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About a week ago, there was a news story about a kindergarten substitute teacher who posted a degrading comment on Instagram comparing a five-year-old child to the infamous fictitious character Loc Dog from Don’t be Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice In the Hood, a 1990s amalgamation parody that exploited the tropes of African American films popular during that time. Nevertheless, comparing ANYONE to the character Loc Dog cannot be confused with giving effusive praise.
Insensitive and callous instagram post by substitute teacher Photo Courtesy Fatherly.com
It is heartbreaking to think that even in this day and age, girls and women are hair shamed. Hair is such an important part of identity for women. It is often seen as a symbol of beauty, health, class and femininity. According to Tracey Owens Patton in her article "Hey Girl, Am I More than My Hair?: African American Women and Their Struggles with Beauty, Body Image, and Hair" , trying to adhere to European standards of beauty has debilitating effects on African American girls and women. Hair shaming has lasting effects on self-image and self-confidence. Diagnosed with alopecia when she was twenty-two years old, Shatakia Niles is doing her best to fight hair shaming and inspiring confidence in women in regards to their hair.
Shatakia was born in Quitman, Georgia. She relocated to Atlanta to attend Georgia State University after graduating high school in 1997. In 1999, she joined a company, CNA Insurance, where she built her career over 15 years. It was not until she moved to Chicago in 2003, after a promotion, that she started to lose her hair. Shatakia, like hundreds of women across the world has alopecia. Alopecia is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack the hair follicles resulting in hair loss. There are several forms of alopecia, traction alopecia being the most common form for African American women. Traction alopecia occurs when too much stress is placed on the hair follicles due to prolonged use of hair extensions, ponytails, braids and cornrows that are too tight, and prolonged lace front wig use. This is Shatakia's “hairstory” of how she dealt with losing her at an early age and made peace with her condition.
Growing up in the small town of Quitman - some of her earliest memories about her hair involved getting it straightened on Saturdays for church on Sunday. "It was a very small town, so we did not have many formal beauticians. I had very dry, coarse hair and I was also very "tender headed" so I usually wore my hair in braids or cornrows until I went to middle school." Straight hair was often seen as more 'neat' and natural hair as 'unkept'.According to Wanda Brooks and Jordan McNair in their article -‘"‘Combing’’ Through Representations of Black Girls’ Hair in African American Children’s Literature", straight hair was also seen as a status and class marker for African Americans. There is also pressure from our peers to conform. Peer pressure is not just for high schoolers, but it can begin as early as elementary school. The message we receive about our hair is that we must conform in order to feel beautiful and our peers reinforce those messages. For Shatakia, that meant taking her hair into her own hands. She began styling her own hair. "At some point during middle school I wore a Jheri curl. " Shatakia says,” but that only lasted a short time because they were going out of style. By eighth grade I permed my hair and started cutting my hair in the most popular styles. I became very good at cutting hair and I loved doing my own hair." Shatakia had learned to style and cut her hair in a way that was pleasing to her. Her newfound skills gave her confidence and she thought her hair troubles had come to an end. However, they were far from over.
Moving across country would be a stressful situation for most people but not Shatakia. When she was a few hours away from closing and moving into her new home in Chicago her real estate agent called and said the owners decided not to sell. Although she did not know anyone and did not have a place to stay, Shatakia says, "I remember my realtor calling me and being very calm. I just said okay and took a nap. When I woke up, the realtor called with a temporary solution that we thought would work.” What followed was a comedy of errors of sorts when she realized the home was one big money pit. "I left that house after one month and me and my son moved into an extended stay until we were able to find what would be our permanent residence in Calumet City, Illinois", she laughs. It was not until she was finally settled that she noticed she was losing hair. "My hair was coming out in clumps. I felt so embarrassed. It really affected my self-esteem. " Shatakia did not take her hair loss lightly; she tried everything to stop it. She stopped wearing extensions. She started using vitamins. She stopped using relaxers. She even went all natural and got a low-cut fade. Nothing seemed to work. She even moved back to Atlanta thinking that maybe it was the Chicago water.
After moving to Atlanta, her hair loss continued. Worst still, she discovered a troubling pattern. Most of the women in her family had the same problem. Shatakia became disheartened. Finally, a friend whom she confided in convinced her to go to a dermatologist. It was there she discovered that she had alopecia. The dermatologist suggested steroids which caused her to develop a blood clot. Then she had to try Rogaine, which did not work either. Hailing from a family of entrepreneurs (her father has one of the first black owned asphalt plants in Quitman) starting a business was in her blood, and all this was happening around the time she opened her new business consulting company, Lorraine & Associates Administrative Services. With her options being limited, she decided to give wigs a try. Wearing a wig was not an easy decision. Although it is accepted by mainstream society, some people still try to hair shame women who choose to wear wigs and weaves. In addition, she wanted to have natural look. So, she started making her own wigs. Being a business woman, Shatakia used her alopecia diagnosis to help file an insurance claim for her wigs. "Filing an insurance claim was not easy. You have to find a vendor that is accepted by your insurance and one that specializes in wigs (sometimes referenced as cranial prosthesis) for alopecia sufferers. Wearing a wig every day due severe hair loss is still difficult. I had to come to terms with my condition. That is when I realized that we are all God's Masterpiece. Each person is made special and unique by God. What makes us different should not weaken us but make us stronger. We should not be ashamed of those differences. If what makes me unique is the fact that I have alopecia, then that will be something that I do not hide from. I will use it as a platform to talk to other women to let them know they have options and we are so much more than our hair."
Shatakia's story is not an uncommon one. Whether you have a medical issue or not, women are often hair shamed in order for them to conform to an established aesthetic. Grand*Tressa Natural Hair Care Products celebrates hair diversity. We encourage you to love your hair no matter what. Want to share your story? Want to Party with a Purpose! Come out to showcase your dopest Natural hair style and win a prize. We will have vendors, spoken word, hair and makeup fashion show, and music by Dj Salah Ananse! This will be an Ode to Natural Hair. It is a celebration and a love letter to our hair in all of its machinations! If you have a song you would like to sing or a poem you like to share about your hair journey we would love to hear from you! We at Grand*Tressa Natural Hair Care Products realize that we are all God's Masterpieces... we just have to remember it!
Click on this link for more details! Hair Affair: Ode to kinks, Curls and Coils!
Grand*Tressa Natural Hair Care Products Company does not claim to cure alopecia. We just wanted to share this story to inspire our supporters. If you have (or someone you know has) alopecia, please see a dermatologist.