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Unpacking Preference: ‘What My Hair Taught Me’ by Phemi Segoe

I have decided that I am going to relax my hair again. But this time, I am not driven by the subtle and shaming forces of self-loathing. This time, I’m doing it out of true love. I want to share my natural hair journey and why this transition back to straight feels different.

When I first went natural, it was an ode to my blackness. It was my way of returning to me through my hair. I wanted to rid myself of the West’s beauty standards and find beauty in my natural form. Big goals. But, what I soon realized was, strongholds, especially those relating to self-image, are sturdier than The Great Wall of China. Whenever I had my afro out, I would obsess over its texture, length and volume. I soon found that my idea of natural hair and natural beauty did not align with what I was seeing in me. My natural hair did not fit my ‘preference’. So it was not long until I needed to “texturize” my afro so it could be cute and more “manageable”.

‘Preference’ is the reason most people give when asked about one choice over the other. We think our choices are formed from personal experience and inextricable autonomy but the truth about preference is, it is terribly influenced by society like a belief or perspective. Our preferences are formed by what we are exposed to, taught, what we know to be acceptable and loveable from a societal perspective and the direct as well as indirect subtext of media and other dogma. Autonomy and taste, despite what we might believe, is not the makeup of our preferences. My preference for 4B hair was based on my affection toward looser curls and softer textures. It was molded by decades of tv shows and movies that painted the picture of beauty and no matter how many times I repeated “black is beautiful”, my subconscious was not buying it.

What I know now is, when I chose to relax my hair the first time around, it wasn’t because of preference, it was purely conditioning. I had rejected myself and my hair. I did not see beauty in my natural hair because my beauty point of reference at the time was not a black woman.

3 years and a lot of self-work later, my frame of reference has finally shifted. My expectations of my hair aren’t absurd and my sense of self-awareness and love have gracefully heightened. I now know and believe that my natural hair is beautiful. I also know and believe I am beautiful in it. Finally getting to this realization has brought me so much joy, so much self-acceptance and furthermore, has allowed me to build a preference.

My decision to relax my hair again isn’t fear-based. It isn’t an attempt to be acceptable or beautiful. Rather, it comes from a desire for more ease and that’s how I know it’s the right decision for me. That’s how I know it’s a preference. Because the preference is a product of love and not fear or shame. As I get older and continue to learn how to love being myself, I know that my relationship with my hair will also continue to change, in the best way.

I hope that as you move through your life, you do so with awareness of the driving forces behind your decisions. But most of all, I hope your decisions are driven by love. Love MPL

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