The profound journey to acceptance of my black heritage
As a black girl, growing up in a poor area in Rio de Janeiro was not an easiest of the rides. I remember at a very young age being very self consious about different aspects of my body.
Learning how to deal with my hair was a nightmare. I am mixed race, white mum and black dad, and I was raised by my mum. So the tough job of looking after my very particular hair type wasn’t an easy task for her.
At soon as I can remember I started to blend in with all the other kids and my big afro hair just wasn’t as trendy as it is nowadays. So my difficulty accepting my natural hair started pretty early in my life.
In Brazil we watch a lot of American films and everytime a black girl appearead she had bone straight silky hair so that became the standard to many black girls growing up in the 80’s. That was our reference. That was what was considered beautiful and acceptable.
Little did I know that their hair was most probably not even real. Much later in life and after completely ruining my hair with relaxers I realised that that silky straight hair was a weave or wig. I was not happy at all with this finding but it was too late.
As a teenager my mum would proudly show pictures of me as a toddler running around with my little afro and all I could do was cringe. I hated it and was ashamed of those pictures. I blamed my mum for years for not knowing how to look after my hair and why would she think that an afro was cute in anyway.
After years of relaxing and straightening my hair, hoping I would feel more accepted and maybe feel beautiful, my hair was ruined. There was no texture, no length and no life to it.
I found a salon that offered a product that would loose the curls instead of permanently straighten it. That was the first time I started looking at curly hair as a option. It was trending. People were starting to talk about it and show natural hair on tv.
There was more and more products available for afro hair in supermarkets. Things were finally looking very promising. I wasn’t quite ready to fully accept my afro but I was starting to see beauty in it. Which was the first step into my hair journey to freedom.
As I started understanding a bit more about curly hair, I organically started drifting into black culture and my heritage. Not really having any black person in my household growing up, having a white mum and seeing most black girls on tv with straight hair, black culture wasn’t exactly my forte and I am not proud of saying it at all.
It took me a long time to appreciate my black heritage and my african roots in general. I remember being made fun of because of my skin colour and my hair since I was a kid to I only resented everything that connected me to black culture.
Those walls came crashing down once I understood how powerful beautiful black culture is. At some point I caught myself attending events about black heritage and fell in love with black music. I made friends that showed me more sides of the culture and welcomed me. It was the first time I felt like I belonged somewhere. It also happened to be the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin and finally seen myself as a beautiful gir.
But then it was time to leave Brazil and start a new life in Dubai. I got a job as cabin crew with Emirates Airline and they were known worldwide by their grooming standards. I needed the job and I was torned. I remember seeing pictures of the already hired girls and none of them had curly or afro hair so I took a step back and went back to relaxers.
My mind was triggered into fitting in once again. I was in a different country and joining a very reputable company that had even higher standards of how their employees should look. For some reason I thought straight hair would be more acceptable and that’s what I did. How am I supposed to fit all this curls in that tiny hat?
After leaving Emirates and feeling like I no longer needed to fit in a tiny box of standards I decided to transition to fully natural hair. That was not an easy road. I remember watching dozens of youtube tutorials of curly girls going through the same struggle.
Also it was not easy to find products for curly hair in Dubai. I was constantly trying new brands and also ordering products from Amazon because there was just not much available in supermarkets or pharmacies there. The water in Dubai is so hard we need special filters connected to the showers.
Also you may have heard of the excruciating Summers we have that can reach 50 degrees celsius. I was also constantly at the beach. It is just the perfect recipe for a hair disaster. It didn’t take long for my hair to completely give in.
I managed to start the process by letting my hair grow naturally a few inches. Seeing how my natural texture was after decades of straightening it was scary and eye opening at the same time. That hair was thick, strong and very different from what I was used to. That hair did not want to be tamed.
Then I got pregnant and I felt like somehow I had the responsibility to not only grow but learn how to accept and love my hair because I wanted my child to look at me and feel proud of their hair.
I had to be the example. I also needed to learn how to take care of it so I could pass it on to him or her. I was worried my baby would go through life hating their hair like I did and I just could not let it happen. That horrible feeling would stop with me.
I have to confess that the beginning was really stressful. Within a few months my natural hair was very much evident and I literally didn’t know what to do with it. The main problem was the different texture. At the top of my hair I had this dense, strong curls and from the middle to the end my hair had 3 different textures and was very weak and brittle.
I tried to cut the ends slowly because I always had relatively long hair and now I am already dealing with a new texture. I didn’t want to deal with new texture and lenght so I kept it below my shoulders for a bit. It was extremely hard to manage. Washing and detangling was a nightmare because whenever the new growth connected with the damaged part the hair would simply snap, a lot.
One day, when my curls were fairly long and just above my shoulders I decided to chop the straight hair off. I was terrified of looking like that little girl with an afro hair but the stress of dealing with all those textures gave me the courage to try. I did it, I chopped a huge chunk of my hair off, the dead hair, but it was a lot.
I also cried a lot. I was a mixture of sadness, loss, excitment. How do I even look after my hair now? What products do I use. What does it need? Do I look pretty? Do I feel pretty?
It was a long process. Between putting my hair on different protective styles like box braids to blow drying it, I managed to slowly learn to love and accept my new natural hair. Imagine being mid 30’s and having never seeing your hair texture? It was a lot.
It was emotional and exhausting at times. I did have some bad days when nothing seemed to work and I was tempted to go back to straightening it. But I didn’t and I am very glad.
I love everything about my hair. I love the volume and how strong it is. I love how people appreciate it and are very inquisitive about it. I love that I can inspire other young girls to love their natural hair. I love the compliments but more than anything I love the fact that I finally embraced a part of myself that is so beautiful and for so long I was ashamed of.