There were so many hair accessories I used growing up.
Whether it was the hair clips I wore as a child or the huge banana clip I used to create a faux-Mohawk during my preteen years, I went through phases of trying to enhance or protect my hair. Since I transitioned to a less-is-more approach (and grew out of many embarrassing hairstyles), I've said goodbye to a few and hello to new ones.
Four years ago, I decided to wear my hair naturally curly. It took some time for people to adjust. I was questioned by my family, who couldn't understand why I was choosing to air-dry my curls instead of straightening it. I received countless negative side comments, like, "Are you really going to wear it like that to a job interview?" or "Your hair looks so much better blown out." The icing on the cake was when people attempted to rake their fingers through my 3c curls without my permission.
When it came to hair accessories, other hair types like wavy or straight could easily use scrunchies, bobby pins, and headbands, but when I started learning more about how to manage my curly hair, I saw just how different my routine was to others.
After watching countless YouTube videos filled with the "must-have items" needed for curly hair, I went to my local beauty supply store. Aside from adding the deep conditioners, the hydrating creams, and the oils to my shopping cart, I also wanted to find the holy grail of night products: the silk night cap.
Also known as wraps, bonnets, du rags, or whatever you prefer to call them, this is an important beauty item for people with natural hair. It can help protect certain hairstyles, manage frizz, and prevent tangles in the morning. I'm a sleep tosser and deal with a ton of frizz, so the night cap was the perfect solution to keep my curls intact. I also started using silk pillow cases and scrunchies on a regular basis.
One night I went to a sleepover at a friend's house and packed my night cap along with all my other things. When it was time for bed, I did my night routine and slipped it on. At first, I got confused looks from my friends, who've never seen me nor anyone else wear a night cap before. Then, they started to make jokes. I tried to laugh it off, but on the inside I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I always knew I was different from some of my friends. From my skin tone to my hair type, I stood out, but I never knew my beauty routine could make me feel even more like an outsider. It felt unfair that my non-POC friends could get ready for bed and let their heads hit the pillow with no thought, while I had to go the extra mile to protect my hair.
"I always knew I was different from some of my friends. From my skin tone to my hair type, I stood out, but I never knew my beauty routine could make me feel even more like an outsider."
Instead of addressing my discomfort that day, I vowed that next time I would leave my night cap behind and risk the next-day frizz in order to avoid the jokes again. However, it felt like I was hiding a part of myself. I was stripping away my identity for the sake of inclusion. It wasn't until a few months later, when I stayed the night at another woman of color's home, that I was put at ease about my night cap. I watched her wrap her hair up with no insecurity or fear. It was normal for her. In that moment I asked myself, "Who was I really hiding this for?"
When it comes to natural hair, as women of color, we try so hard to make everyone around us feel comfortable while we suffer in silence. Instead of educating other people on what products or accessories our hair texture requires, we diminish our routines to fit in. I knew my friends would never go out of their way to make me feel less than or insecure about my choices, but if I was going to truly be myself – curly hair and all – I was going to have to communicate with them about how I felt.
As young students of color are being sent home for wearing their natural hair, and celebrities are ridiculed for their hairstyle choices, it's become more essential than ever for me to speak up about what's right or wrong when addressing how I wear, maintain, and protect my natural hair. I may have missed the opportunity to do it that night at my friend's house, but I won't let that happen again.
Now, instead of sneaking on my night cap or forgetting it all together, I wear it with pride. My beauty routine has become a part of my identity, and I won't lower my expectations to benefit someone else's standards.