The Emancipation of My Afro in Europe

My hair dresses me nicely.
My hair is my jewelry.
My hair belongs to me.
— Moncita Monoi Angel

Confession: I was supposed to open up my "40 Days in Europe" series with this post, but I simply wasn't ready.  Blame the jetlag, the culture shock of returning back to the US + work, but I attribute it more to fear (which really is for suckers).  I had briefly mentioned last week that some of the upcoming posts would be personal.  Whether funny or raw, I was going to give it to you.  I don't think I have felt this vulnerable as a blogger yet, but I believe transparency is important.  I already know that this is a subject that can be a woe for many black women, because it's a discussion about our hair. 

Before I bring it it to June 2016, I am going to backpedal a bit for personal reasons.  I was silent for awhile but I'm ready to talk. Therefore, we will start with the backstory, because I actually never gave my hair story.  I mean sure, during college I was actually a moderator for an online hair forum called Hairlista, but I didn't dive that deep into the trials and tribulations of Foxy (my hair y'all).  So, after a few misty eyed moments from just digging into those memories that I'd prefer not to share, let's do it.  Even though I'm a G most of the time, I'm still human and this post brought out some feelings. 

Leggo. 


You know how people look at Lil Kim like she's completely crazy because she looks like a completely different person now than she was in the 90's?  Not that I would go as extreme as she did, but I empathized with her.  I was a brown-skinned child with nappy hair.  Like, there's pictures of me as a 3 year old with extensions because Foxy is thick, unruly, and bossy.  I remember a time when a college associate approached me and told me he was sooo glad I took my sew-in out because he called it Mr. Egg.  Or, another time when some sisters of mine gathered me for a "hair intervention" if you will and while I understand their reasoning, it sucked badly. Obviously it stung, because 10 years later, I still remember it all vividly. 

I already wasn't feeling how the stylist did my sew-in, so for that gentleman to have called it "Mr. Egg" to my face truly hurt me to the core at the time. Taken in 2009.

I already wasn't feeling how the stylist did my sew-in, so for that gentleman to have called it "Mr. Egg" to my face truly hurt me to the core at the time. Taken in 2009.

Needless to say.  I feel like my hair was always a [negative] conversation piece..  When I taught in Houston, I never wore my own hair out because I did not feel like explaining to my [beloved] Hispanic students the in's and out's of my hair.  If I had to take a day off to get it braided, I'd do it.  Fast forward to me wearing it out for the first time in a professional environment in Dallas and I was a nervous wreck the night before.  I'm so grateful that it was well received because that could've crushed me.  But even though it was well received, if I can be 100% honest, I wasn't all that confident without my stripper hair (that's my affectionate hair for bundles, relax) installed. 

Preparing for Europe

If you are following me on Snapchat / Instagram, you probably saw videos of me soliciting suggestions for how to wear my hair while on vacation for an extended amount of time.  I went back and forth between box braids, a sew in, crochet, or au naturale.  I was trying to consider the different climates I would encounter, humidity, cost, and practicality.  What I do know is that I was not trying to have to manage my hair daily while on vacation. 

Along came Memorial Day.  I had finally purchased my flight (about two weeks prior) and took out my box braids.  I decided I wanted my hair to "breathe" a little bit prior to getting another protective style.  I was getting my ducks in a row for the end of the school year, coordinating a science summer camp, and trying to mentally prepare for my first long flight.  To say life was a bit hectic was an understatement.  The last thing I had time for was to sit and get my hair done.  I had limited days and just wanted to enjoy my Texas Time prior to my departure (because I was getting a little antsy / worried). 

Enjoying my first true flat iron since I had gone natural.  Brittany did an amazing job! Taken in Porto, Portugal.

Enjoying my first true flat iron since I had gone natural.  Brittany did an amazing job! Taken in Porto, Portugal.

 

As time was passing, I made a decision that I was going to finally get my hair straightened and that would be how I wore my hair to Europe.  I had been researching cities that had natural hair salons and determined that if it was an absolute necessary, I could get it done in in Paris or London.  I had been praying this was not a huge mistake but the decision had already been made and my time was limited.  Thankfully,  Foxy cooperated between the transition of Dallas --> Boston --> Madrid --> Porto.  I never had my afro straightened in the approximately 3 years I had been natural and the humidity percentage was ideal (i.e. LOW).  I was enjoying having it give me goddess appeal as it whipped in the air. 

And then I went on a pub crawl.

If you are familiar with hostel culture, you know that they often offer pub crawls.  Well, I indulged, and upon arriving home around 4am, I could feel a mini lion's mane starting to form at the roots.  Initially, I panicked, but I eventually accepted it.  And that was the best thing I could have done

Pub crawls = humidity. #FixItJesus Anywho, with my hostel mates!

Pub crawls = humidity. #FixItJesus Anywho, with my hostel mates!

Why didn't anybody tell me that Europe got down with natural hair?

Doesn't the previous line sound like an oxymoron? That is how I felt.  I love wearing my fro, but I really was anxious about stares, people trying to touch my hair, ask questions, etc.  I thought I would blend into the scene more with my hair straight instead of in its fro.  Boy, was I wrong.  This was just another thing that surprised me about Europe. 

I had been dreading managing my hair during my trip but I actually had fun messing around with it.  I did not mind taking the time to get to know it, because I rarely had my own hair out longer than a month at a time and I was rapidly approaching that timespan.  Since I was abroad and only ran into friends on occasion, I didn't care too much about my appearance.  I was cool with a dress, shades, and my sandals.  So, on some days, my flat twistout was immaculate and on other days I would let the shrinkage be at 100%.  I felt funky, sexy, but most of all...

I felt completely liberated. 

I was proud of myself for buying the flight.  I was proud of myself for taking an extended solo vacation in Europe.  But I was proudest of the fact that I was just my 100% natural self at time and felt beautiful inside and out.  I didn't feel like I had to hide behind a veil in Europe, even though up to arriving, I thought I might have to just to avoid confrontation.  

Who cares about my hair? I am in PARIS watching the French team win a Euro game at the Eiffel Tower! 

Who cares about my hair? I am in PARIS watching the French team win a Euro game at the Eiffel Tower! 

I've learned what works and what doesn't work for my hair and now I am not afraid for an even longer trip while managing my hair.  Of course, I will always switch it up because I'm afraid of commitment (yeah, I said it) but now I know that I can handle this without forking money over that would equal a week's worth of hostel stays.  I was able to find black beauty supply stores throughout my trip and would sneak in a smile to my natural sisters as I went about my day, and it was a beautiful thing. 

I admit, that I had a lot of preconceptions about Europe and will post about that at another date, but this was the most welcome surprise to intake.  To have conversations with so many people about how they were envious of my hair and wished that more sisters would wear fros (although it is always up to the discretion of the woman) just warmed my spirit.  I would walk a bit taller every day and I have been continuing to just sport Foxy since I have been back in the States (three months and counting!!)  

Smirking because my flat twistout was IMMACULATE and I just scored chocolate in Brussels.

Smirking because my flat twistout was IMMACULATE and I just scored chocolate in Brussels.

 

I appreciate everybody for encouraging me to just go "au naturale" even when my semi-stubborn self declined.  I love Europe even more for loving on me when I was initially apprehensive.  I give props to Foxy for being the reason why I might have had more than a few rounds dedicated in her honor. 

Naturals! How do you choose to wear your hair abroad? Do you pick and choose depending on the length of the trip or the climate? Let's talk about this.

How was my trip? Liberating. Point. Blank. Period. Photo taken in Barcelona.

How was my trip? Liberating. Point. Blank. Period. Photo taken in Barcelona.

 

Sidebar: Thank you all for listening to the not so travel related component of this post too.  I needed to get it out.  It happens. ;-)

Are you a natural haired sister that is planning a vacation to Europe?  Read more to find out how I felt liberated wearing my hair in Europe.

Are you a natural haired sister that is planning a vacation to Europe?  Read more to find out how I felt liberated wearing my hair in Europe.