A native of West Philadelphia, Ahyana is a Crisis intervention Counselor for Philadelphia’s only free rape crisis center. She also works as a resident director where she has been for three years at a girls home in Swarthmore, PA, living in an building community with eleven other young women. Additionally, Ahyana is a full time graduate student at Walden University earning a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling.
In 2006 the singer India Arie debuted her song “I am not my hair.” I suppose the song was meant to revolutionize the way women, especially Black women think about their hair. I suppose it was her response to the age old cultural debate in the African American community, good hair versus bad hair. In 2009 comedian and actor Chris rock debuted his film Good Hair. His film was a comedic documentary about hair, textures, colors, weaves, perms, wigs, hair shows, etc. I suppose his film was his attempt o enlighten the world about the age old good hair versus bad hair debate and to instill a sense of pride about whatever happens to grow out of our heads. Three weeks ago I sat in my office with one of my adolescent clients who stated she did not like being African American, and a huge part of that was because…..she did not like her hair. India I and my client are our hair. Chris, I have “good hair” and my client doesn’t.
I am an ethical practitioner, so I won’t betray my client’s confidence. I’ll just betray the confidence of most women, Black or not. My client was unhappy with herself. This time it wasn’t her weight or height, but her race. She didn’t associate her race with wealth, power, influence, or intellect. She didn’t find her race, or features such as her hair that are common characteristics of her race, desirable. And as I talked with my supervisor about this, my supervisor normalized my client’s feelings. After all she was not only an adolescent, but an adolescent girl. My supervisor had a point. I spent many a nights on my knees, days in the bathroom, in the back of the school bus praying to be pretty. I wanted “long stringy hair” and didn’t want to be in the sun too long because I did not want to get any darker. Even as I left work and called close friends to express my shock that an African American teen girl could bluntly, seriously, and unapologetically express her disdain for being Black, no one else was really fazed. In fact I even had friends, even guys, who shared they don’t blame her and that they too had times when they wished they were not African American. And don’t even get me started on the hair issue. My girlfriends and I shared stories for days.
But none of this comforted me. I didn’t want my client’s feelings normalized. I didn’t want to see how she could be dissatisfied and why no one wants bad hair. And bad hair for those who don’t know is kinky nappy hair. If it doesn’t move, it’s not good. And that’s not my opinion, that’s the generally accepted definition in the Black community. Don’t let length full you. If you have to perm it, run a hot comb through it, or braid it, yet it’s long, it’s still no good. I didn’t really want to reflect on my own process of growing self acceptance. I didn’t want it to be an issue at all. I didn’t want to be reminded of India Arie’s song, Chris rock’s film, or my own secret gratefulness that on a bad day I can wet my hair let it curl up and still look good. I didn’t want my client to not like herself. I certainly didn’t want to chalk her dislike to her being a woman. I didn’t want to acknowledge that perhaps as women our self dissatisfaction is a rites of passage of sorts and I just needed to let my client self loathe until she was twenty, thirty, or forty something and then she’d be like….
She’d be like most women I know. Women constantly having a love hate relationship with themselves. Constantly lying in the tension of acceptance and rejection, dissatisfaction and satisfaction, goals yet to achieve and pondering missed opportunities. Is this the added bonus that comes with being a woman? Is that what we do? And why? Why do laser, lose, bleach, perm? Why do we stop at Bachelors, believe we can’t be successful in our careers and as wives/mothers? Why do we default to mom jeans and nikes?
I went back the following week with my client and I told her the next several sessions would focus on identity development. I told her that we were going to explore the woman she was becoming. I didn’t tell her I was sad she didn’t like her race or her hair. I didn’t say it was a shame she didn’t equate her culture with anything good. Instead I made a commitment to simply walk her through the process. I made a commitment to help her explore, discover, challenge, and rethink.
I didn’t write this article to educate or enlighten. I didn’t write it to have someone remind me that we are human and all humans regardless of race, gender, religion, or orientation spend years developing their identity. I know. I did write this article to say that as women I think we do have a continued obligation to help each other through the process. We have an obligation to lay with each other in the tension of self acceptance and rejection. We walk with each other through self discoveries. We celebrate the victories of weight lost or gained, hair permed or picked out. We acknowledge that certain parts of us don’t make all of us but some of us are judged as parts. And we stand with our sisters who are judged as parts until they judge themselves as whole.
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