If you’re interested in sharing your opinion on any cultural, political or personal topic, create an account here and check out our how-to post to learn more.

Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.


“Elle est très, très jolie!”

Those are the words my eight-year-old sister, who lives in France, says as we flip each page of My Beautiful Black Hair: 101 Natural Hair Stories from the Sisterhood and come across yet another Black woman with natural hair. Sometimes, she looks up from the pages and asks if I can do her hair in the same style, and her face lights up when I tell her, “Yes.”

Three years ago, this was not the case. As we walked through the mall one day, past a giant poster of a Black woman with an afro in front of a clothing store, my sister scrunched up her face and announced, “Elle est moche! She’s ugly!” And when she said that, I knew she was talking not only about this woman on the poster but also about herself, whose hair was a reflection of what she saw in the poster.

A year before the poster incident, when my sister Khloe was just four years old, I’d received a phone call from my father, who told me that Khloe was “having problems” with her hair because her majority white classmates had convinced her that her afro was ugly. I was reminded of my own childhood spent at a predominantly white elementary school, of constantly feeling unbeautiful and, therefore, unlovable. I was reminded of the years I spent looking in the mirror every morning and wishing my hair would fall flat around the sides of my face instead of coiling and bouncing around on my head. I was reminded of the time I learned that flat irons existed, and the joy I felt knowing there was a way that I, a Black girl, could be beautiful by flattening out the curls gifted to me by my ancestors.

It wasn’t until I got to college that I started using “Black” and “beautiful” in the same sentence.

When I found out my sister didn’t like her hair, I was heartbroken, confused and angry. Heartbroken that my sister was feeling the same self-hate I’d felt when I was her age, confused about how the teachers and parents at my sister’s school were ignoring the racist bullying from the white students, and angry that the world had managed to steal my sister’s joy by making her hate her natural hair — and, by extension, her Blackness.

However, while Black women deserve to feel upset — our anger is justified. I knew my anger wasn’t going to take away my sister’s pain, so I came up with a plan to teach her to really embrace her afro. If I could just show my sister that there are others like her, a whole community of Black women embracing their natural hair, I thought, then maybe Khloe will see her hair as beautiful, too.

I spent the next three years photographing and interviewing Black women with natural hair, and I compiled these photos and stories into a book, My Beautiful Black Hair: 101 Natural Hair Stories from the Sisterhood. I asked them to talk about anything related to their natural hair journeys — and I ended up hearing 101 unique stories from 101 Black women and girls. They talked about the “big chop,” about learning to embrace their Blackness, about rediscovering their identities as it relates to their hair, about the pushback they’ve received from strangers and loved ones alike — and all the kindness they’ve received as well.

I also asked the women to speak directly to Khloe — and, by extension, to all Black women and girls. Some, like Malika Benton, offered concrete advice: “Affirm yourself: Say ‘My hair is beautiful.’ And keep repeating it until you believe it.”

Others, like Asha Hadiya, offered figurative language: “Just like a tree, your hair needs to be watered and hugged and nurtured in order for it to flourish. So speak life into it. Your natural hair is God’s cotton.”

And still others, like Elise Bryant, offered a reminder: “Your hair is a symbol and representation of a greatness that is yours to tap into. When you wear your hair in its natural state, you’re tapping into greatness. And those of us whose ancestors survived the Middle Passage? We’re survivors. We have some powerful genes.”

More than 400 years after the first Black folks were brought to America in chains, the fact that we’re still talking about whether natural hair is “acceptable,” “appropriate” or “professional” seems at best silly, and at worst violent. Black women (and men) regularly lose employment and educational opportunities for refusing to change their hair, for refusing to perform for white expectations and demands about what Black hair should look like. This often instills fear in us, reminding us that liberation comes at a cost. A friend of mine, for example, was planning on doing the “big chop” and being part of my book, but she ultimately decided that it wasn’t worth risking backlash from her high-paying government job. “I look around and see that women wearing their hair natural aren’t the ones getting promoted, regardless of their qualifications. I hate to say it, but I have to consider the economics of going natural,” she told me.

I encourage Black people to uplift one another, to work to rid ourselves of Eurocentric beauty standards that so many of us internalized before we could even verbalize our feelings of self-doubt. Several of the women in my book shared stories of being shamed for going natural by their own Black family members and friends, and this needs to end. We already have to deal with enough racism from white people; we don’t need to deal with racist ideas from our own people.

I encourage Black women to lift each other up, to love ourselves even when the rest of the world doesn’t, to define our hair as beautiful even when others define it otherwise. I encourage us to refuse to judge any Black woman for not going natural, but instead to keep the focus on celebrating all of us and understanding that we aren’t the ones who created the narrative that posited that natural Black hair is ugly, unmanageable and inappropriate.

Lastly, I encourage non-Black people to learn more about our hair and rethink the deeply embedded bias against curly, kinky hair that so many of them hold. As Zahra Ahmed says in my book, “Textured hair exists everywhere. There’s a whole spectrum that exists that we can embrace; we just need to expand our idea of what we can live around.”

It’s the summer of 2021 and I’m sitting with Khloe, holding in our hands the actual physical copy of my book.

“Tu peux me demander pourquoi j’aime mes cheveux?” Khloe asks me. Can you ask me why I love my hair? She wants to be like the 101 women in my book — after hearing so many stories of self-love, she’s ready to share her own.

I hold out my hand like it’s a microphone. “Khloe,” I say, in my most professional-interviewer voice, “why do you love your hair?”

“J’aime mes cheveux parce qu’ils sont beaux,” she explains. I love my natural hair because it’s beautiful.


St. Clair Detrick-Jules is an award-winning filmmaker, photographer and Brown University graduate. She captures personal stories and intimate moments centering Black liberation, immigrant justice and women's rights. An Afro-Caribbean artist St. Clair's work has been featured in The Washington Post, Washingtonian Mag, Allure, Byrdie, NPR's Strange Fruit, BuzzFeed News and Everyday Black History: Afro Appreciation, among others.