Growing up as an African American woman, I rarely saw adequate representations of our hair. Afros were not featured in commercials as they are now. The media only showed long, glossy hair. When I wear my hair in an afro, people stare, shout compliments, and even flash the power sign. My mission remains to change the perceptions of black people about our hair one generation at a time so that little black girls and boys do not have to go through what I did.
NEW ORLEANS, United States — At 13 years old, my grandmother took me to a nearby salon so I could get my hair straightened. Although I was clearly in pain, the hairdresser insisted on leaving the solution in for a few more minutes. My scalp burned like fire. The hairdresser told me this was the price I had to pay to have straight hair. When I woke up the next morning, the hair on the back of my head was stuck to my scalp. The red burns on the skin itched incessantly.
My mother rushed me to the salon, demanding an explanation. The woman apologized and said she forgot to rinse all the product out the first time. She rinsed me again and blow-dried my hair, assuring me everything was okay. Soon, my hair began falling out due to the severe damage to my scalp. Yet, despite all that, I still desired straight hair. I begged my mother to take me to another hairdresser to redo the perm. The result: my entire head became covered in chemical burns. Looking back, it saddens me to think how much I put myself through out of the mistaken belief my natural curls were ugly. Was the problem with me or society?
The myth that black people have unmanageable, coarse hair results in a lot of us experiencing shame. We feel embarrassed about our natural curls, hiding them with chemicals. Businesses produce harsh hair products with the promise of immediate results. Many black women want to conform to societal norms, and straight hair was seen as a sign of beauty. After I lost nearly all my hair, I reconsidered the way I saw and cared for myself. I realized I had no idea what healthy hair truly meant or what it looked like for me. All my life, I tried to tame it in some way, unconcerned about destroying it in the process. At times, it even felt like a burden.
I decided to start caring for my hair to achieve its full potential. I cut all my transitioning hair off and let it grow out completely again. It felt like a fresh start, a reset. For months, I watched it grow and avoided doing anything at all to damage it. One night, my sister uploaded a photo I took of my progress to social media. Someone suggested I attempt a Guinness World Record. The idea intrigued me. Aside from the thrill of participating in something as big as the Guinness World Record, I wanted a chance to show the world I finally felt proud of my hair.
I rushed to my computer and sent in my photo, along with some information about me. Shortly after, I heard from the people at Guinness. They connected me with an official to measure the circumference and height of my afro, and to confirm it was my real hair. It took them a year to get back to me. During that year, I tried not to think about it too much. I continued to let my hair grow, feeling so proud of how far I had come. Already, I could sense the difference in how I carried myself on the streets.
One day, nearly 13 months later, they contacted me again to tell me I won. I won the Guiness World Record for the largest afro. It felt incredible. Over a decade has passed, and I still hold the title. Someone briefly dethroned me during Covid-19 because I struggled to get my measurements in on time. However, I reclaimed it a few months later. It takes a lot of time and effort to maintain my hair. Even minor changes to my routine can leave a negative impact on its appearance.
Growing up as an African American woman, I rarely saw adequate representations of our hair. Afros were not featured in commercials as they are now. The media only showed long, glossy hair. When I wear my hair in an afro, people stare, shout compliments, and even flash the power sign. My mission remains to change the perceptions of black people about our hair one generation at a time so that little black girls and boys do not have to go through what I did. I hope they all wear their hair with pride and know how beautiful it is.
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