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How I rejected imposed standards of beauty and learned to love my ‘kroes’ hair

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Mikhail Petersen, who grew up in the coloured community, was taught from childhood that he had “bad” hair. He reflects on how he learned to love his textured hair by refusing to be associated with colonial standards of beauty.

From a young age, I learned that I did not have “good” hair. My loving mother would affectionately tell me stories of how curly and soft my hair was as a child, but how the texture of my hair changed dramatically after my first haircut.

To say hair is big issue in the coloured community would be a gross understatement. As a young child I was made aware, through the talk of my aunties, that there were clear distinctions between those that had good hair and those that did not, especially in the coloured community. The affectionate term “kroes” comes to mind. Even then I knew that “kroes” hair was bad and that straight hair was good.

I remember going through a stage in my life when I wished my hair was straight. This was because guys with straight hair were cooler and got all the girls.On a trip home from a primary school hockey game, the texture of my hair was a topic of conversation and teasing. At this point in my life, I had decided to grow out my afro which, naturally, resulted in me being called a myriad of names that I will not get into as to avoid revisiting childhood trauma. My pre-teen life was mostly characterised by looking in the mirror hoping and longing for “better” textured hair.

Mothers of children with so-called straight hair, I find, are often not too fond of them bringing home boyfriends or girlfriends with “kroes” hair.

A friend relayed a conversation he’d had with his mother, discussing what kind of girl he could bring home. She proclaimed, “I do not care who you bring home, you just can’t bring home a girl that has kroes hair.”

I guess her mandate was that her grandkids ought to have straight hair. Their straight hair had to be protected and maintained through the family’s future generations, at all costs. Therefore, marrying of a women whose hair was not straight might be comparable to treason.

These sentiments are not isolated. A female friend of mine once unequivocally told me she could not date a guy who did not have straight hair. This perplexed me because she did not have straight hair. However, I continue to find that perplexing moments like these are common in conversations with my people regarding the topic of hair.

When discussing future loves or romantic interests with friends, a slightly older and married friend of mine exclaimed that she always saw herself dating a black guy, “but one like from the romantic comedies I love to watch” (i.e. Tyrese Gibson).

She remarked that while this may not have happened, she did manage to marry a coloured guy with straight hair. What interested me about this remark was how she said, “a coloured guy with straight hair”; as if it was an achievement. Another friend also sometimes makes reference to the “wonderful” texture of his hair. Every time he does so, I awkwardly try to swiftly change the topic.

Surely my people should be more concerned with what’s inside the head than what’s on top. Perhaps I am of this view just because I do not have straight hair and therefore am doomed to marry a woman who, too, doesn’t have straight hair and together the two of us are destined to create children which do not have straight hair, continuing to create kroes-haired offspring for generations to come.

As I grew older the issue of my hair stopped affecting me as much because I ditched the afro look as it required a lot of upkeep. I also realised that while I may not have the best hair and as a result may not be the greatest hit with the girls, I shouldn’t want to be associated with someone who is vain enough to base whether they would date someone on the texture of their hair. I stopped being concerned with issues surround hair texture when I had a change of understanding associated with my political consciousness. This made me realise that as a black man, politics of hair go far beyond vanity, but instead involve more sinister issues which centre around self-hatred, which is a cycle of violence which needs to be broken. And that, instead of being ashamed of my kroes hair, this was a crown of my black heritage that needs to be embraced.

Why are my people so fixated with the texture of our hair? I believe it is our self-hatred as coloured people. This self-hate is born out of colonisation, slavery and apartheid. Fanon noted that black people were indoctrinated to associate beauty with whiteness, so in order to achieve beauty, one had to achieve whiteness. Therefore, the closer the texture of one’s hair was to the white man’s, the more beautiful one was. Which would explain why my friend’s mother would have this strong aversion to him bringing home a girl who had kroes hair.

I think that it is important to reject western standards of beauty and it is through learning to love ourselves – “bad” hair and all – so that we can stand up defiantly against imposed notions of what is beautiful and what is not. These imposed standards are deeply hurtful to the self-image of people of colour and only perpetuate the cycle of self-hate. Bold and unapologetic self-love will help us break these damaging cycles of associating whiteness with beauty. A solid point of departure would be to brazenly internalise the liberating notions, promulgated by Steve Biko in his famous phrase, “Black is beautiful”.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect The Daily Vox’s editorial policy.

Mikhail Petersen is a vacation intern at the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons
6 Comments
  1. Amanda Cooke says

    Thank you so much for this! It needed to be said. I returned to natural 4 years ago because I got tired of living a lie. I still get called bossiekop to this day and yes, some coloured people do not understand why I am walking this path. By allowing my curl to take its natural shape, I feel completely liberated!!

  2. Maxine Arnold says

    Thank you!! Call a spade a spade. It needed to be said. Self hatred is rife amoungst POC . There are even songs made by coloured people that compound this fact. For example TRO-Hey Ouens , there is a line this song that says ” she doesnt want to vaai out with me because my hair is kroes”-

    I too decided in 2006 , that I refuse to conform to societies warped standard of beauty. I’ve embraced my kinks and love the fact that my hair grows towards the sky…and I will gladly have me some kinky haired babies and teach them through example that they are so much more than the texture of their hair.

  3. Domelia Kiewiet says

    Thank you for this article. It seems today it is still the case with POC choosing or preferring straight haired partners. Young women with straight hair are more revered and respected than women with kroes hair and sadly a lot of young people with straight hair think they are more beautiful and probably enjoy a higher self-esteem than those with kroes hair. It is sad and something I hope would change in the future generations. I have also noticed interestingly that in the coloured community the majority of the middle and upper classes have straight hair, probably a product of Apartheid where some coloured people were chosen for jobs because they looked more white. Fanon and Biko are two of my personal heroes for their understanding on the damage on the psyche on the victims of racism. So as more of us start believing that black is beautiful too can we move forward to healthier mindsets.

  4. Marlene says

    Totally can relate to your story. My boy is 9 years old and always asked me to take him to the barber to change his hair. Whenever he saw boys with straight hair he would exclaim that he wants and likes that hair. It took a while to get him to love his hair and with me returning to natural opened his mind to natural beauty. He now says when he grows up his having an afro just like his mom!

  5. Claire Barnes says

    Great read. Initially I wore my hair natural in rebellion. I refused to accept the colonial standard of beauty. Now I understand that it is about accepting me. I am my hair. It represents my heritage in full glory. The education especially in coloured communities remains important.

  6. Henry Price says

    comrades many of worldly established hair criteria are set by colonialists from a basis of what best represent colonialists. We foolishly allowed that criteria to become criteria for us. Now on recognizing that was a foolish act we desire to plus are correcting that criteria. However, I challenge you all to go ultimate step. It is step Buntu Beliefs Religion (BBR) obligate all Julu to go which is to investigate you Buntu ethnic group culture plus determine where hundreds of years of colonialists societal control instilled selfishness which have led Buntu to act in uncaring manner with anti-Buntu conduct. I will share some important information with you. To begin with Buntu defeats at war despite possessing superior warriors but lacking modern weaponry led to colonialists imposing their religion plus aspects of their culture upon Buntu. In order to succeed under colonialists domination Buntu were obligated to maintain a colonialists taught plus rewarded selfish disposition against their Buntu people. With that selfish disposition being one that led to Buntu success under colonialist domination that became disposition parents instilled in their children by any means necessary in hope that disposition would lead to successful life for those children. Learning of this selfish disposition was imposed by colonialists for cause it made more Buntu riches available to colonialists by depriving those Buntu successful Buntu oppressed of their due share of Buntu riches. Colonialists thereto allowed those selfish plus oppressive Buntu to have extra shares of riches they deprived their Buntu people. Had those selfish plus oppressive Buntu allowed riches due Buntu to reach those Buntu plus prohibited colonialists from receiving undue riches Buntu communities today would be much richer plus have much greater widespread Live Well living conditions as a minimum. Thus primary Buntu problem hindering development is colonialists instilled selfishness among many Buntu leaders. That selfishness is not only leading them to be corrupt but, it is also leading them to assist colonialists with theft of Buntu riches far beyond what they receive for their personal gain. More those leaders needlessly adhere to colonialists ways criteria more living criteria considered normal become anti-Buntu plus necessitate we look plus conduct ourselves in uncivilized manner. To look plus act in civilized manner do not necessitate our women adorn in a manner that is not with their natural features as if they are circus clowns thus, I continuously applaud your renewed hair awareness. Their was a time in Buntu history kings plus queens was known by nappiness of their hair for they reproduced with opposite gender having nappy hair. My father hair was so nappy here in America he had his hair cut every week to meet American grooming criteria. I received a hair cut every two weeks. As for conduct all are expected to act in civilized manner however, in contradiction of what I was taught I on perceiving individual act in uncivilized manner with me act In Kind. They did as they want to do thus, I do as I like to do. We are going to put Buntu back in Buntu of Africa. Very much sincere, Henry Price Jr. aka Obediah Buntu IL-Khan aka Kankan aka Gue.

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