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Love Out Loud: A Series by verta ayanna

Verta Maloney

Mommy! My friend said my hair is not soft.

Mommy! My friend said my hair is puffy.

Mommy! My friend said my hair is not straight.

My heart unraveled into a thousand fragile strands that day as my daughter told me what her friend had said. She was hurt. Not solely because of what her friend said but more precisely how she said it. A nuance not missed by my intuitive young daughter. I took a deep breath. I chose my words with care. “Your hair is soft,” I told her as we touched it. “Your hair is not straight, but it could be,” I told her as we looked at pictures of all the amazing and stunning ways black girls and women could wear our hair. “Your hair is puffy sometimes and sometimes flat and other times wild and magnificently crazy,” I told her as I tried to make her smile. “We have options little love!” I proclaimed.

After all this conversation, after all this focus on the words I chose, I began to realize that my four-year-old daughter was becoming slightly obsessed with long, silky, straight hair. My four-year-old daughter, whose mother had a fierce and powerful ceasar in college. My four-year-old daughter, whose mother rocked the hell out of some box braids back in the day. Though I told her that I loved her hair so very much and so should she. She was not convinced. I could see it in her eyes. Oh the things I can see in her eyes. Eyes that were fixed on my ever-so-fly, short, straight, relaxed, silky, precision cut done to perfection every six weeks in Brooklyn. Another nuance that could not have gone unnoticed by my ever-watchful little girl. I became fully aware that what I said was less important than what I needed to do.

Hair does not frighten me any more. It used to. I once feared what others would think, what others wouldn’t think. There was a time I feared the way I chose to wear my hair would mean I didn’t love myself enough or loved being black too much. I used to fear that how I chose to wear my hair made me more feminine, more attractive or at times too masculine, too strong and less attractive. It took years of trying on different hairstyles, before I could finally embrace the different versions of myself. Hair can be the outward expression of the fears, hopes, dreams, beauty and love that we, as women, have within us. We get to decide which, depending on the day. As mothers, we get to decide which we pass on to our daughters.

What I did next shocked my girl (and my boy) in a profound way. On a hot Saturday in July, I chose to share my love for her in the loudest way I knew how. I know and understand that there are no silent expressions of love. I cut my hair off. I did it for Simone. As she looked at me, eyes wide, with the hint of that smile I adore on her perfect little mouth, “I want hair just like yours,” I said. “So beautiful and so perfect.” Forgetting how much I love teeny-weeny afros, I also promised to grow it out just like hers. That was a mistake. I have no patience for things like that anymore. For weeks she would proudly and loudly tell people, “My mommy cut all her hair off because she wants it to be like mine. That’s going to take her a looong time!”  She has a good sense of humor that one.

I do know for sure I did something that day, in that moment, to help give her a stronger sense of self. Today she is a seven-year-old girl who gets inspiration from strawberry shortcake and has me twist pink and green strands into her two-strand twists one day. Today she is a seven-year-old girl who will rock her twist out until it is black uhuru locked and tell me when I try to tame it, “Mommy, I don’t care, I love my hair when it’s all wild and crazy!” Today she is a seven-year-old girl who has rocked a long straight do for about 18 hours or so because children can’t help but play and sweat out the best of intentions on yet another day. Today I do know for sure that for right now, in this moment, my girl fearlessly loves the skin and hair she is in and she is doing so in the loudest ways she can.


Verta is writing her first book, loving out loud, because she believes that love should never be silent! verta shares how she is inspired by stories, by memories and by life at www.vertaayanna.com.
  • Tina

    Hi Verta! I just looked at your piece again and I really love it!

  • verta ayanna

    thanks Petra! thanks Tina. that means so much to me. thanks so much for the opportunity to share my voice :-)

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Sex Kitten and Psyche

Black women have had to overcome the idea that they were sexually promiscuous so, in Madame C.J. Walker’s times, they behaved and dressed in ways to negate that stereotype.This was viewed as a form of racial progress and meant that Blacks experienced a tension between respectability and sexuality in advertisement. In other words, while the Black beauty industry promoted the notion that Black women were beautiful, it did not convey overly sexualized images of Black women; rather, Black women were often presented as respectable, upright citizens.


Black women have had to overcome the idea that they were sexually promiscuous so, in Madame C.J. Walker’s times, they behaved and dressed in ways to negate that stereotype.This was viewed as a form of racial progress and meant that Blacks experienced a tension between respectability and sexuality in advertisement. In other words, while the Black beauty industry promoted the notion that Black women were beautiful, it did not convey overly sexualized images of Black women; rather, Black women were often presented as respectable, upright citizens.For example, Madame CJ Walkers Wonderful Hair Grower ad showed a “Prominent Minister’s Wife” as a model in the advertisement.There has been a dramatic change:nowadays, sex sells.This presents a convergence of issues where Black women (heck, all types of women!) are often portrayed in hypersexual ways.When this is combined with the societal view that beauty equals long, straight hair, you end up with a flood of Black sex kitten imagery complete with long mane. This magazine cover drives home the point. What does such imagery do to a woman’s psyche?

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My Royal Wedding: Say No to the Fro

Today Prince William and Kate Middleton were married.Why in the world am I bringing this up in a blog about hair?A wedding is a perfect opportunity to examine notions of beauty and femininity.I was married on July 22, 2000.I remember all of the planning.Yes, the venue was important and we had to have a wonderful union and fantastic reception.However, if I’m honest, a top priority for me was to look phenomenal.I wanted to look slammin’!I wanted Fred to take one look at me and melt.Leading up to the wedding, I was wearing an afro.I am ashamed to say that I decided that there was no way in the world I was going to walk down the aisle with an afro.What was I going to do Velcro the veil into my fro?One of my girlfriends, the same girlfriend who took me to the Baltimore barbershop for the Big Chop (see my earlier blog), told me about a wonderful stylist, Janellia, who could give me a natural looking weave.Exactly what do I mean? Well, she used hair that looked naturally curly so I would end up with a curly afro.The night before my wedding, Janellia met me at my apartment and, after I washed and conditioned my hair, she began the process of weaving the curly extensions into my hair.When she was done, I was ecstatic.In my mind, I looked like an African goddess.

Looking back, I have to ask myself why I thought an afro was the antithesis of femininity. I admit that while I loved the freedom of my afro, I still felt like I HAD to wear nice makeup, and cute jewelry whenever I went out in public.In other words, my hair was not cute on its own merit; I now had to be accessorized in order to look feminine and pulled together.Ouch.This is painful to admit and see in writing.Point blank, I wanted long, curly hair when I walked down the aisle.I didn’t “feel” like a bride unless I had it.

Do you have any similar stories about special events and hair?Maybe not your wedding, but a concert or a business meeting?A first date?I’d love to hear your stories!

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Coming to the End of the Road: Bald Spots and Still Relaxing

At a certain point in my life, I was still getting relaxers but questioning myself about why I was subjecting myself to the process.As I’ve mentioned before, hair is linked to femininity and attractiveness.I remember I was at a local DC club (Zei Club in Zei Alley…yes, I’m showing my age as I’ve heard the club has long since been gone).I had just gotten my hair relaxed that morning but it had come out too straight so I put on a cute hat.I met a handsome guy and after talking, dancing, and exchanging numbers he reached up uninvited and pulled my hat off of my head.He then said something to express his relief that I didn’t have a knotty head of hair.I was stunned.I mean, “REALLY!?REALLY?!”The nerve!Anyone who knows me (especially my guy friends I grew up with), is probably waiting for me to say that I clocked him in the head right on the spot.I didn’t.Instead, I was relieved that I’d gotten my hair relaxed because if he’d seen my hair, oh, 14 hours earlier, he’d likely have ripped up my phone number and walked away.

Perhaps I continued to get relaxers because I thought that I’d be unattractive to Black men if they saw me in my natural state?I’m NOT saying that all Black men want women with straight hair.I am saying that in the mid-1990s when I was dating, it seemed like the “in look” was long straight hair.Hits like “Bump and Grind”, “That’s the Way Love Goes”, “Weak” and “Whoomp There it Is” filled the air waves and the women dancing in the videos had weaves down their backs.It was only a matter of time before I noticed more and more women wearing similar styles.My girlfriends and I lamented the fact that we were single despite being attractive, educated, kind people.It felt like there were eight Black women for every one Black man because almost every woman I knew was single while every guy I knew had two, three or even ten “girlfriends”.When I reflect back and think about the high demand for men and the sense that my natural hair might put me out of the “running” (not to mention perceived convenience, style, family input, etc.), it is understandable why I continued to get relaxers.Not making excuses, just trying to understand my thinking at the time.

Yet, my hair continued to fall out.This was a time when I was grateful for thick, thick hair because I just had to style my hair in a certain way and the alopecia bald spot was covered.After a while though, the insanity of the situation made me rethink my relationship with my hair.Heck, my relationship with ME.

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