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For atramentous women in America, “good hair” has consistently been a loaded term. It agency straight, not kinky. European, not African. It’s become somewhat added inclusive, sure, but the abstraction lives on. First-generation immigrant Elaine Musiwa explores her acquaintance with, and ultimate bounce of, an backbreaking American beard standard.

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The aboriginal acceptable affair that I bethink acceptance to me is my hair. I’ve apparent photos of myself perched on my admired chicken bike with blooming auto (this is about every photo at age five, it seems), spinning about my grandmother’s lawn.

1995: In my grandmother’s garden in Harare, Zimbabwe

But aback I anticipate about my adolescence now, all I bethink is my hair. “It’s like wool,” my mother acclimated to say as I sat amid her legs while she adherent a adjust into my roots, putting her duke on my forehead for support, afore raking aback with a force that acquired her accoutrements to close up. “It’s so nice and thick.” Having absolute beard was a absolution advancing from her. No one on my mother’s ancillary of the ancestors was built-in with beard like mine, which fabricated my beard a gift.

That was aback we lived in Zimbabwe. We came to America aback I was six, old abundant to booty affliction of my allowance on my own. Every atramentous I would blanket it in baby sections with yarn and grease, the way all Zimbabwean girls did aback they capital their beard to grow. And aback it was done, my beard would stick out from my head, a dozen yarn-wrapped thorns, and I would smile at myself in the mirror.

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The stylist would cull and abstracted my beard with annealed fingers. ‘You should get a perm,’ she would say.

On my aboriginal day of sixth brand in South Orange, New Jersey, I went to chic able for fast accompany and adamantine decisions like whether to sit at this table or that one for lunch. But no such decisions bare to be made. Instead, atramentous girls with beeline beard and blubbery lip appearance aside and anesthetized addendum about my accustomed twists during class. They fabricated abiding to abstract themselves from me and my beard — they capital our classmates to apperceive that I was not a representation of them.

In America, my beard was declared with words like “nappy,” and “kinky,” and “coarse.” “Good hair” was smooth, silky, and bouncy. It was accessible to ablution and accessible to style. Aback I sat in beard salon seats, adorable advanced to box braids, a appearance that alone affluent women could allow in Zimbabwe, the stylist would cull and abstracted my beard with long, annealed fingers as admitting allocation through a bedraggled accumulation of addition else’s laundry to acquisition commodity admired that had been lost. “You should get a perm,” she would say.

1999: Learning how to use a crimper adamant in South Orange, New Jersey

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I gave up my beard to America and its abstraction of goodness. My beard became the aboriginal affair on my anatomy that no best belonged to me, followed by my accent, which I approved adamantine to sterilize, and my amount — I would aboriginal abjure in aerial academy for white American standards of adorableness and again gorge myself on fattening foods in academy for atramentous American anatomy standards. My beard abided by the rules that were appropriate for amusing success, for accompany at lunchtime, for kids to stop cheeky me in classrooms.

2001: With a beginning roller set afore my aboriginal orchestra concert

At 13, with the advice of my mother, I acclimated a relaxer that came out of the box to get my beard beeline and limp. My mother would’ve done annihilation to accomplish me blessed in this new country. We activated the blubbery chrism until it burned, rinsed it out, and brushed through my new, beeline beard as strands fell out with anniversary stroke. My once-thick beard had been bargain to a attenuate ponytail. One of the aboriginal boys that I anachronous alleged me admirable alone aback I accelerating to a weave. By then, the edges of my beard were already abrasion from the accent of the chemicals and the astriction on my attic acquired by sewn-in extensions.

It took seven years to apprehend all that I had lost. Aback I told my best acquaintance that I would be acid off my perm to activate accustomed regrowth, she told me that I should delay until I was earlier and no best absorbed in actuality attractive. My mother afraid that I would attending like a boy. At the age of 20, for the aboriginal time, I absitively to accomplish a accommodation about my anatomy that was absolutely my own. I cut my beard bottomward to the attic with a brace of ability scissors in advanced of the bath mirror at my mother’s house. Aback I was done, my beard looked familiar, like a Zimbabwean schoolgirl’s. It coiled aback up as it consistently had, as admitting it could’ve waited always for me, as admitting it never would’ve changed, not permanently. It kept growing back, base and strong, forth with my new faculty of identity. My natural, good-again beard requires assignment — twists at night and baptize and oil in the morning for moisture. But there’s pride in demography affliction of commodity that is all mine.

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Recently, on a alternation in the Bronx, area I alive now, I overheard a atramentous woman with accustomed beard actuality berated by a adolescent commuter for the accompaniment of her hair. “You should perm it,” the man said, aloof as I’d been told in average school. But instead of bent as I had aback then, as abounding added girls did, the woman stood up from her bench on the alms to attending the man in the eye and said, “My beard is accomplishing aloof fine.” Her thick, cone-shaped Afro with gold lightning-bolt highlights acute their way through it was, after a doubt, good.

A adaptation of this commodity originally appeared in the August 2018 affair of Allure. For appearance credits, see Shopping Guide. To get your copy, arch to newsstands or subscribe now.

For added on accustomed beard experiences:

Girls Ages 5-18 Talk About Beard and Self Esteem

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