By Erick­ka Sy Savané of Bitch­es Brew Blog

N. A. P. P. Y.” said my grand­moth­er to her friend, as she strug­gled to get a comb through my hair.

The wom­an, who like my grand­moth­er was so light that she could almost pass for white, chuck­led and nod­ded in agree­ment.

photo (11)c

Sens­ing that some­thing was fishy, six-year-old me spelled the let­ters back.

N. A. P. P. Y. Wait a min­ute! She just called my hair nap­py!

And that is how I dis­cov­ered I had “BAD” HAIR.

erickka (1)c

I couldn’t wait to tell my moth­er who tried her best to assure me that my hair wasn’t that bad, and not to wor­ry because in a cou­ple of years we would relax it.

I wait­ed on that relax­er like kids wait for Christ­mas. When the day final­ly came at ten years old life changed overnight. Free of naps, I felt beau­ti­ful, alive, ready for the world!

How­ev­er, a few weeks lat­er I real­ized that one relax­er did not a whole life make. I would have to get it done again, and again, and again, when­ev­er my new growth would come in. New growth being a fan­cy way of say­ing, my nap­py ass edges! Man how I HATED those edges.

The first time I knew they were dif­fer­ent was when I was hang­ing with my cousins who had beau­ti­ful edges or ‘baby hair’ as it was called, when they told me all they used was Crisco grease to get them to look so pret­ty I ran home like my ass was on fire! But man, I must have used half a can of grease with no result. It wasn’t until lat­er that I found out that they had “good” hair, of course. Their Dad had Indi­an in him and, well, you know the rest…

photo (11)c2

By high school I start­ed doing my own relax­ers and decid­ed it was time to final­ly deal with those edges, if I could just get them to chill… so I relaxed them three times in one week. Now once every 5–6 weeks was the rule, so this was akin to MURDER, which is exact­ly what hap­pened. Instead of beau­ti­ful­ly straight edges they became over processed and I was left with a patch of burned up weeds.

Damn

So I took a razor and shaved them to the mid­dle of my head and every­thing was fine.

Until a few days lat­er when that nap­py hair start­ed grow­ing back and I was faced with anoth­er prob­lem: INGROWN HAIRS! Ahh­h­h­h­h­h­h­hh!!!!!! I had no choice but to keep shav­ing them, and walked around for months like an old man with a bumpy reced­ing hair­line.

Final­ly, the most pop­u­lar girl at school sat me down for a heart-to-heart. “Hey, can I talk to you for a min­ute?”

She was a senior, I was a fresh­man, and wouldn’t you know she had good hair! The best in the whole school! Whites, Blacks and Mex­i­cans want­ed her beau­ti­ful, long, wavy, hair. I was in shock that she even knew me, though we played on the same bas­ket­ball and vol­ley­ball team.

Uh, yea, what’s up?”

What did you do to your edges?”
(A beat)
WTF was I sup­posed to say? The truth? Hells no!
“Uh, I was try­ing a new look.”
“Well, I think you should grow them back. It doesn’t look good.”
“Ok.”

I grew them back imme­di­ate­ly.

So life moved on and so did I. After high school I start­ed mod­el­ing and kept rock­ing a relax­er. By then I’d sor­ta made peace with my edges and the only time I had any real issues was when I was work­ing and white hair styl­ists would try to get cre­ative: “Will it go curly?” No. “Can I wet it?” No. “Can I put this car wax on it?” No, No, and more No.

Until one day, I was due for anoth­er relax­er and couldn’t bring myself to do it. My hair was scream­ing for a break that it hadn’t seen since I was a kid. So I called Der­rick, a hair­dresser that I met on a job, and we start­ed two strand twists that would even­tu­al­ly lock into my own hair.

Whoaaa…

The lib­er­a­tion I felt was imme­di­ate! With my edges locked up I felt free. I was unstop­pable.

carthart bw c2
Pho­to: Carhart

Sure enough, I booked three nation­al com­mer­cials that year, includ­ing one for Pan­tene and GAP, where I got to shake my hair like the good haired girls!

But as great as it was, after some years I longed to comb my hair again, to brush it, to feel it. It was time to unlock, but damn, those edges.

Hav­ing tast­ed free­dom, there was no way I was going back to a relax­er. Soooo I cut my locks and went au naturel, a look that would allow me to make the edges irrel­e­vant and still work in the com­mer­cial TV realm.

Or so I thought

What I hadn’t antic­i­pat­ed was the change of tide and the emer­gence of the super good haired girl. I’m talk­ing pro­fes­sion­al good hair, not your high school prom queen. The­se girls didn’t mod­el because they were beau­ti­ful and hap­pened to have good hair, they mod­eled because they had good hair. Walk into an audi­tion room and good hair was com­ing out of the walls! It had me up late nights twist­ing, gelling, con­di­tion­ing, doing what­ev­er I could to if not beat it, at least imi­tate it. But no mat­ter how hard I tried, I’d go to a cast­ing and see all that curly, wavy, boun­cy, lux­u­ri­ous, silky, long, larg­er-than-life hair. And my heart would sink. I felt like an imposter try­ing to sneak in some­where that I didn’t belong.

ebony magazine july issue
Pho­to: Ebony Mag­a­zine

I was drown­ing.

Work declined and so did my bank account.

Erickka-Sy-Savane
Pho­to: Daniel Dis­cala

Now, now, we had a prob­lem.

But like an addict, I knew I couldn’t han­dle it on my own, bad hair was con­trol­ling my life.

So I did some­thing that I should have done a long time ago, called for help.

Sidra was first because, well, she’s bald, so there had to be a sto­ry. Did she shave her head to escape bad hair? She explained that she cut her hair because she’d been wear­ing hair exten­sions of every kind for so long that she no longer knew who she was. Shav­ing her head was a way to rein­tro­duce her­self to her­self. That was twelve years ago and she couldn’t be hap­pier. When it comes to bad hair she says that she nev­er bought into it because she believes there’s noth­ing stronger and sex­ier than a black wom­an with nap­py hair. Hmm. If naps are so sexy, why didn’t she keep them?

Collage

Sidra Smith, Pro­duc­er of ‘Free Ange­la & All Polit­i­cal Pris­on­ers (Sidra’s iden­ti­cal twin sis­ter on the right, Actress Tasha Smith)

Next I called Debi, a relax­er girl. Was she run­ning from bad hair? Debi said that her hair’s not relaxed and she gets it straight­ened at the salon every few weeks because it’s eas­ier than wear­ing it nat­u­ral. When it comes to good and bad hair she says she nev­er enter­tained the con­ver­sa­tion because in her mind black hair is black hair. A black girl who didn’t grow up obsess­ing over hair tex­ture? Humph.

It was time to speak to Ta-ning, a bestie I’ve known for six years and nev­er seen with­out a wig. She HAD to be hid­ing bad hair. Ta-ning shared that grow­ing up her mom wore a dif­fer­ent wig every­day so she sees wigs as acces­sories. In fact, she and her mom have zil­lions. And, yes, she does have nap­py hair, but she’s nev­er been ashamed of it because with light skin and green eyes she could always count on her nap­py hair to let peo­ple know that she’s black. Nap­py and hap­py?! Was it pos­si­ble? But I was inclined to believe her because her mom looks white and has real­ly good hair, so she nev­er had a rea­son to hide it under a wig. May­be they real­ly do love wigs!

I hon­est­ly don’t know what I was look­ing for next, but I knew I had to talk to a good haired girl because so far noth­ing was as it seemed. I got in touch with Blakelee, a light-skinned South­ern belle who I was con­vinced grew up priv­i­leged. Fun­ny enough, Blakelee said that the only time her hair tex­ture was dis­cussed was when she went to black salons and hair­dressers would make com­ments. In her fam­i­ly, every­one had curly hair so it wasn’t a big deal. But she had to know that peo­ple viewed her dif­fer­ent­ly? At school, kids would some­times tease her about being half-white (which she’s not) but that was about it. Today, she’s try­ing not to con­tin­ue straight­en­ing her hair because she wants to bring back her nat­u­ral curl. The bone-straight look, she feels, doesn’t cap­ture her feisty per­son­al­i­ty. So the good haired girl is try­ing to bring back some kink because she wants some edge?!

This was CRAZY.

E1 krista kahl
Pho­to: Kris­ta Kahl

My whole life had revolved around the belief that my nap­py hair some­how made me infe­ri­or.

It was some­thing not only enforced by my grand­moth­er, but count­less peo­ple that I’d met along the way who seemed to share a dis­dain for nap­py hair. One friend even told me to pick the right mate so that my kids wouldn’t have “car­pet-tex­tured hair…”

This infe­ri­or­i­ty com­plex is some­thing that I had accept­ed as my lot in life so to hear that it could have been dif­fer­ent- that like Dorothy in the Wiz­ard of Oz, good hair was mine all along- left me feel­ing sad, real­ly sad.

E 4

Man, what I could have done with my life.

Like Bran­do, “I could have been a con­tender, I could have been some­body.”

But the fight was not over. And I could see clear­ly what I need­ed to do.

The mul­ti-gen­er­a­tional inher­i­tance of the Good and Bad Hair obses­sion would stop with me.

Peri­od.

E3 krista kahl
Pho­to Kris­ta Kahl 

*Find Erick­ka Sy Savane’s Blog, Bitch­es BrewFace­book & Twit­ter

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop cul­ture and black beau­ty enthu­si­ast. bell hooks’ hair twin…

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64 Comments on "How I was Taught that I Had “Bad Hair”"

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Sunny

You are gor­geous and so is your hair. But the “good hair” and “bad hair” sounds so igno­rant. “Good” only means closer to white, which in the US means the slave mas­ter assert­ed his priv­i­lege in ways our fore­moth­ers were pow­er­less to pre­vent. So do I con­sid­er my hair tex­ture some badge of supe­ri­or­i­ty? Hell no. I call it what it is: plan­ta­tion hair. And do we real­ize that “bad” means black? Please let’s stop the mad­ness.

lonnie

Sun­ny

I think the writer was using ‘good’ and ‘bad’ hair to illus­trate the point and the igno­rance of using those words and the men­tal­ly that is engrained in so many of us sur­round­ing its use. I don’t think she believes it.
I don’t know, I think the per­son who is capa­ble of writ­ing such a beau­ti­ful, well-thought out piece is way smarter than that.

Krista

Neat sto­ry. Next time, can we remove the curs­ing?

Likewaterforchocolat

Why? This is some­one else’s tes­ta­ment to their strug­gle with their hair. It’s THEIR story.I actu­al­ly had to go back and read it because until I read your com­ment, I didn’t notice any curs­ing. I was so cap­tured by the actu­al con­tent of this arti­cle.

Krista

It may be her sto­ry and she can express her­self, but the point can be lost if oth­ers are put off by your use of lan­guage.

Likewaterforchocolat

She “can express her­self?” It’s good that she gets your per­mis­sion. I think I feel this way because this arti­cle talks about one thing be “accept­able” vs. some­thing not being accept­able as deter­mined by the appro­pri­ate police and the things that are deemed unac­cept­able should be changed for the pre­sum­ably better.Why should she dilute her words for “oth­ers”? In read­ing her arti­cle, it seems that she has done enough chang­ing to suit oth­ers. If there are peo­ple who are “put off” by her use of lan­guage, per­haps the sto­ry is meant for them and they should move along.

Michaela

I don’t think she is try­ing to be offen­sive or any­thing by not lik­ing curs­ing. Some peo­ple view things dif­fer­ent­ly. Some peo­ple prefer curs­ing and some are offend­ed by it. Its not that deep.

Krista
Per­haps you should sep­a­rate your emo­tions from the sit­u­a­tion and stop being so defen­sive. Per­haps you too were once told you had bad hair and that’s why it res­onates so deeply with you. The curs­ing and her sto­ry are TWO dif­fer­ent things. That might reach you, but it doesn’t reach me. We are all grown and should be pro­fes­sion­als at some point. There are clev­er and wit­ty ways to broad­cast your per­son­al­i­ty and sto­ry to the world WITHOUT using pro­fan­i­ty. She can do that all she wants on HER web­site and if that’s your cup of tea, then hit her… Read more »
Nappychique

I don’t see any curse words…B…F…the arti­cle is her voice, not any­one else’s. write your own sto­ry and stop try­ing to san­i­tize another’s to suit your tastes. who is put off will be put off. tell the truth girl!

Clarissa Evans

Then go watch sesame street, the rest of us will con­tin­ue to live in the real world. –_- Hon­est­ly, she’s a grown-ass wom­an she can use what­ev­er lan­guage she choos­es. If that’s all you took away from the arti­cle any­way, you read it wrong!

Go to Sleep..

Agreed!

Go to Sleep..

Grow up. What dif­fer­ence does it make if the cuss­es are in a sto­ry or on the street. Go to sleep..

Krista

You can refer to the above com­ment to like­wa­ter­for­choco­lat as well. :-)

Nappychique

go read some­thing else…this isn’t about YOU. sounds like the green-eyed mon­ster has escaped and is rear­ing its ugly head…

MizzB

And you can refer to my ass..K thanks

Leslie

Wait…there was curs­ing? The great­ness of the sto­ry over­shad­owed it I guess…smh

Lana

I don’t know how to express how much I deeply love and am con­nect­ed to this sto­ry. I didn’t have the same expe­ri­ence but I felt all of the feel­ings of frus­tra­tion and inse­cu­ri­ty, we car­ry because of our BEAUTIFUL hair. Mad love and respect to Erick­ka for this sto­ry.

dicey
I often see female chil­dren are made to wear too many ornaments.This obses­sive use of orna­ments appears to be used on lit­tle girls with 4 c tex­ture. Their moth­ers are con­scious­ly and sub­con­scious­ly ashamed of their daugh­ters pure phe­no­types, that they sat­u­rate it with dec­o­ra­tive orna­ments, so much that you may not even see their hair. With male chil­dren they make them shave off the hair if it is 4c. I notice this is not done if the child has hair that is nat­u­ral­ly straighter or wavier. Small chil­dren are not stupid,they can sense or fig­ure out that par­ent and… Read more »
Ubah Luar

This is true i see it alot!
A bestie of mine with 3abc/4ab hair is so scared that her girls get 4c hair(her hub­by is 4c)
Now one daugh­ter has 3a her and the onther one more 4bc. She yells tucks the the girl wit the nap­pier tex­ture. Also se tend to be jeal­ous ad her sister’s daugh­ter who has 2a hair and com­pares her “4c daugh­ter” hair with her cousins “2c“hair. And says ‘eyah its bea­cuse there the same age…bla bla
Its so sad that i cant stang bing around her i real­ly dont.

eve-audrey

many black par­ents are at the root of self-hatred and infe­ri­or­i­ty com­plex­es”
you know what? if i could i’d like that com­ment a mil­lion times. i stat­ed the same on anoth­er top­ic and i’ve been accused of “show­cas­ing” a coon behav­ior. it’s nice to see that some­one shares that point of view

Cami
“My whole life had revolved around the belief that my nap­py hair some­how made me infe­ri­or. It was some­thing not only enforced by my grand­moth­er, but count­less peo­ple that I’d met along the way who seemed to share a dis­dain for nap­py hair. One friend even told me to pick the right mate so that my kids wouldn’t have “car­pet-tex­tured hair…” This right here! I loved your entire piece, but this part right here imme­di­ate­ly remind­ed me of that clas­sic Twi­light Zone epi, “Beau­ty Is in the Eye of the Behold­er” — only instead of a pret­ty wom­an being made to… Read more »
sadesia

@Cami

25,000 thumbs up!!!!!!!!!

Cami

@Sadesia

Thank you my sis­ta! Right back­atcha girl!

Ubah Luar

This reaa­ly brought tears to my eyes.…
I recent­ly had this dis­cu­sion with 2 cous­ings of mine.11 and 15. They are light skinned type 4 hair and they hate their skin and hair. There i was show­ing Ypoutube vids of ‘Pic­ture me nat­u­ral’ ‘XGoldn/Ambrosia’etc.. tho let them see beau­ty Where i come from, even in 2013 wom­en are defined by their hair texture…everything thats type 4 is con­sid­ered bad.….Such a shame
Your ‘Twi­light zone’ expla­na­tion is so on point.

Bless­ings Ubah

Cami
@Ubah My heart goes out to you my sis­ta and your dear cousins. God bless you for try­ing to make a dif­fer­ence in their young lives and for being proac­tive in show­ing them that true beau­ty extends far beyond the 24–7 lie being per­pet­u­at­ed and shoved down our throats by the media. And you know what Ubah? You are absolute­ly right, it is a cry­ing shame that even in this day and age, we as black wom­en are defined by our hair, our skin col­or, our appear­ance, and even our place in the world, rather than the con­tent of our… Read more »
Jenny

PREACH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

cici
I have 4a hair and i feel the same way. Now that i wear my hair curly my moth­er does not sup­port me. When i wear twist or a wash and go she tells me to comb my hair. Even­though to me it is combed. She wants me to flat iron it but i do not want heat on my hair since its thin and fine. She makes fun of me look­ing at the inter­net for hair care she thinks its wrong she wants me to straight­en my hair. But i love wear­ing my hair in its god given state.… Read more »
Alicia Haan

@ CiCi, Con­tin­ue to wear your hair proud­ly!! You will inspire some­one else in the fam­i­ly at some point. Don’t let your mother’s issues destroy your lib­er­a­tion :)

stephanieb

I hear ya Cici, my mom is the same way and can’t stand for me to wear my 4b/c hair out unless it’s either flat ironed, per­med, or cov­ered over with a wig. It can be hard deal­ing with fam­i­ly regard­ing the very hair on your head, but I say hold your head up high and know that you are won­der­ful­ly made, regard­less of how you wear your hair :)

Dabney
I read this blog when it was on Urban Bush Babes. It hit me in the gut then as it does now. Though, I am just, as I call myself, a reg­u­lar ole black girl, nor light nor dark, with “reg­u­lar” hair, I remem­ber feel­ing the stig­ma of not hav­ing shoul­der length hair or extra­or­di­nary pow­ers. My Cous­in, who is a love­ly shade of Her­shey Choco­late, did have hair that reached extra­or­di­nary lengths was the mea­sur­ing stick which my hair was con­stant­ly com­pared. By the time I was able to go to ele­men­tary school the mes­sage of unac­cept­able hair was… Read more »
RukiyatG
“my aunt who per­med my hair is prac­ti­cal­ly bald and I am enjoy­ing a head full of healthy hair!” Girl, tell it! It amazes me that the hair prac­tices of wom­en in our fam­i­lies, as unhealthy as they may be, are not dis­cov­ered to be so until it’s too late. On one hand you may want to gloat over your aunt for her mis­for­tune, but on the oth­er hand you have to be empa­thet­ic to her plight and see that she was a vic­tim of the ‘black hair care lie’. My grand­moth­er espe­cial­ly, but a few oth­ers in my fam­i­ly… Read more »
William Sanchez
Hey Dab­ney! Good for you! Yes, the idea of “nap­py hair” or hair with African fea­tures being bad hair is racist ide­ol­o­gy that has still not exit­ed our soci­ety and will take more time and edu­ca­tion to do so. I am a Domini­can-Amer­i­can male and have noticed this form of racism present in His­pan­ic cul­ture as well. My mom is obsessed with the idea of my future mar­riage mate being a wom­an who is just as light as me or lighter and with hair that is not “nap­py”. In oth­er words, I should stay away from wom­en that have too… Read more »
Ashley

I enjoyed read­ing this arti­cle. I remem­ber see­ing her in some mag­a­zi­nes.

Maria V.
Beau­ti­ful. Skin tone has nev­er been an issue in my fam­i­ly, but hair tex­ture has always been one of those things that seemed to deter­mine one’s beau­ty. My moth­er, the dark­est wom­an I know, has always had “good” hair almost down to her elbows. Her curly/wavy hair eas­i­ly takes to heat, brush­es smooth with just a lit­tle water, and can grow with lit­tle to no effort.  My hair, on the oth­er hand, has always been a source of curios­i­ty because no one else has a sim­i­lar tex­ture. It grows thick and fluffy and it has no curl pat­tern. I remem­ber… Read more »
Kay
Since I was a baby, every­one thought I had good hair. My hair was soft and easy to braid, and I could comb through it with­out it hurt­ing. All my cousins were envi­ous and my aunt loved braid­ing my hair. The only excep­tion was that it always stayed at neck length. There was even this one time when I went to Nigeria(my coun­try, I live in NYC) they sent this Fulani lady (I am half Fulani half Hausa) to braid my hair. She just fin­ished braid­ing my cousins hair and since her hair was very coarse, the lady was real­ly… Read more »
Kay

and they all thought nap­py hair was the worst type of hair. And hon­est­ly now when­ev­er some­one says any­thing about Afro Hair I go bat shit crazy and say it is amaz­ing because of its uniqueness.I always loved my hair but the nat­u­ral hair com­mu­ni­ty made me real­ize that all hair is good not just soft hair or mixed chicks hair.

Missy Julien-Thelemarque
Missy Julien-Thelemarque
All I hear my whole life was, she got that good hair. My hair would be in exten­sion and I still have to hear the “good hair” com­ment. Once I asked a lady how she knew I had “good hair if I have exten­sions?” She replied, “I can tell by you baby hairs on The side.” I just shrugged it off and walked away. I nev­er bought into the “good hair, bad hair” stu­pid­i­ty. I always thought If God made hair how can it be bad? If HAIR is healthy, its good hair. Every­one has dif­fer­ent tex­tures and might need… Read more »
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