Being told your whole life that as a woman you are defined by your beauty, and that your hair is a key part of that beauty, leads many Black women to have a special attachment to their hair. I was definitely a victim of this. I would obsess over my hair, and if I couldn’t get it quite right, I wouldn’t go out in public. My hair needed to be absolutely pin-straight and perfect when I wore it out, which led to me damage my hair with a straightener multiple times and then eventually use a relaxer.
My mother absolutely hates extensions, so I was never allowed to wear them. She had certain negative opinions toward Black women who wore weaves and wigs, and I internalized those same opinions. A part of me had always wanted to venture into this new territory and try wearing fake hair, but my mother’s voice persisted inside my head. But the older I get, the less time I spend trying to appease others with my appearance. I am ready to wear what feels authentic to me.
Before the pandemic, I had maybe two wigs that I brought from the beauty supply and wore only a handful of times. They were both relatively conservative with a solid natural brown color and medium length. But boredom, an overgrown ombré dye job, and an increased desire to online shop led me to the magnificent world of #wigtok. Yes, seeing women review wigs on TikTok was my motivation to start wearing wigs. Flash forward a couple months, and I’m changing my hairstyle every week — sometimes twice a week. I have long wigs, short wigs, curly wigs, and even brightly colored ones. I can’t get enough.
The response to my newfound wig-wearing hobby has been mixed. Most people have thought the changes are cute, and joke that it’s like meeting a new person every time they see me. However, some people have been strangely offended by the change, as if they had spent every morning with me as I did my hair. I get a lot of people questioning my choice to wear a wig. Probably the most frequent thing said is, “You have such beautiful hair. You don’t need any of that fake hair.”
They are absolutely right. I don’t need to wear wigs. I wear them because I want to. Though my choice to enter the wig world was purely based off of a whim, Black women throughout history didn’t get a chance to have the same experience and to make their own choices about their hair.
What I choose to do with my hair doesn’t define me. And if it’s not “real,” so what?
One of the biggest assumptions when Black women wear wigs, weaves, or extensions is that “we hate our natural hair.” My response to that is to take a look into the history of Black people across the diaspora being discriminated against because of what grew out of their scalps. Then you’ll see who really hates afro-textured hair. For generations, Black people were told to “tame” their hair in order to fit in society. Wearing your hair natural back then meant potentially losing out on job opportunities, getting kicked out of school, and shunned by different organizations. And this isn’t just an issue of the past; Black people are still often harshly judged based on how they choose to wear their hair.
So, I found myself at a crossroads: Do I honor my identity and continue to wear my hair natural, or do I change my look? I decided to choose myself. If I want to wear a long straight wig down to my butt, I will. If the next week I want to wear my afro, I will. What I choose to do with my hair doesn’t define me. And if it’s not “real,” so what?