A comic about learning to love your natural hair
I first encountered Pearl Low‘s work because of her involvement with Hair Love, an Oscar award-winning short about a father’s journey to successfully style his young daughter’s curls. Alongside her work on the short, she frequently shares many slice-of-life comics about her own experiences as a biracial creator, which instantly hooked me.
When I realized that she was selling copies of her self-published comic Tension, I snatched one up along with the matching scrunchie. It took me a long time to love my hair, so while Pearl and I’s stories are very different, hers resonated with me deeply.
Tension is a quick but profound read. Pearl’s style meshes clean lines with smudges of depth (blushing cheeks and noses, for example) that serve as a very refreshing break from the highly processed pages of the classic superhero book. I also adore her character designs, because each person is easily distinguishable with a personality that shines through at first glance. Pearl’s brother only appears in a single panel, but his big, laid-back smile told me wonders about what he must be like in real life.
I don’t want to spoil too much about the story, because it’s a personal account that you should read for yourself, but I will say that it was a valuable peek into struggles that are very, very easy for outsiders to overlook.
Now, Pearl and I don’t come from the same place. We didn’t experience the same upbringing. But I do come from a culture that doesn’t exactly embrace curly hair (or, in fact, any features that might remind us of our African lineage). In the Dominican Republic, curly or kinky hair is referred to as “pelo malo” or “bad hair,” and women with more texture are frequently denied professional opportunities. I grew up visiting the salon for a blowout every week for the first twenty-six years of my life because I was told I had to in order to look presentable, in order to succeed, in order to look pretty. My family members weren’t malicious in their guidance. They were trying to do what was best for me according to what they had learned and experienced in a country with a deeply anti-black history.
For many of us in black and brown spaces, hair isn’t just hair– it’s a form of self-expression, an avenue for cultural connection and an opportunity for socialization. Refusing to straighten your hair can be an act of rebellion against Eurocentric norms that result in phrases like “mejorar la raza.” At the “Dominican salon,” a New York City staple where instead of an appointment you get a general time slot and a game of chance (will you be waiting fifteen minutes or two hours? Who can say!), you kill time by gossiping with the ladies until your turn is up. You make connections. You learn from your elders.
Hair is important. Hair is also a choice.
Ultimately, whether or not someone wants to wear their curls is a decision that can be based not only on self-acceptance but also just on style and practicality. Even those who love their curls might not want to wear them. Whether or not someone does love their curls, though– well, that’s the more complicated issue that Tension addresses. Doing so can be a Herculean feat, depending on the circumstances. Even if you’ve never experienced the struggle, it’s a struggle worth reading about and understanding.
You can pick up Tension in Pearl’s Etsy shop.