How Wearing My Natural Hair In Europe Taught Me Radical Self-Acceptance
Life & Travel

How Wearing My Natural Hair In Europe Taught Me Radical Self-Acceptance

My hair has always been the focus point of my presence, and as a child, it was always the topic of conversation for adults before I even got to know who I was. Being raised in a predominantly Puerto Rican culture, “pelo malo” or “bad hair,” was a term I frequently heard adults categorize my crown as. This was when natural hair wasn’t celebrated but was viewed as a sign of not being "well-groomed."

As a little girl, I was conditioned to believe my hair—my identity—wasn’t up to the standard of what good hair looks like. I then spent my formative years wearing predominantly straight, relaxed hairstyles, covering my true identity with beauty standards.

My natural hair was complimented for the first time when I was 22. I had skipped a relaxer appointment, and my roots had begun to show. After decades of being told my hair wasn’t good enough, the compliment felt strange. I instantly became shy and almost ashamed. However, as my roots began to grow, so did my confidence. The relaxer movement began transitioning into a natural hair empowerment movement.

American society had finally celebrated my curls in a way I hadn’t experienced. I felt proud to wear my natural hair out, and the bigger it got, the more I felt rooted in my identity.

However, there was a shift in acceptance when I began wearing my natural hair in Europe. Everything I had worked so hard to accept about myself felt challenged again.

Wearing my big hair in spaces that were predominantly white became the focal point of my existence. I was faced with looks and questions about why my hair was a particular texture or style. At the same time, I was also witnessing white women wearing hairstyles like box braids, cornrows, and faux locs—the same styles I was labeled as “ghetto” at one point for rocking. I felt like our identity and culture were being judged and mocked at the same time.

Old wounds began to arise, “It’s always okay for them, but never for us,” I thought to myself.

Hair products are crucial for Black and Brown women, and when we travel, the first thought that comes to many of our minds is our hair. Thankfully, one beauty store in Basel, Switzerland, Tropical Zone, carried natural hair products, and it became my safe space when my hair needed self-care.

I restocked on a few products and immediately went home to put my hair in twists. Later that night, I was out at a bar with friends when someone asked me what happened to my hair. I was immediately confused by what the person meant. They then explained that my hair was big, and now it’s not, alluding that something must have gone wrong. The little girl in me began to feel small again.

Unfortunately, these are the norms women of color face when traveling to predominately white countries. Our skin, hair, and essence of who we are are constantly observed and challenged. We find ourselves having to over-explain our features that wouldn’t be questioned if we were white facing. These moments can feel frustrating. We travel to liberate our lives in ways our ancestors could not, yet we can feel trapped by the ignorance of those around us. We are then faced with the choice to rise above adversity.

I decided the little girl in me wouldn’t shrink this time. Radical acceptance is living fully even in parts of the world where Black and Brown culture isn’t fully understood or accepted.

As a woman of color, there will always be someone confused or uncomfortable about parts of my identity. There’s peace in knowing that it’s their problem and not mine. It’s also my responsibility to become entirely comfortable with myself and realize that my triggers are a signal of healing I must do.

Despite where we are in the world, the journey to living as our most authentic selves is the hardest and most radical form of freedom that starts with healing.

There are parts of Switzerland that require a lot of education and awareness, and this excites me because learning is the road to evolution. I hope that this essay will spark a healing conversation on how we can work together to bridge the gap and make women of color feel seen for who they are and not only for their hair texture or skin tone. Black and Brown women are beautiful, joyful, complex, and simple all at the same time. We deserve a space in the world to just be us, for us.

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Featured image by valentinrussanov/Getty Images




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