Throughout the course of my natural hair life, I have received many unsolicited comments about what has grown out of my head. They run the gauntlet, though I will say I've never received an insult about my natural hair. To my face, anyway.
That being said, the fact that someone does not mean to insult me when telling me something of their own volition that is inside of their head, does not mean that they don't manage to do it anyway.
Attractiveness and beauty are different and equally subjective. In the past I would have provided you the definitions below, but you're big kids and I'm doing my best to not be an overzealous wordsmith on this website so, rather, here: beauty definition, attractive definition. (When I look up words I like to know their origins, when possible. Thus, the etymology dictionary).
Beauty is an older word than attract and its wayward origins show that. What I find interesting about it, though, is that it has become co-opted by its association with looks even though its origins show it had different purpose. Today, it's used more like "pretty," but originally it was used to describe actions and a way of being.
I think of beauty as a whole personality aspect and not so much topically, so when people say, "you're beautiful" I'm never really sure what they mean by it. How they qualify beauty isn't apparent in that statement.
Personally I don't think I'm qualified to say I am one way or the other. And, beyond that, I really don't think being called beautiful is ultimately important. Unless you're romantically involved with someone. Obviously, then, you want that person to consider you beautiful as that is probably how you feel about them. The way I think of it, beauty is something one should emit through their entire way of being, regardless of how they look.
Attractiveness, though also co-opted by its association with looks, speaks to appeal. It's a more scientific word than beauty, that's for sure. And so when someone finds you attractive, I can appreciate that it isn't necessarily influenced by romantic interest. We are attracted to the the things that interest us (musicians, stories, people, athletes, food). It's about draw and arguably works more like a force than a feeling.
So when strangers stop me to tell me something they think about my hair, I understand that generally it is because they are attracted to me for some reason. Or they're attracted to my hair. Or maybe they're just attracted to seeing things they don't see often or often enough to no longer find it remarkable.
The above is for context. I'm not someone who "needs" to hear these things from people I know or from strangers (though I want to hear it from romantic partners). I understand that in western modern society physical compliments are supposed to be accepted as good, without consideration or debate; but I think there are more interesting things under the surface of compliments. Things that require proper attention.
First and foremost, anything you decide to tell a stranger unsolicited showcases more about you than it does about them. When we give our opinion, even when that opinion is a compliment, it is a reflection of what is inside our heads. How we think. What we think is important to say. It may very well have nothing to do with the stranger. Or be welcomed, or be necessary.
That is true of statements like, "Nice parking job, asshole." It is true of statements like, "go back to your country if you wont speak English." And it is true of what this whole post is titled after. What strangers who are often men of a certain generation say to me, often:
"You look like Angela Davis."
Do I? Do I really?
What does that statement actually mean? I get it from mainly melanin-having men and white men, but I get it regularly. Like, let's say 3-4 times a year, at least. (Though recently a, I'm assuming, Latino homeless man called me Lenny Kravitz. That was a first).
Now, these men know nothing about me. They have no idea if I'm intelligent or whether I have an accent or whether I'm even "American." Which is to say, they don't know whether I even relate to this person Angela Davis, but they tell me regardless.
Obviously that is because they are making a comment about my Afro, but it is telling when people don't say that.
For one, to tell me I look like Angela Davis gives me a clear indication of how you associate individuals in general.
"Black female with afro equal Angela Davis."
"White female with blond hair and breasts equal Marilyn Monroe."
And so on.
What it leaves me asking is, does this person realize that my Afro isn't a "style" but something that my hair just does? On its own. Naturally. Without my help. Without me doing anything. It just is how my hair grows.
I imagine the equivalent would be to say to every pale bald man I see,
"You look like Dr. Evil."
Does he? Or is he just bald tho?
Do we remark on every person we see with straight hair and tell them how they look like another straight haired person?
No, we don't. Because in US culture, having straight hair is considered "normal." So it's not remarkable and it's not something we need to associate with an example because it's true of so many people.
Beyond that, it's pretty apparent that US culture is comparative. Which is to say, strongly dualistic. "This means not that." "That is like that one other thing." We communicate by association in this country, and it's lazy and largely unintelligent conversing.
If you have an Afro you must be trying to look like that one person with the Afro who "made it famous." Not. really. I mean, if I permed my hair to get it like this then, perhaps, yes. But this isn't like people who dye their hair blond to be ... I dunno, like a blond person. Like "the" blond person Marilyn Monroe, perhaps, even though she wasn't an actual blond.
There is this subtle but persistent idea that wearing my hair in its natural state, an uncombed Afro, is somehow me making a statement. Or me making a political statement. That is what people thought of Angela Davis when she wore an Afro, even though that is also just what her hair did on its own.
Obviously she was also political. But being political and wearing an Afro are not and, in actuality, never have been mutually inclusive. There is mad theory that speaks on this and yes hwhite privilege and yes structural racism (read: racism) and yes slavery and yes stigmatization. But also, beyond all that, having an Afro has. never. actually. been. about. anything. but. how. hair. grows.
Humans choose to put extras on everything.
ex.1 WE HAVE SKIN! It can't just be there to protect our insides from outside elements! It can't just be colored due to exposure to sunlight! THEREFORE our skin must have socio-political meaning and determine intelligence with its WILY PIGMENTATION!!!
ex.2 WE HAVE HAIR! It can't just be there to keep us warm! Our hair must speak when we don't! And, it's political. It sits on our bodies to make statements! WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT!
It's just like, CHILL THE FUKH OUT, PEOPLE.
We live in a modern world now. We're not out in the inconceivable wilderness like our ancestors anymore. We share language and have access to each other and Google. In this day and age, hair can just be hair and grow how it grows and you don't have to feel any kind of way about it at all. Mkay?
That has always been the truth of the matter. Regardless of the fact that back in the day hwhite people claimed that black peoples natural hair was "unruly," and "unkept," and "unallowed." Such judgments have always been unfounded, regardless of whether people have believed them or not. Telling a person they cannot be how they are born is a form of oppression. Point. Blank. Period.
However, to agree with the establishment of such prejudices to the extent that you concede that your hair is, by nature, a political statement; rather than just recognizing that people who believe such things about you are hateful or simply wrong and only pointing out things about you that, in fact, project their own issues?
That is subtly investing in the idea that everything about you must have a reason to be. itself. because somebody else has a problem that they made up about you. And then projected it upon you to deal with like you came up with it.
I'm not having that.
So, no. My hair isn't political. My hair is my hair. Afro hair has always just been a type of hair. It's not meant as anything else. If Existence felt otherwise, it would have given hair a brain and a mouth. Independent of the one it is already on top of.
If there is still confusion out there in this world about how hair grows out of a melanin-having feminice, I'm here to let you know one of the myriad possibilities is AFRO.
This is not remarkable. I mean, that's not to say that someone can't have a remarkable Afro because they sooo can; but, then, just say, "I like your hair." Because this is how my hair grows. It has nothing to do with Angela. It's not something I go out of my way to achieve and it's not something that Angela Davis introduced to this world. It was also just how her hair grew.
Thus, my response is no. No I do not look like Angela Davis.
We are both just melanin-having feminces whose hair grows into Afro hair. Like a million of our ancestors before us. And like what many of the future descendants of such ancestors will also have.
Nothing to see here. Nothing to compare.
Just something to know: Yes, it is Afro hair.