One of my earliest hair memories is how upset I was as a little girl that my hair didn’t move like Charlie’s Angels when I stuck my head out the car window as we travelled along. The wind would make my eyes tear up but every follicle stayed in place. I tried again and again, no movement. God, this is a rip-off! I was so disappointed and angry that I’d been cursed with cottony, disobedient hair. My hair is thick and coarse. Hmm, those aren’t the only words we used to describe my hair. Here are a few: kinky, nappy, tight, rough, bad, difficult, brittle, peasy, linty, puffy, unmanageable, and hard. Not very positive attributes but that is just how it was.
The funny thing is that I grew up in a loving household. My parents made sure that we grew up feeling good about our blackness. Our house was filled with Black History trivia games; long discussions about Roots (we watched it as a family); awe-filled conversations about George Washington Carver, Mary McLeod Bethune, Sojourner Truth, Shirley Chisholm, Ida Barnett, and Barbara Jordan to name a few. Plus, my parents always told us that we were beautiful, intelligent women who would grow up to do something big in the world.
Yet, despite this enriching environment, I still remember my sister and I walking around the house with our long beautiful “towel” hair, the result of wrapping bath towels around our heads so that we could pretend that we had long hair. Perhaps because of my parents, we not only pretended to be Charlie’s Angels (I always emulated Kelly, I thought she was the smartest and the prettiest) but I typically played Jayne Kennedy (former Ms. Ohio USA and actress, now a wife, mother and children’s activist) and my sister was Jody Watley (of Shalamar fame). We would daydream about our beautiful homes, gorgeous husbands and fabulous lifestyles, all while making sure that our towel hair was neatly tucked into our shirt collars or else…well, in our minds our nappy hair didn’t go with the fantasy. Some might argue that this is just a little girl fantasy. However, in hindsight, it seems like much more than that. We were trying to escape, escape the reality that we somehow had hair that was less than what society told us was beautiful. So what did we do? We did what any creative child would do. We reinvented ourselves in the dominant image of beauty and that meant long, wavy straight hair no matter how it came about.
Fast forward thirty years and I look at my beautiful daughter and son. Here we are living in a majority white area and I am so concerned that my children realize how beautiful they are: ALL of who they are their soft, cottony hair, strong minds, beautiful brown skin and all.
I have a few questions for you: What adjectives do you recall being used to describe your hair? What do you do with your children to instill a sense of worth in environments where they are often bombarded with statements / images to the contrary?