I Don’t Always Love My Kinky, Coily Hair, but I’m Trying

My cotton crown blooms coiled antennas, each having the individuality of snowflakes

An up-close look at my tightly coiled natural hair. Photos: Sylene Joseph

These past few years have been empowering for dark-skinned women, especially for those of us with hair that’s as difficult to love as it is to comb. Today, our melanin is celebrated, the naps on our scalp that we were once pressured to relax are now a crowning glory. Black girls have been deemed magical, and we are finally being embraced in mainstream media as beautiful in both appearance and character.

But there are still days when reality sets in, at least for me.

There are days when I overhear conversations between Black men admitting their preference has been and always will be someone with light skin. There are days when there are not enough makeup shades available that can hide my hyperpigmentation. There are days when I’m tired of wearing my hair in a bun atop my head and want to let it all down, but I can’t. My hair doesn’t do that.

I want my hair to be easier! Easier to style, easier to maintain, easier to touch, easier to manipulate, easier to love.

Once upon a time, when I was seven or eight, I prayed for waist length, bone-straight blonde hair. I didn’t pray for world peace or good grades. No. I wanted the sun to shine on my natural highlights while I tossed my hair from side to side. After-school television programs didn’t have girls with hair like mine. Instead, there were one or two racially ambiguous girls with loose curls that hung past their shoulders or the occasional unambiguous Black girl with her tresses hidden away in braids.

It has taken me many years to accept that nothing is wrong with my hair. Many other Black women and girls have been on a similar journey, unlearning what we’ve come to know as the standard of beauty and embracing the skin (and hair) we’re in. We’re learning that our kinks, curls, and coils are different but also beautiful.

Unfortunately, my childhood obsession of having shiny hair with movement and length has had long-lasting effects on how I view and treat my own natural hair. Yes, we have entered a time when Black is recognized as beautiful. We’re learning about the right products for our tresses, and Black girls are challenging the status quo and are fully committed to showing ourselves all the love we’ve been denied.

But I have to admit, there are still days when I don’t love my kinky, coily Black girl hair.

I want my hair to be easier! Easier to style, easier to maintain, easier to touch, easier to manipulate, easier to love. I want the process of shampooing, detangling, scalp maintenance, split-end crusading, and nighttime care to be painless. The thousands of blogs and vlogs and books and images that hold countless tips while sporting women crowned with the perfect ’fro are inspirational. Yet I feel damned because it is all easier said than done.

Unfortunately, my hair pays the price for my apathy.

I’ve allowed myself to become consumed with every type of texture and pattern except my own kinky locs. And I’ve been neglecting my hair and myself. The consequence of my neglect is the current state of my hair. My afro is uneven, the ends frayed, and its overall appearance is dull. My tresses are damaged, and if they were animated, their feelings would be, too.

Also damaged is my sense of self. When I criticize and neglect my hair, I’m treating myself as if I’m not worthy of love or care. I’m neglecting my own body — my hair is as much a part of me as my skin, arms, and legs.

I am restarting my natural hair journey — san big chop — while simultaneously starting my self-care journey.

If I want to be happy with the whole of me, I must accept each part of me, including my hair.

I am on a journey not only to repair my hair but also my attitude. I’m on a journey toward accepting that my hair will perpetually knot and will require me to act as a gardener — to lovingly prune and untangle it as we go and grow along. My ’fro will always shrink against the West Indian breezes and can only be as shiny as science provides it to be. It will fray. It will frizz. My center part will never be perfect. My combs will break consistently. My floor will always be freckled with spirals and so will my towels and shower and dressing table and office floor.

I am also accepting that my hair is versatile and unique. That my hairstyle options are endless. My hair can be flat ironed and flowing or braided up and structured. I can choose to grow thick dreadlocks for a few years or cut my hair even and low. I can wear a variety of textured extensions: afro, afro kinky, curly, coily and yaki. I could rock a gigantic afro or a compact one. My hair can do things that the shiny, smooth tresses I once adored cannot. I’ve learned how my hair is truly magical my Black beauty is and how infinite the possibilities truly are.

I’m determined to learn what my version of healthy hair needs. My hair will need nutrients: oils for my scalp and creams for my tresses. My hair will thrive once I study the science of Black hair. I’m already excited about the results of constant care: a healthy scalp and moisturized hair.

Above all, hair like mine needs love. Love opens the gateway to appreciation and patience. Love is the key to having thriving hair and a thriving self-image. If I want to be happy with the whole of me, I must accept each part of me, including my hair. This means acquiring the education I lack and embracing the hair I cannot genetically change.

Being coily, curly, kinky, and cotton will not always be easy. But I am determined to love it.

I will treat my crown of glory right, and it will thank me in return.

My hair styled in a “twist out.”

Writer. Mental Health Advocate. Literary Prize Winner. 📧: sylenejoseph@gmail.com

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