Are you beautiful? In a perfect world, there would be no room for a question of this magnitude. This question brings on the feeling of doubtfulness, wavering confidence, self-loathing, and unstable feelings. Resentment of our reflection decided to embed itself in the DNA of many of our generations. At times we may find ourselves being closed in as we press forward with how the world defines beauty. If the saying is true and beauty lives in the eye of the beholder, then the pain of self-hate wouldn’t be so prevalent. To change ahead we must find what got us here in the first place. Let’s look back at the birth of self-deprecation
Shaving of heads
In antiquity when a person captured a woman for purpose of slavery they would shave their heads fully bald. We can see this here also in biblical scripture.
‘When you go out to fight against your enemies, and יהוה your Elohim shall give them into your hand, and you shall take them captive,” and shall see among the captives a woman fair of form, and shall delight in her and take her for your wife, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails, and put aside the mantle of her captivity, and shall dwell in your house, and mourn her father and her mother a month of days. And after that, you shall go into her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. “And it shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go at her desire, but you do not sell her at all for silver. Do not treat her harshly, since you have humbled her.’
Deḇarim (Deuteronomy) 21:10-14
This technique snatched the culture or being of a person. In Africa, our hair means something. How they wear it or don’t wear it signifies something important to those on the outside looking in as well as self-identity. If we look at hair as a representation to something, whether strength, wealth, or high status we can understand the detriment it could cause someone to have their hair removed without choice.
This happened to our ancestors during the transatlantic slave trade. Destruction reigned on their heads and the image of baldness only left. Once it began to grow back it would grow back uneven, unhealthy, and unattractive. We used scarves to shield our heads from lice and other infections. Just the same we used scarves to shield the painful looks towards the head that now displayed the lost of its beauty.
Shaving heads, itself, did not birth self-deprecation. Many women today have shaven heads by choice. Now becoming in style, some women feel powerful with a shaven head. Some elders like my great grandmother thought it almost sinful to cut your hair. She said the hair reveals the woman’s glory. This thought process exists only because we lost touch with our culture and only can remember the forced shaving of our heads.
In Egypt, women shaved their heads to keep the lice down. Many places in Africa that believe young girls shouldn’t worry about the upkeep of their hair and so you will find many with shaven heads. In the Maasai Tribe, women will shave their heads when a woman is readying herself for marriage. The tribes in Kenya have men with long hair and the women with their heads shaved bald. Baldness in Africa can arrange from trying to display the best hygiene to wearing it to show respect. Learning history stops the birth of self-deprecation.
Headscarfs never symbolized oppression until the slavemasters defined it to mean bondage and worthlessness. It became an enforcement to wear instead of a choice for African American women. Because of the inability to upkeep our hair, the scarf hid our shameful breakage, ringworms, and patches of baldness. In Louisiana, there birthed the Tignon Law. This law enforced black women to wear head wraps. For us, in the 1700s, headwraps changed from something culturally taken from our history to bringing attention to how our looks disrupted other people lives. The headscarf said we could never look good enough.
With headwraps in the center of a blessing and curse for many, we forget the cultural and spiritual impact it held with our ancestors.
Before the head wrap equaled a sign of oppression, we wore it as apart of a cultural ornament. In Subsaharian Africa, head wraps stand prevalent. In a variety of African Cultures, headwraps show humility and respect to their in-laws. For many you can determine marital status by the wearing of the head wrap.
Recently a white woman approached my sister and stated how beautiful she looked. She stood in awe of the headscarf my sister adorned on her head. She wanted to know if she was allowed to wear the headscarf as well. Taken aback, it tickled my sister to find the woman categorizing head scarfs as only worn by African American women.
Even though for many, head scarfs are seemed to represent the black culture solely the covering of the hair is now becoming a heavy fashion statement. With it becoming “in style” as the majority models it, the stain of the headscarf will end up forgotten. The cloth Industry is said to make as high as 370 million by 2021. Just as braids, afros, du-rags, and Bantu knots, that always been a part of our culture, have come into the fashion world as something “new” let’s not forget. Let us not forget that our ancestors have always been talented in weaving and manipulating the scarfs that we adorn on our heads.
Studying brings understanding to where you come from. Knowing where you come from explains who you are today. Let’s not have others teach us our history. This encourages self-hate. Allow us to learn our history from those we share it with. This is the birth of self-pride and death of self-deprecation.