Photograph of the author. Photo credit: James Mosley

My Big Hair Destroyed My Relationship

My hair is big, and that’s the way I like it. A curly bushel of afro fuzz that extends both horizontally and vertically, casting a shadow over my face. It’s Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, and Pam Grier big, coming in the door before I do.

So when my boyfriend at the time remarked that he would like it if I weren’t so “extra,” I thought about it. Changing my hair was no biggie, I wear it straight sometimes, curly most of the time, and I love accentuating my hair with colored pieces. I think I had gone through ten hairstyles within a month of him meeting me. I could have just written him off and refused to straighten my hair, but I remembered that I had asked him to grow out his facial hair because I loved the feel of it on my face and between my fingers. To appease him, I flat ironed my hair and it blew in my face getting stuck in my lip gloss when the car window was open. So I went back to curly.

And that is when he thought he could assert his power over me. It started simply enough, he would remark about other women’s hair (who looked like mine) saying that they looked like domestics or revolutionaries with no war. Then there was the mini tirade about how women have recently let themselves go. He even commented on how he didn’t feel attracted to me “when I wear my hair like that.” Naturally, the same way it was when I met him.

At the time, I believed it was my boyfriend’s right to have a preference on what he likes and doesn't like about my hair. I had preferences, I loved when he had five o’clock shadow, disliked it bare, but liked his face nonetheless. So I mistakenly took it as voicing his opinion. I understand that society is conditioned to want hair that blows in the wind, (personally I find that annoying), but what hurt was the only times I received complements from him was when I blew out my hair. He refused to touch my hair and began to withhold his affection, unless I wore my hair straight.

I realized there was a much bigger issue.

In contrast to how my boyfriend was repulsed by my curls, I had to duck and dodge fingers from random men and women clamoring to put their hands in my natural hair. I would get walk by touches and people that tell me how soft my hair is and how wonderful it smells. But I couldn't get the man I was in a relationship with to play with my curls.

The moment of clarity came when we were in Target and a man came over to me and complimented me on my hair. “Your hair is beautiful.” He stood there and just eye raped me holding his hands out touching the air as if to imagine what my hair might feel like. “Do people ask you to touch it often? It’s just so pretty all I want to do is touch it.”Right there I realized the level of intimacy I was missing.

After the fact I questioned how a man with hair similar to mine could hate the look of my natural hair so much. How can he accept his hair without accepting mine? I tried to image being married to him and having a daughter with the same hair and the negative words that would be bestowed upon her impressionable head. He didn't accept me.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that men are visual and at times they see their women as an extension of themselves, a trophy, but it was obvious that he only was attracted to me conditionally.

Our relationship did not end because of my hair, but it was because of his belief that he should be allowed to control my appearance. If his love for me was based on how my hair was styled, there were many days I was unloved.