scratchy” or “too nappy.” And frankly, those are the major reasons why I write about them in the past tense.

Today? No one who cannot love me at my headscarf deserves me at my stretched wash ‘n go. I wish I could go back and tell nine-year-old me not to lose any sleep over those men, either.