My guest bloggers have been hard at work, fine tuning their posts about their experiences with natural hair. Today, I’m pleased to share with you the words of Yolanda Lee, model, actress, swimmer and naturalista. Yolanda has a very powerful story that I hope you find as inspirational as I did.
When was the last time your hair saved a life?
After being asked to be a guest blogger, I immediately started thinking of my soapbox issues, and which one I cared about the most. Should I talk about swimming in the black community? Health over hair? Loving ourselves enough to take better care of our bodies than we do our hair? We women of color love ourselves a good hairstyle.
Should I shed light on the fact that in the last week in the ladies locker room at the gym, I’ve overheard two different conversations from white women about their hair, realizing that we women of color aren’t alone in this fight of what to do with our hair after a swim or a workout?
Should I talk about all the people that seemed to be offended when I cut my hair because women are “supposed to have long hair”? What about the group that seemed to be offended as my hair started growing back because it wasn’t curly, wash and go hair, or it “appeared” that I wasn’t doing anything with my hair because as it started growing back, I didn’t get braids. I never realized my hair could evoke so many different responses (um, that’s another blog).
My thoughts kept going back to swimming in the Black community, but how would I tackle this topic? How would I talk about something that has been taboo and a stereotype in our community for so long that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, “the number of fatal drownings are three times higher among African Americans between age 5 and 14 than for their white counterparts in the same age group.” There are a few contributing factors for this reason. One that stood out to me most was in an article in Urban Views Weekly July 16th issue, which stated, “According to the CDC, most children who cannot swim have parents who cannot swim.”
As I touched on the topic in my documentary It’s Only (a) Natural, I witnessed my friend drown when I was young. It paralyzed my whole family and put a fear of the water in us for over 30 years, until three years ago, I decided to cut my hair off and learn to swim.
Cutting my hair was a big enough issue on its own. I was a model/actress. My hair was what I was known for. It was what would get me direct bookings without having to attend a go-see, audition, or casting. I was one of the first to “go back to natural”, more than 13 years ago. It was different, and clients like that, no they loved it. I was the token black girl with the hair. I wasn’t offensive (um, that’s another blog as well). Blacks and Whites alike would not care if I represented a brand; with the big curly hair, I was ambiguous. Was I biracial? Who knew and who cared as long as no one was offended.
Making the decision to change my signature look was a big deal and about a three year discussion with myself. Two years ago it was time. I was ready to cut it. Most of all I was ready to swim, get over the fear and be one of those to break the stereotype that Blacks can’t swim.
Why did I need to cut my hair off to learn to swim? What was wrong with me? Did I really need to cut my hair to swim? Why couldn’t I just wear a swim cap like everyone else? Why wouldn’t I just braid it like everyone else? Better yet, why learn to swim? Like so many African American women that I talk to about learning to swim or just getting in the gym, I didn’t want to be one that would say “I can’t go swimming today. I don’t want to mess my hair up.” I knew I would need every inch of me committed to getting over this thing. I wanted to give myself no excuses for not jumping in.
It’s the reason I’ve started Black Girls Who Swim on FaceBook. I want to encourage more women of color to learn to swim and/or to get their children lessons. I want to encourage more women of color to get over the hair issue and do something that is life saving, as well as a good workout.
The most brought up topic in this group is “What do you all do with you hair?” I wouldn’t care if every one of those ladies asked that questions once a day if that meant they were taken lessons or going to the pool with their children. I know in our community hair is a big deal. I just pray that more women realized that the life of their children is a bigger deal. Learning to swim could be the difference between life and death. When was the last time your hair saved a life?
Yolanda Lee has been an actress/model for over ten years. In addition to being signed for commercial and print work in New York through CESD, Yolanda has had commercial, print and acting agents in Connecticut, New York, Philadelphia, Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia, and North Carolina. She has booked seven national commercials and a number of regional commercials, been a part of numerous print ads, and walked for department stores such as Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, and Neiman Marcus. Over the last few years Yolanda has spent the majority of her time in Virginia helping grow the family business, working on her goal of swimming laps, and finishing her documentary It’s Only (a) Natural.