It’s no secret that women in the natural hair community often face texture discrimination, whether it be amongst their friends or even in the workplace. We are often approached with thoughts and questions about our hair type that can make us question who we truly are.
Mariam Sowe, an account specialist and real estate professional from Africa residing in Miami, Florida, found a way to rise up from this kind of scenario. Mariam knew that hair type and texture acceptance was the right choice for her and wants other women to embrace who they are no matter what other people say.
Hair texture acceptance happens a lot in the African-American community and more so with women with type 4 hair types. Mariam has a story that can be beneficial to all curl types. For our first article in our new Hair Stories series, we read on to find out how Mariam’s journey brought her to where she is today:
Texture Acceptance: Mariam Sowe's Views on Natural Hair
How long have you worn your hair this way? What inspired you to make the cut? Did a significant life experience play a role?
I didn’t always wear my hair curly. In fact, I didn’t start embracing my naturally curly hair until junior year of college. Growing up, I had long thick curly hair. I remember crying as my mom would detangle my hair every morning before school. She would brush my hair into a bun or put it in a ponytail. In high school, I begged to get a perm. Everyone in my family had relaxed hair so it seemed like the norm.
The summer of 2007 was when I decided to be a little rebel. I convinced my cousin into helping me not only perm my hair but to also do highlights! If only you could see the look on my face once I saw my hair. The “highlights” were bright orange and my hair was practically falling off as I was combing it! I cried that day. It only got worse once my mom came home. The next day she dragged my behind to the salon to get the color corrected and [the length] cut into a short bob. After this experience is when I started taking my natural hair more seriously. I wore weaves for years until my hair grew back to the length and curl pattern I felt confident with.
Have you experienced any struggle with your hair? How did you overcome them?
As a young African girl in Maryland, I grew up having a love-hate relationship with my hair. I wanted the silky-straight hair that the girls at my school had. I felt like I didn’t fit in with the crowd; my thick curly locks made me stand out. The mainstream media portrays this stereotype that Africans are supposed to have “nappy hair.” I can’t begin to count the number of times someone has said to me, “You have pretty hair for an African,” or “What are you mixed with? How come your hair is like that?” This stigma made me feel like I would have to ‘tone’ my hair down in certain environments.
In previous job interviews, I would straighten my hair or put it in a bun. I didn’t want my big hair to draw attention or to hinder my chances of getting the job. Looking back, I regret doing that. Black women and girls shouldn’t feel pressured to change their natural look to blend in with what society appeals as the ‘norm’.
Thankfully, over the last few years, the revolution of natural hair has grown. Beauty stores and salons have incorporated more natural hair products in their [inventory]. More women with natural hair are being televised on movies, commercials and even being crowned Miss USA. Seeing this has made me overcome my insecurities with my hair and has taught me to love and embrace my natural self.
What does your hair mean to you?
My tresses are my crown. It represents my individuality. My hair is just one of many expressions of who I am. My hair makes me feel liberated, resilient and fearless.
Would you consider your look to be your signature style?
Absolutely. I wear my hair in its natural state daily. However, I do get it straightened once a year just to change it up for a few days. I keep it minimal to avoid getting heat damage.
What advice do you have for young women currently in search of ways to embrace their hair?
My best advice for younger women would be to never let anyone discourage you when it comes to trying new hairstyles. Do what makes you happy and what makes you feel beautiful! Don’t let your job, environment, or peers force you into thinking that you should alter your hair to conform to society’s perspective of what is “acceptable.”
Another tip would be to make sure that you use the right products for your specific hair type while experimenting with different hairstyles, to ensure that you don’t damage your hair in the process.
Hair Stories is an ongoing series on All Things Hair that explores the personal human experiences men and women have involving their crowning glories. Have one to share? Tweet us or send us an Instagram direct message at @AllThingsHairUS.