She was sharing her first-time visitor experience at our church. “I remember seeing your hair,” she told me. “It was so warm and inviting, and so I followed your hair right into the church!”
Her recollection transported me back to the 1998 reflection in my mirror. There I stood, in front of the vanity, in my one bedroom apartment, deeply engaged in a weighty conversation about my hair. I was being encouraged and inspired to free my hair from the restraints of an enforced straightened hair standard, but I was terrified to make the shift.
For centuries, my natural hair type had been scrutinized and legislated by American policies — public and personal — amassing damage to the psyche as well as the hair. White beauty standards deemed the natural state of my hair unprofessional, unusual, and unfriendly. I knew the stories of African-American women who were fired or not even considered for positions because their hair was not straightened. I knew of the military’s ban on braids. I knew of the stigma assigned to African-American women who did not submit to the straightened-hair standard.
So it seemed illogical that a God who loves me would nudge me toward such opposition. At that time, my hair was “permanently” straightened and shoulder length. I was earning a doctoral degree. I felt visually and professionally safe. But God’s inspiration to forsake society’s false messaging was more tangible than my feelings. It was clear that God wanted me to give life to my natural curls, kinks, and coils.
But this wasn’t simply about changing a hair style. This was a giant step on an all-consuming spiritual journey, an awakening, an unveiling to reconcile identity. I’d resented having to smother my curvy, coiling locks with chemicals and heat, forcing them to be something other than themselves. I’d wept over the generational loss of value, knowledge, and appreciation for God’s craftsmanship. I’d lamented for the generations of girls who were being reminded daily that their design could not be accepted nor celebrated, that she would never be enough. I desperately longed to be free of the dangerous self-denial imposed by society’s displaced values.
As I stared at my reflection, I was ready to cut off all my straightened hair and allow my kinky, curly roots to bloom, but I was still uncertain. I did not know any woman personally who had done this or even wanted to do this. I knew it would be a lonely journey, so I pressed God for assurance.
“Why me? Why don’t You have Oprah ‘go natural’ first? If she does it, society will embrace it, and it will be easier for me,” I reasoned.
My interrogation continued, “When my hair is big and proudly standing up on my head, will I be able to get a job?”
God’s reply was swift: If I open the door for you, no man can close it.
“Oh yes! That’s right, You are God!” I reckoned.
Yet, my inquiry continued. I asked all kinds of questions about my future without straightened hair. I even wanted to know if a man would want to marry me. Generously, God met each of my anxious questions with a loving and encouraging reply. And then God concluded my fear-driven interrogation with this:
When you do this, you will model!
I literally laughed out loud when I heard that. Modeling was so ridiculously out of reach and off my path that the words paused my questioning and pushed play on my journey. As I had anticipated, there were many challenges. I lived in a college town in the middle of Iowa. There was only one “black hair salon,” and the cosmetologist refused to cut off all of my hair. I had to beg her. The plethora of natural hair products from which we now get to choose did not exist in 1998. I had to design and make my own. And of course, my effort to more fully align with God’s expression through my hair was misunderstood and criticized.
“Wearing your hair that way isn’t Christian,” said those who equate Christianity with whiteness.
“This is not Africa,” said those who — well, honestly, I don’t know what they were thinking when they said that.
Despite the criticism, I was having a great time getting to know my hair in its God-given intention. I experienced deep healing of wounds I didn’t even know lived in my body. The sun was able to shine on seeds that had been suppressed by shadows. Recovering from an oppressive perspective gave me wings to rise. And of course, God was right! My big, springy coils, standing at attention atop my head like a crown of God’s glory garnered the attention of talent agents. Each time I saw my God-liberated image published, I was reminded of God’s standard of liberty.
When my big-haired image graced the cover of a local fashion spread, a white mom told me it had come just in time. Her multi-ethnic daughter, feeling dispossessed in her brown skin and big curly hair, needed to see my likeness in a space designated for “beautiful.” I learned that God’s desires for us spring from love so expansive that when we surrender to its currents, it overflows into the lives of those around us.
When you live as you were authentically designed, God’s glory shines through you like a warm light inviting others to know divine love.
Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God.
Isaiah 62:3 (KJV)
*As I am writing this, California is the first state that has created a law to protect natural hairstyles and outlaw racial discrimination based on one’s hairstyle. The CROWN act was passed in July of this year.
When you live as you were authentically designed, God’s glory shines through you like a warm light inviting others to know divine love. -Lucretia Berry (@brownicity): Click To Tweet