Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dispatches from Nappyville: The sensual pleasures of textured tresses

Right now, the back left side of my hair is strangely puffy, fuller than the rest of my head. The curls there are stretched out and winding this way and that. You may surprised to hear me say that I am NOT having a bad hair day. I am; however, in the throes of hand-in-nap disease.

From my own experience, and the stories of other women, I've learned that a curious thing often happens when a black woman "goes natural." First, she is curious, but a little fearful of what lies under all those years perming or weaving or wigging. The decision to stop relaxing can be far from...relaxing. How could it be when society reinforces the idea that if curly hair is a problem, kinky hair is an abomination? It is not beautiful or professional or presentable. Fashion models don't rock TWAs. The girl nextdoor never has dreads. CEOs don't sport twists or BAAs. That's what we're told, anyway. For years, she has headed to the salon at the first sign of a wave at her roots. Girl, I need a touch up! This shit is NAPPY! Now, she is expected to believe that the same thing she has sought to hide for decades is a good thing.

So, she watches her new growth and hopes that her nappy is not too nappy. There is even a hair-typing scale to obsess over. Please, please let me be more 3A than 4C. Perhaps she spends no small amount of time looking for lotions and potions that will create curls where there are only kinks and zigzags or to give the illusion of wet, shiny tendrils. This behavior--the symptom of a mind still fettered to misguided notions about race and beauty--hopefully does not last for long.

Freedom eventually does come. She learns to stop wishing her hair was other than it is. She learns that naps--whether loose and curly or tight and kinky--can be beautiful. She experiments and discovers that her thick 4a hair makes gorgeous, plump twists; or that her 4c tresses spring into a kick-ass afro; or that her 3a curls look elegant in an up-do. She learns to "do you" as they say. And it clicks that a beauty scale that preferences appearance based on how closely it conforms to that of the majority culture is as useless as it is biased.

And then she falls in love. I did.

Folks who think only straight and silky hair is worth a loving touch are missing something delightful. Running your hand over textured hair (With the owner's permission!) is addictive. I start at the back. First, my fingers usually find the smooth, neat curls at the nape of my neck. I pull them and they spring back into place. I wrap the strands around my fingers absentmindedly. My hands then crawl further up my head to the crown, where the texture is tighter and a little more coarse. I examine the differences in texture, touching the bumps and waves--smooth here, crinkly there. Before long I am separating my curls, pulling them apart where they have clumped together. And when that is done, when my loose hair is no longer a series of curls but a mass of brown cotton candy, I start wrapping the strands together into twists. Then I pull the twists out again. The result--usually a section of my hair is fluffier and puffier and less uniform than the rest, due to my stretching and stroking. It is relaxing and sensuous. Last night, while catching up on a season one disc of the Fox show Fringe, I discovered I had plaited my whole head.
I can't help it. Such is "young love." I adore the feel of my hair. I yearn to touch it. It is hard not to fondle it. And that is so much better than hating it.

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