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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Some Call Me Nappy
April 12, 2008 by

I Call Me Beautiful!! Have a curly mane? It's a gift and a curse. Beautiful when the curls are just right, a total mess otherwise. Ladies with silky textured curls often have an easier time perfecting their curly style. Ladies who are of African American or mixed-heritage can have a more difficult time fighting off the frizz and obtaining a neat and put-together look.

In my childhood, my mother never recognized the beauty of my curly hair. Born into a bi-racial family, she was raised to believe that there was a certain way to appear put-together. She combed, brushed and blew out her curls, oiled up her mane and made it up in neat braids and buns. Now, beyond middle-aged, my mother has only just discovered the potential beauty of her naturally, silky wavy/curly hair. However, after years of fighting her natural hair with chemical processing, heat treatments, blow dryers, pressing combs, and monthly hair colorings, my mom's curls are in bad form.

Being the out-there child that I was, I had been determined to go against the grain of what my mother taught me was an appropriate way to style my hair and learn to go natural. I was tired of spending ridiculous amounts of time in the bathroom washing, blow drying, oiling, and pressing out my hair. The process could take me two hours! While that may not seem ridiculous to some, it was for me. I was a high school student who needed that time to study, socialize, or do what ever else high school students do.

My first experiences going curly were liberating,to say the least. I simply shampooed and conditioned my hair and blew it dry. I was sixteen and, really, the fro-ish look did not scare me as much as it scared my mother who constantly asked me if I was planning to do 'something' with my hair. At school, many of my peers loved my hair and wanted to pet it or play with it.

I should mention that I lived in South Orange County which isn't known for its large African American population. I was a novelty of sorts or at least my hair was. As much as I liked the attention, I couldn't help feel like there were many who disproved of my big head of hair. I tell you, my curls looked as though they were fighting to get away from my scalp. I had triangle hair and no curl definition. It wasn't until my $10 blow dryer quit working that I was forced to purchase a new one and discovered the diffuser.

Finally, I was able to leave the house with real, shiny and defined curls that fell more neatly down my back. If I had felt liberated before, now, I felt both liberated and pretty. Ever since then, I have been able to wear my hair curly and with little fuss. With the advent of new hair styling technology, I have been able to replace my dead blow dryers with newer, more efficient, and style-saving dryers and reasonably priced serums and hair conditioners.

I feel inclined to add that while I love my curly locks, I also enjoy variety and options in styling my hair. Week-to-week, I change up my style by straightening with a flat-iron (no chemicals here!), braiding, or twisting my hair. I love versatility.It's not always easy going natural, especially for women of color.

I have noticed that there is a very real and legitimate fear that employers, peers, or even strangers may induce certain things about African American women who wear their hair curly. Terms like "nappy" or "kinky" that describe the texture or tightness of curls also carry negative connotations and are often used to describe individuals perceived to be "too Black", unkempt or too lax about their appearance. For that reason, I cannot fault my mother or her family's idea of an appropriate way to wear African American hair.

In retrospect, I can't help but wonder if, in my past, I missed out on employment opportunities or other growth opportunities because of my very ethnic looking hair-do. What I believed was beautiful hair may have been perceived to be just nappy or unkempt. I think though, that learning to care for my hair and appreciate it for its beautiful, curly way has really made me a little bit more beautiful on the inside. Learning to love my hair regardless of what is socially acceptable or popular at any given moment has made me more proud than ever to be me: an individual of African American descent who has dark skin and shiny and curly hair.

For me, this was one important step in beginning the process of shedding the daunting and impossible-to-attain idealized version of beauty.

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