"Your hair is beautiful," I told her. Yet, I knew my wild child. She plays hard and runs free. I myself had forgone many adventures to avoid ruining my hairstyle, and I hated that her hair was sometimes a barrier to the freedom that is synonymous with childhood. "Maybe when you're older," I said.
But I also wanted her to love her hair. My heart ached when she received numerous compliments when her hair had been straightened, very few when her hair was styled in twists and practically none when her twists were undone and her hair free. People even made negative comments about both of my daughters' hair in their presence.
And I'm embarrassed to say that I've likely sent the message that I perceived our hair to be unmanageable rather than unquestionably beautiful. I've thought about what I was teaching them when I'd groan over a Saturday morning spent washing and combing hair or passed on a family beach trip simply to avoid frizz.
Each time I returned my hair to its natural state, it felt like I had sped up the clock to midnight and brought my own real-life fairy tale to an end.
I remember what it felt like as a little girl to finally see my
hair move, to see it fall past my shoulders and blow
in the breeze for the first time. So this was it, I thought. I no longer
had to stand in front of the mirror, hair dripping wet, stretching out my
tightly coiled curls and imagining what I would look like with long straight hair—hair like the women on TV or in magazines, hair like my friends.
As I grew older I began to relish in the compliments my
straightened hair garnered, which were vastly different from what I was told when
my hair was in its natural state. Like so many little girls
who are taught a more superficial meaning of beauty, all I wanted
was to be pretty. The more I resembled those around me
and received positive feedback, the more I believed that this was the state
in which I truly looked and felt beautiful.
For so long the world—family, friends, men I dated, even strangers—told me I was beautiful, but they only told me when my hair was straight. And I believed them. Assuming I was destined for a life of standing hair appointments, I continued to endure the lengthy, sometimes tedious process of having my hair go from curly to straight.
My beautician and dear friend was my fairy godmother, working her magic on my curls. But each time I returned my hair to its natural state, it felt like I had sped up the clock to midnight and brought my own real-life fairy tale to an end.
My husband was one of those who complimented me on my straightened hair, but over time he became a proponent of me letting it be. Handsome and
bald—therefore, indirectly aware of the struggle—he regularly comments
on our daughters' hair. He tells our littlest that he loves her and her
afro. He looks at our oldest and tells her she's beautiful and her
hair is awesome. And she smiles. She always smiles.
He tells each of us how beautiful his girls are. Even me, hair pulled
back in a frizzy bun. Even me, the woman I am now—not the one he dated who
regularly sat in a chair at the salon.
"Beauty is a state of mind," he tells me.
Our heads should be held high no matter what state our hair is in.
Not long ago I went to see a stylist who doesn't straighten her clients' curls, instead she celebrates and styles them and teaches us to do the same. My eyes welled up at her declaration that my curls were beautiful.
With the exception of my husband, no one else has ever told me my natural hair was beautiful. Instead, I was often compared to family members that had less-coiled, "good hair." I had inherited my father's "coarse" locks, something that was deemed negative.
But my reality is different now. I've been taking a break from the hot comb and working on restyling my inside. I no longer view doing my children's hair as an obstacle that I must overcome. Rather, it is a gift. It's a chance to bond with my daughters, to sit with them, and for a few minutes or a few hours to talk, listen and reaffirm the message that I somehow missed growing up: Who they are at this very moment is beautiful and void of a need to be altered or changed, and our heads should be held high no matter what state our hair is in.
So I hold my littlest in my arms and run my fingers
through her tightly coiled curls. I sit with my oldest resting between my
knees, twisting her hair. I bury my face in the crowns of their heads,
inhaling their sweetness, declaring my love for them before
bed each night. I can't help but think about how blessed I am to be the
mama. And with that, I have an opportunity to change the way hair has
been viewed in our family for generations.
What better way to teach them to embrace their curls than to fall
in love with my own?
My girls love my hair. They told me that they think it's beautiful,
that I'm beautiful; they've sat and
held my coils in their fingertips staring in admiration. I'm not saying that I'll
never get my hair straightened again, but I know that true beauty, the kind that transcends trends and societal norms and lasts for generations, isn't found in the texture of our hair. It's found
within. My curls are just a bonus.