“I will not be de­fined by my hair choices”

Ac­tress Gabrielle Union gets real about her re­la­tion­ship with her hair.

Glamour (South Africa) - - News - By ac­tress Gabrielle Union

when I was lit­tle, it felt like my hair was magic. It was the ’70s, and I had braided corn­rows (now I’d call them Venus and Ser­ena braids) with beads at the ends. My hair made noise, and I thought I was cool.

At age eight, I no­ticed this blonde girl with su­per long pony­tails. Ev­ery­one was gag­ging over th­ese pony­tails, and I wanted that at­ten­tion. I wanted to be seen, too, and I associated it with the hair. I def­i­nitely didn’t have that hair. My mom thought I was too young for re­lax­ers, but I wore her down and she took me to my cousin’s sa­lon.

One thing they tell you about re­laxer, or “creamy crack” as we called it, is if you leave it on long enough, you’ll have straight, silky white-girl hair.

The other thing they tell you is not to scratch your head be­fore you get treated. Be­cause every­where you scratch leaves an open wound on your scalp that you’re putting acid onto. I was in tears be­cause my scalp was burn­ing, but when I felt my soft, silky hair, I was like, “It was

worth it. Yes, it was all worth it.”

So that be­came my Satur­day rit­ual ev­ery few weeks. What I never fac­tored in was, as a black girl in a mostly white school, I wasn’t the stan­dard of beauty how­ever my hair looked. It was a cy­cle of feel­ing like if I could just get my hair ‘right’, I could be as pretty as other girls.

I ex­per­i­mented with styles in high school – I once dipped my fringe in a bowl of per­ox­ide. I never got quite what I was look­ing for but I dam­aged my hair, a lot.

I started act­ing in Hol­ly­wood and new hair prob­lems showed up. I re­alised very quickly that there were many peo­ple in hair and makeup trail­ers who were to­tally un­qual­i­fied to do my hair. They used sprays with crazy amounts of al­co­hol that made chunks of my hair lit­er­ally come off on the styling tools.

I was like a guinea pig on set, and I didn’t have the power to re­quest a stylist that I wanted to touch my hair yet. It got to the point where I paid to have my hair done be­fore work and prayed they wouldn’t mess it up.

Over time I was also in­tro­duced to ex­ten­sions and weaves. The im­me­di­ate dif­fer­ence in the amount of at­ten­tion I got was pal­pa­ble. The longer my hair, the more at­trac­tive I felt at au­di­tions. Later, in my 30s, I be­came more in­vested in mak­ing sure the hair was right for the character, not just feed­ing my own low self-es­teem. I re­alised I would never have a great hair day if I didn’t work on my­self in­ter­nally to fig­ure out what makes me re­ally happy.

It’s been more than 20 years of my hair be­ing used and abused, first by my­self, then by those who didn’t know what they were do­ing. But I’ve fi­nally reached a place of self-ac­cep­tance and recog­nis­ing that my nat­u­ral hair is beau­ti­ful – and so is what­ever weave I may wear.

I’m per­fectly happy rock­ing an Afro puff, my French braids, Sene­galese twists, a faux Mo­hawk or an om­bré wig, and heat­styling my nat­u­ral hair. And that makes me happy.

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