I love my protective styles.
Who could blame me? Look at this—I look awesome.
And that’s kind of where I’m going with this.
Look, we know this much to be true: Box braids, wigs, weaves, and crochet braids DO 100% protect our edges, our ends, and promote healthy growth when installed and maintained properly. But that has NEVER been my reason for wearing them.
I like not being beholden to weather patterns when I go out. I like being able to experiment with length and color and texture with no permanent repercussions. I like being able to just flop down on my satin pillowcase after a long day and just go right to sleep, because honestly, by the time I’m finished with putting my hair up for the night, I’m more awake. I love it all! It’s the closest thing we curlies have to a superpower, and it’s awesome! So why is it that the onus is on me to explain why I “can’t just be happy with my natural hair” and why I’d “resort to putting all that PLASTIC in it”?
Gonna pause here for a moment, because I AM happy with my natural hair.
Obviously, right? It hasn’t grown this well for this long because it was making me miserable. But you know what? I’m not ALWAYS happy with how my natural hair looks. I’m not ALWAYS happy with how long it takes me to style. And I’m finally secure enough to say so. Bad hair days HAPPEN.
Sometimes the twistout doesn’t WORK out.
You know what I can be happy with though? OPTIONS. Freedom! If you could bottle the feeling I had when I wore a wig for the first time, meaning I didn’t have to attempt to style my hair and maintain said style for a formal event in some gross muggy weather I was already having to wear layers and a corset in? It would be an illegal substance the next day. It’s THAT good.
So why do we have to be on the defense?
There are a few reasons. I think a big implication is that if you wear protective styles, you don’t have your own hair, and therefore you’re less than, which—obviously—is some ridiculous mess in a number of ways.
No matter how much hair you do or don’t have, it’s nothing to keep you from being beautiful, even if you don’t feel that way 100% of the time.
Secondly, unless someone’s wearing a color that contrasts with their own in a box braid, or similar style? No one has ANY IDEA how much hair we have under our protective styles. Honestly, it takes a special kind of ignorance to pretend that you know what a stranger’s hair is like just because you see them wearing protective styles, and I need that to go ahead and stop.
There’s also the insinuation that comes from all sides: if you’re wearing fake hair, you have a fake personality or you’re trying to be someone you’re not—especially when you’re wearing a non-textured style.
Quick aside here: I’m not going to go into the politics of having to hide afro-textured hair for a racist workplace in this article, though there are more places on the site you can read about it. I’m also not going to cover those of us, my younger self included, that DID turn to protective styles to quite literally cover insecurities about our natural hair.
But I have to ask, how can you be any more YOU than by making a choice that reflects your own aesthetics? If who I am is pastel pink, back-length waves this week, and a Bantu knot-out next week, it doesn’t mean my personality actually shifts. It means I have the kind of personality that values stylistic spontaneity.
So how do we stop seeing protective styles as a second tier option with coincidental perks, and as a style for style’s sake?
I plan to just cop to it. So yeah. I’m fortunate in that my hair grows in fully, if slowly, and there’s nothing making it fall out, so I use protective styles as a way to switch up my look and save time, nothing more. Of all the things I might have to feel guilty about, that’s not one of them.
If people choose to be mad at that, there’s no stopping them, but I will laugh a little.
Why do you wear protective styles, curlies? Actual protection? Fashion? Both? Let me know in the comments!