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True Love- of Self and from a Good Man

In an earlier post, I mentioned how nervous I was about my family seeing my new short afro for the first time. My stomach felt sick. The thing is, I loved my new look. I was still adjusting to it, but I felt liberated. I was also proud that I could look myself in the mirror and know that I was strong enough to buck conventional notions of beauty.

I don’t remember the exact sequence of events when I first pulled up to my parent’s home and unveiled my do. I do remember my Mother staring at me like I had just announced I was addicted to crack or something. She blankly stared at my head and, finally, FINALLY said something like, “Do you like it T? If you like it, that’s good”. Wow! My Dad just told me that I was still pretty. Well, there you have it. My folks didn’t like my new TWA (teeny weeny afro). Guess what? I didn’t crumble, I didn’t cry. I was just relieved to know what they thought and I moved on.

I do think that it was incredibly helpful for me to have a relationship with a phenomenal man, Fred, now my husband. Fred and I started dating when I was still getting my hair relaxed. He has always been clear that he thinks I’m beautiful. I remember that he would run his fingers through my hair and I would say, “Stop!” because it was time for a touch-up. Whew, the roots were THICK! He’d look at me and ask why I was so touchy and then tell me that he loved the way my hair felt. It had texture, was springy, curly, kinky…he loved the way it felt. Say what?! That was so liberating!! To have someone you love validate your beauty, confirm that you are okay just as you are. Once I cut my hair, he continued to reaffirm his love for me and his appreciation of my beauty. I’m not saying that I cut my hair FOR Fred or that he loved me because I cut my hair. Our love is much deeper than that. The truth is that for so long I was afraid to reveal my true self to men so it was wonderful to take off the mask in front of him and let him see my natural essence.

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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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For Me, Relaxers Were Futile Attempts to Present My “Best” Self

Yesterday I asked many questions of myself:WHY did I so desire straight hair?Why, when my hair was falling out and I was spending a lot of money to attain a texture that just wasn’t what I was naturally blessed with?Was it because I wanted to be beautiful?Did I feel ugly in my natural state?What was driving my desire to have straight hair?Why did I look at a relaxer as a magic wand that would grant me beauty?

I can only speak for myself.I believe that I desired straight hair as a way to assert my femininity, to fit it, to feel good about myself.I relaxed my hair because it was a rite of passage for me, and, from looking around, the many other young black girls I knew who also got their hair relaxed around 12 or 13 years of age.I relaxed my hair because it was easier and more convenient.

Is there a deeper root to this?Was I striving for some beauty ideal that was impossible to attain with my natural hair?As hard as it is for me to admit, I believe that the decision to relax my hair was an attempt to escape who I was so that I could become a “better” me.The only problem is, that better me was not the real me.I was trying to conform to an image that I could never authentically attain.

I came across this fantastic audio from a 9/16/09 broadcast on WUNC 91.5 North Carolina Public Radio.The show was called “Haireotypes” and here is the show description from the website (

“Whether yours is straight, kinky, thinning, or long gone, the long and short of it is, just about all of us have hang-ups about our hair. That’s because hair and personal identity go together like shampoo and conditioner. There are also plenty of cultural stereotypes about hair rooted in everything from color to texture. On today’s show, host Frank Stasio presents a layered conversation about society’s complex relationship with hair and the biases we harbor about others’ strands. Joining the program are Joan Jacobs Brumberg, professor emeritus at Cornell University and author of “The Body Project”; Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, a professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business; Neal Lester, professor of English at Arizona State University;photographer Victor Jeffreys II; and Michelle Breyer, co-founder Plus, members of the cast ofBurning Coal Theater Company‘s current production of “Hair” provide live musical interludes.

State of Things Producer Lindsay Foster Thomas kicked off the conversation this morning with a commentary on her effort to embrace her natural look”

Curious to hear your thoughts!

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My relaxed hair Nirvana

Yesterday’s post was important to me because I wanted to share a link to a wonderful documentary by Brittney Henton: also wanted to touch on the importance of how we teach our children about their ethnic hair.

Now, I want to return to my hair journey and talk about my personal experiences when I got my hair relaxed.As a young girl, my hair was described in many ways:nappy, puffy, bad, kinky, rough, tight, disobedient, tough and on and on.So, there was a dual sigh of relief when I got my first relaxer, one from my Mom and one from me.I think my Mom was relieved because she no longer had to deal with me fussing (well, trying to fuss…my Mom just didn’t play that) and crying during the weekly hair care process.Plus, she may have felt that it would be easier to maintain my hair in less time (e.g., put it in a cute ponytail and be done in two minutes).

I was just happy to have hair that was bouncing and behaving.It was nice to look in the mirror and see a pretty head of thick hair shining back at me.I loved to shake my head from side to side and watch the hair fly back and forth. I loved the way that my hair bounced up and down when I jumped rope. I loved the way that it felt when I rubbed my hand from the crown of my head to the ends of my hair, smooth like silk.I loved the way that one ponytail holder could contain all of my hair, so that it looked neat and glossy.An attempt at that when my hair was in its natural state would inevitably lead to a snapped ponytail holder and/or a puffy, messy looking little ball.Even worse was when I struggled and finally got one decent puff.Then, as the day went on and I sweated, I’d realize that the band was slowly losing its grip and my puff was getting smaller and smaller so that more of my hair was outside of the holder than in it.In other words, I looked like I had an afro with a little rubber band bean on the top.I loved that my Mother could wash, condition, blow dry and style my hair in less time than it used to take just to wash it and comb it out.Yes, I thought I had reached Nirvana.Little did I know about a new archenemy:new growth.

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