Your true beauty isn’t in the way others perceive you, but in the way you see yourself

It’s only been a few months, since I’ve started to feel more beautiful with my natural hair than I would with hair extensions.  For many years I’ve covered my hair religiously with extensions as I believed that I was most beautiful with that than with my natural hair. To arrive at the point where I am now, it took me a very long journey. To understand what this has meant for me I need to take you back to the very beginning where it all begin.

Many moons ago, (well not soo many) I was born out of two 100% black parents in the beating heart of Central Africa. My father, a very religious man always thought us that a woman should be the way God has created her to be. He is very conservative, so growing up we didn’t know much better than our natural afro hair. Our skirts had to be above the knee length and extensions didn’t even exist in our dictionary back then. But as my sister and I moved to Europe at a very young age, we came into a very different environment. We left a country where everyone was black and had our type of hair, to come into a place where we would seldom see someone with our natural curls and everyone else had beautiful silky straight hair.

From the very beginning of our life in Europe we learned that we had to cover our natural afro curls. Because it wasn’t beautiful enough and was even seen as dirty. This not so much from outsider, but more so from people of our own race. So for several years we would religiously replace one extension hairstyle for the other and during all this time we would never walk out of the door with our natural hair.  As we grew up, every African women we knew did this, we saw this as a normal procedure.

I got through school and through work effortlessly while doing this until I got my first flying job. I was accepted as a cabin crew in a great airline. Being a cabin crew meant coming to work around 4am in the morning already in your uniform, with your hair all tied up in the back. Well for someone who was used to have her hair in beautiful long extensions this was a real challenge. How was I supposed to tie all these extensions in the back without it looking funny? I was so used to see myself with these extensions that I couldn’t even picture myself walking out of my house with my natural hair let alone go to work like that. With ups and downs I managed to get through that, by waking up extra early to manage my hair. But little by little I started to realise that this wasn’t right.

As I love travelling and NY has always been my young girl’s dream; after long thinking I decided to travel to the city of the big apple. Just a side note, I believe that everyone should travel at least once in their life; to a place they’ve always wanted to go. I believe that it should be a part of the law that one shall go and see the world out there at least once in their life time cause you learn so much from travelling. With that being said, I made my way through the most exciting city in the world.

I remember my first day in Manhattan I was in an absolute aw! Not that it is the most beautiful place that I’ve ever been to, but it’s definitely the craziest place I’ve been able to travel to. Being there I was able to witness how some people could be unapologetically free in the way they were. You didn’t just have people with blond and brown hair in a long or short hairstyle. You had all kind of people, all kind styles , all kind of hairs and all kind of structure and colours. I was so amazed to witness this. I remember  once seeing this elder black women with beautiful long healthy gray hair, this completely disrupted everything I had known about black women’s hair back then. She was fashionable, sophisticated and looked absolutely beautiful and she didn’t seem to be bothered with her natural hair, instead she wore with confidence and pride. I wondered how she had come to that point.

While being in NY, I did some modelling gigs, and I got to know this young girl from Brooklyn. She was so amazed by the fact that someone looking like her, would travel the world just to come and do something that she loved. Therefore she kind of looked up to me. One day I asked her where I could buy extensions to put on my hair. She looked at me all surprised and said ‘I don’t know where you could buy that, I didn’t know that this wasn’t your hair”. I explained to her that I was wearing extensions and she nodded understandably. Afterwards I felt disappointed in myself, here I was being an example for this young girl to live her life the way she wanted to and now I just showed her that you could go across the world and travel to places but then still not accept yourself or love yourself completely.

Going back home I started a small but sure battle of making my hair as long and beautiful as I wanted it to be for me to wear it naturally. At the time, social media was just making her way all over the world so there were just a few social pages that you could follow with beautiful images of black women with long beautiful natural afro hair. But whenever I would show some of my close friends any of these pictures, they would discourage me saying that the only reason they had such long hair is because they were part of some mix of races which gave them some of those genes that makes your hair grow faster effortlessly and I believed this. What I didn’t know was that just like any plans in nature, when you nurture it and give it water and enough light (which means no constant covering with extensions) it will grow.

As I couldn’t really share this experience with many of my friends my battle for natural long hair became a long and lonely journey. This changed a few years later when some of my friends began to embrace their natural curls as well. As social media started showing all those images of beautiful black women, they luckily also shared tips and tricks of how to take care of our natural curls. So little by little I started gathering everything I could find from products, to Do’s and Don’ts of how to make my hair grow faster and more beautiful. But as I never gave my hair enough time and space to grow I had a hard time reaching my goal.

It wasn’t until long after that, when I was working in a new nine to five job that I met this young African woman, who was 100% black just as me, with beautiful long natural hair. Ofcourse I asked her about her secret and she told me to simply leave my hair at peace. She said that the reason my hair didn’t grown as well as I wanted it to is because I constantly covered it under extensions. If I would leave it alone with minimum care it would grow effortlessly. I told her that I wanted to but didn’t have the courage to just walk outside with my natural hair. What she told me then, would forever change my life. She told me that our hair was part of the oppression from decades ago and that now, we should wear our hair with pride. Looking closely into that I started to learn that our parents and grand parents were oppressed in being different than what they were and not expressing themselves the way they would want to. Because they weren’t allowed to wear African hair, our mothers and grand mothers went on to find different ways to cover their hairs such as wearing wigs or cover their hairs with fabric to be more accepted. Because of this disturbance in our self-image, we learned not to accept ourselves the way we were but the way the oppressor wanted us to be.

Although black people were delivered from slavery many decades ago, we had never learned to free ourselves from this oppressive way of thinking. The oppressor had let us free, but we have kept ourselves captive in our minds as we had lost every since of our true identity.

A woman’s hair is a woman’s pride, by not being able to accept our true beauty we unconsciously put ourselves inferior to those who do.

Now almost in my thirties I finely realise that my true beauty isn’t in the way others perceive me but my true beauty is in the way I see myself. I used to spend a fortune to have my hair covered with extensions now I feel a sense of beauty, freedom and pleasure in rushing my fingers through my natural curls. It’s still challenging as I’ve yet to reach my ideal length, and hair length is defined in depth while my hair structure defies gravity and grows in the height.

I needed to share this story with you as I believe that it’s time for us black woman to look ourselves in the mirror and call ourselves beautiful again. As the media restraint, itself from representing us for a very long time most of us grew up with the image of an ideal woman who was very different from who we are. Now we are in the most wonderful age ever in history, where many great black woman are doing greater and greater things, this should be an inspiration for us to walk with the heads up while bouncing those curls with confidence. So, don’t be afraid, show me your curls.