When I was just a little girl, I began to understand the negativity associated with the word “nappy.” I would hear six and seven year olds say, “He got some nappy hair,” or “Her hair is so nappy.” Not quite knowing what “nappy” meant, for special occasions only, my natural hair was straightened with intense heat using some kind of colored grease and a straightening comb in my momma’s or grandma’s kitchen. As a practical matter, my daily look was quite different-my thick natural hair was regularly shampooed and conditioned. Afterwards, my scalp was greased with Blue Magic Hair & Scalp Conditioner, then meticulously styled with a plastic wide-tooth comb. To finish the process, my clean, wet hair was brushed before styling it into parted, rubber banded, plaited sections and embellished with hair bows, ponytail twister balls, or barrettes. As far as my young mind could process, if your hair was “nappy,” it was uncombed, unruly, and definitely undesirable in the 1970’s. My hair was not “nappy.”
I was in junior high school and headed to high school by the time I had my first kiddy perm, but by then, I was clear about the meaning of “nappy” hair vs. “good” hair. “Nappy” hair in the 1980’s, took on a different meaning; it was a textural, touchy-feely, purely aesthetic thing. My first cousins, Len and Jackie who are sisters, had “good” hair. My hair was distinctly different from their textures, and because they both had different fathers, even their “good” hair varied in texture. Interestingly, our mothers are sisters who were birthed by the same mother and father, yet their hair textures were quite different. Back then, I remember thinking that my auntie, their mother, had hair like “white folks.” It was long, jet black, wavy, and clearly what I would define today as Type 3A hair. She hardly ever wore it “down” or in a style. My aunt’s pretty, Type 3 hair was always in a shiny bun, carefully pinned in the back of her head. My mother, on the other hand, had a very different type of hair. She wore a lot of long wigs when I was a child. In fact, I don’t ever recall seeing her natural hair. I’ll talk more directly about hair types later, but as I reflect on those early years, it was around that time that I first understood that I just might have “nappy” hair.
My cousin Len’s hair was very similar to her mother’s, still in the Type 3 family. Her sister, Jackie, with Type 4A hair, had hair that was more similar to my own hair texture, Type 4B, but in my mind, Jackie’s hair was still “good” hair. I suspect I always thought that because their momma had “good” hair, they couldn’t help but to have “good” hair, too. I don’t really remember harboring any negative feelings about my hair as a child, nor do I recall being envious of my cousins’ hair when we were all children. The styling process was identical, no matter the texture. As small children, we sat on the floor, on a pillow adjusted comfortably between the knees of a female family member, to get our “hair done.” Whether or not our hair was “good” or “nappy,” it was always neatly combed and styled.
When did things change? When does hair become an obsession for girl children? In middle school, hair becomes more important to ‘tweens and teens. By the time high school is a certainty, physical appearance, in general, along with a hyper-preoccupation with looks, personal hygiene, body image, and clothing can be all-consuming. For a young girl, the desire to wear her hair “down” is a right of passage-the daily plaits, braids, or ponytails take a back seat to a more mature look. Eventually, parents yield just a bit; they allow make up and more fitted clothing complete the look.
During my career as an educator, I’ve seen the devastating effect that a bad hair day causes for the psyche of a young girl, especially if the texture of her hair is the subject of ridicule or made her the target of “checking” which inevitably leads to those dreaded four words, “…with yo’ nappy head!” Nothing, I mean nothing, seems quite as harsh to a young woman who is still grappling with her own sense of self worth than to be verbally attacked by someone who, more times than not, looks like herself. Those four harsh words, unfortunately, can become the sum total of her being. If she is not hearing consistent positive messages about her appearance from those she loves, this fact may negatively impact her self-esteem and relationships with others in the future.
The unwanted nomenclature of being “nappy-headed” conjures up images of unruly, kinky, coily, hell…nappy hair. But from where does this stigma come? What’s wrong with nappy hair? Why is nappy hair undesirable? I suspect its vestiges are deeply rooted in slavery and the rape culture that bred black and white offspring. When I was growing up, if you had “good” hair, you must have had “Indian in your family.” A quick Google search of “Indian in your family” reveals Luster’s S Curl Regular Texturizer for Natural Looking Wave & Curl Styles in Minutes. Funny to me! Clearly, in order to possess desirable, silky, wavy, or naturally “springy” curly hair, you could not be 100% black; your genetic make-up had to include a race or culture that made you, your momma, or your grandmomma the product of a mixed-race encounter somewhere along the branches of the family tree.
Not until recently did I really care about my own hair type. The care of my natural hair made me want to understand more deeply how varied hair types require a very different hair care regimen. Do you know your hair type? This article is comprehensive and helpful when it comes to figuring out your own hair type: http://www.black-women-beauty-central.com/black-hair-types.html. You’ll see images, descriptors of curl patterns, and suggestions on how to best care for your hair type as determined by Oprah Winfrey’s famed stylist, Andre Walker. In his book, Andre Talks Hair, Walker discusses the fact that there is no such thing as bad hair and teaches you how to care for and love the hair you have.
Here are some other images to consider for the majority of black women who have Type 3 or Type 4 hair:
Type 3A Curly Hair-Image Courtesy of Naturallycurly.com
Type 3B Curly Hair-Image Courtesy of Naturallycurly.com
Type 3C Curly Hair-Image Courtesy of Naturallycurly.com
Type 4A Curly Hair-Image Courtesy of Naturallycurly.com
Type 4B Curly Hair-Image Courtesy of Naturallycurly.com
Type 4C Curly Hair-Image Courtesy of Naturallycurly.com
In 2016, black hair is still as controversial as it always has been. In our community, folks continue to reference “good” hair and its desirability. I’ve even heard stories of black women purposefully breeding with men of other ethnicities for the sole purpose of ensuring a baby with “good” hair. As ridiculous as that sounds, there is a large segment of our community who thinks this way, and it underscores the unfortunate reality and level of self-hatred in our community. Call it what you like.
If you have ANY hair, I suspect it’s good; just ask anyone, of any ethnicity, who has lost their hair to chronic illness, genetic thinning or balding, unexpected physical or emotional trauma, or unsuccessful chemical hair treatments. In my opinion, the love of your hair is inextricably tied to self-love; you cannot profess to love yourself fully without loving every inch of yourself, even the Type 4 hair that may grow from your scalp. With the resurgence of natural hair as a conscientious choice of beauty personified, I am so proud of the young sisters I see in the hallways of my school building, proudly wearing their curly mega ‘fros, hair beautifully coifed in intricate patterned braids, colorful hair clips and blingy head bands adorning frizzy, nappy, curly hair, and confidently rocking that teeny weeny Afro…with a smile, heads held high because they know, even at that age, that what they have on the inside is what really matters. Nappy and proud…
However, it took me many years, some time during my mid-20’s, to understand that ALL hair really IS “good” hair, no matter the hair type. When it comes to “nappy” hair and the images associated with deeply coiled, kinky, curly hair, we must be careful how we message self-love, especially to our children. Make it your personal goal to look into the eyes of little black girls, tell them how smart and beautiful they are, and it won’t hurt one bit to add to your loving declaration (withOUT touching it), “I love your hair!” That little girl with the Type 4 hair needs the same inner and outer beauty reassurance that the one with the Type 3 hair gets with ease. After all, India Arie expressed it best in the chorus of “I Am Not My Hair,”
I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am not your expectations no no
I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am a soul that lives within.