Whoopi Goldberg had a comedy sketch years ago in her one-woman show where she used to put a yellow pillowcase over the back of her head and pretend to be a little black girl pretending to have long, blonde hair. It was a moment that comedy lives for, making us laugh at ourselves but showing us the truth about the world at the same time. I always remembered feeling slightly uncomfortable watching or even laughing at that sketch.
Why? Because I was that little girl with the pillowcase.
I remember fantasizing about having flowing locks as a child. The list of my hair obsessions is as long as Santa’s Christmas list and it’s filled with white women who had insanely long, flowing locks. I wanted long, silky hair that would make men want to run their hands through my hair. Because little boys never wanted to touch my coarse, curly hair. They couldn’t get their fingers through it.
As a matter of fact, in junior high school, I had an experience that scarred me for decades: The Pencil Incident. Seventh grade. A young kid, Michael Allen, actually walked up to me before the start of Geography class and put a pencil in my hair, yelling, “Hey! It’s like a BUSH! The pencil won’t go through! WATCH!” And it was true: the pencil stayed, suspended in my curls. The class laughed. I threw the pencil on the ground and Mrs. Peterson started the class before I could retaliate.
And that, my friends, is where the Quest for Caucasian Hair became a decades-long quest for me. My mother finally relented and allowed me to get a relaxer and it was on from there. I tried going blonde, I tried different strengths and types of relaxers. I would mix hair color attempts with relaxers, only to singe, burn and hide the curls desperately trying to spring out underneath. The abuse, the pain, the BURNS I have placed upon myself are hideous to think about.
I went on to try extensions, weaving long, European-textured hair over my own in an attempt to get long, flowing locks. They looked amazing but as recently as the end of last year, I started to think about this exhausting, never-ending quest to get something I will never have. The constant worrying and processing to achieve this magazine standard of flowing, European textured hair is expensive, exhausting and it started to just strike me as just plain WRONG. One day, the answer came as I raked my hand through my hair and felt them: my own tiny curling roots starting to spring through. After all these years, my hair never gave up on me. And it was at that moment that the madness finally stopped.
And so, I have made the decision to go naturally curly. For many women, this announcement will seem useless, but for the millions of you out there trying to achieve a beauty standard that is not your own, you will understand the significance of what I’m doing. Years of relaxers and heat and abuse will now be over. The process to let my own strong, natural curls be what they are has begun.
The miracle that solidified this decision? My phone call to the fine people of Devachan Salon here in New York City, a salon that specializes in the art of caring for curls. Founder Lorraine Massey put her hands into the roots underneath the burned, relaxed remains of my hair, felt the curls coming through and said something I’ve wanted to hear since The Pencil Incident: “Your natural curls are so, so pretty. Please just be patient and let them grow.” And so, with their help and the assistance of the Carol’s Daughter Transitional Movement, I will do just that.
For me, the decision is very scary but extremely exhilarating. I haven’t seen my natural curl pattern since I was 12 years old. The journey back to that incredible head of springing curls will be a tough one, especially since I’ve made the decision to do The Big Chop this summer (with world-renowned stylist Lorraine Massey evidently wielding the scissors,) which is to cut off all the hair that’s processed and damaged. But I can do it.
Because for the first time, I refuse to let anyone else define me. I am my own standard of beauty. I am a Black woman. I am a curly girl. I am healthy and happy. I have decided that these are among the many things that make me what I have always wanted: to be beautiful in my own eyes.
I also did this because I can’t tell you that life is short and that you should live well if I don’t follow my own advice. Life is too short to be a slave to your looks. Free yourself. Stop hurting and abusing yourself. Accept and love who you are.
I have a friend who just told me that her daughter is going down the path that many of us have traveled, where she want to look like the girls who get all the attention from the boys who are – quel surprise – reflecting the media’s standard of beauty. I weep for this little girl and will do whatever I can to help, because I would love to stop every little girl from going through the years of anguish I just endured.
If I could tell every little girl this story, I would end with this one note, buoyed on my rediscovered happiness and love of myself: the boys who you WANT to want to be around you are the ones who are in love with you because you are in love with yourself. They will be endlessly fascinated with you because YOU are fascinating.
Never want to be anyone other than who you are.
You are worthy. You are divine.
YOU, like me, are beautiful…just the way you are.