Words by Bee Quammie Photography by Prue Aja Steedman
It’s a natural part of the human condition to want what we don’t have, especially when it comes to physical attributes. For some reason, nothing we possess ever feels like enough; if only we were thinner, curvier, taller, shorter, had a different skin tone or had a prettier eye colour, all would be well. For women of colour, specific intersections of beauty ideals, cultural contexts, and sexuality converge to a precarious point where we’re left wondering what our personal expression of beauty will look like.
For a large part, as women, we’ve been told that ‘our hair is our beauty’. So what does that mean for women of colour who exist in environments where our natural beauty isn’t the norm? If you’re anything like me, it means the following: pining after the opposite of what you possess, and wishing to trade your cotton-candy kinkiness for sleek straight strands; pleading with your mother to allow you to finally get a relaxer and step into the land of no return; enduring the regular scalp burns from chemical application, in anticipation of straight hair that would blow luxuriously in the wind; looking in the mirror one day and not recognising yourself – hair thin and broken, length all but gone, and realising that the ideal you were chasing has eluded you once again.
When I decided to grow my hair out naturally, after chemically straightening my hair for over ten years, I had to learn how to redefine beauty for myself. I had to embrace that beauty could mean a crown of kinks, curls, and coils. I had to envision that beauty could be versatile – an Afro one day, tight ringlets another, and a smooth, heat-trained style the next. I had to dedicate myself to the idea that beauty could be individual, and I forced myself to see the worth in my uniqueness. I had to believe that beauty was confidence – confidence to go against the grain and to create my own image, instead of chasing after the one sold to me on TV and in magazines.
Can you be beautiful with natural hair? Can you be sexy? Professional? Feminine?
These were all questions I had to navigate and all questions that, for me, eventually yielded affirmative answers.
In my life as a Black woman, one of the most precious qualities I can possess is freedom. When it comes to those aforementioned intersections of beauty ideals, cultural contexts, and sexuality in relation to one’s hair choices, I feel the most beautiful when I’m free. Self-acceptance, self-expression, and a release from the game of comparing myself to others are all components of freedom to me. And I’ve found that freedom, in part, due to my return to natural hair texture.
There’s a sense of freedom in being able to break through the rigid bonds of what society deems beautiful and recreate beauty for yourself. There’s liberty in knowing that whether I decide to rock my hair kinky, curly, braided, or straight, I’m doing so because I want to, not because I feel the need to fit into a particular box. There’s relief in finally having the confidence to embrace parts of me that I once rejected.
This is me, and I’m more than enough. Feeling that and believing it is the most beautiful freedom there is.
Hair & Make Up: Katherine Shaw
Model: Grace Cotton @ Photo/Genics
Bee Quammie @beequammie a healthcare professional, blogger, freelance writer, social media manager and speaker. Bee’s personal blog, ‘83 To Infinity, focuses on natural hair care, health & wellness, art & culture. Bee has also written for digital publications such as Chatelaine, UPTOWN Magazine, For Harriet and The Huffington Post Canada.