How I was Taught that I Had “Bad Hair”

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.


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.”

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.


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.

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?


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.


E3 krista kahl
Photo Krista Kahl 

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

Share Button

Black Girl With Long Hair

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast.

  • 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


      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 up. What I’m saying is from what I’ve seen on THIS website, profanity is an anamolie and as an avid reader, I prefer for it to stay out of the articles. And if it gets to be too common for me, then I’ll find another one. That’s my choice and my opinion. ????

            Nothing derogatory towards Erickka- I’m very happy that she’s found herself through it all. It’s just a comment.

        • 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..


    • 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 family are ashamed of them.

    What is wrong with letting a child show their natural hair without all that crap on their hair. Why not let your little boy grow his hair and show his natural inherited texture proud.

    Many black parents are at the root of self-hatred and inferiority complexes.

    • 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 believe she was ugly because she lived in an “uglycentric”-dominated world, the issue for us is our hair (and really so much more). We are kinky/nappy/curly girls living in a straight-haired, eurocentric-dominated world, and “when one of these things is not like the other,” the one who’s different becomes the unlucky recipient of a whole lot of hateration.

    Having said that, I feel you my sista and I’ve learned to embrace my kinks and curls, and rock what the good Lord gave me. After all, if we don’t love and celebrate our hair, our beauty, and all that we are as black women, then who will?

    At the beginning of the day, the end of the day, and all throughout it, our hair is bold, fierce, and badd! For every other woman walking around on God’s green earth, her hair submits to gravity, but “our hair” DEFIES it! And God knew that the only woman on the planet who could rock our hair is THE. BLACK. WOMAN.


    • sadesia


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

      • Cami


        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


        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 character. This tomfoolery started during slavery and unfortunately, it is still very much alive and well today.

        Only as we lead by example and “each one reach one”, as you are lovingly doing with your cousins, can true effectual change happen.

        YEC – YES. WE. CAN.

    • Jenny


  • 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. I am the only women in my family that wears natural hair.

    • 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 drilled into me constantly! By the time I did get a perm at the age of 10, the damn thing burned my hair off my head! My hair was too fine and to delicate to handle it! I felt like I was never good enough to be loved and held up as anyone’s standard. Her story is my story! Constantly being told my press n’ curl was nothing more than a nappy afro every day made me feel ugly! At one point when the aunts had to chop my hair off due to constant damage, I cried when I had to endure vacation bible school with a Caesar cut at the age of 12. I look back at that point as my lowest moment in self hatred. It wasn’t until I left high school and essentially said, ‘Fuck this Shit!”( sorry for the cursing) My Cool aunt did my big chop and I haven’t looked back! I decided to let my hair dictate what it wanted to do. My other aunts talked about my nappy head, my little cousins laughed and pointed but I didn’t care. Now, those same “little cousins” both have locs, my Aunt who permed my head is practically bald and I am enjoying a head full of healthy hair!

    • “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 as well, has always looked at my natural hair (first locs, now fluffy fro) with disdain, but then was eating crow when my locs touched my hips. She looks at my scalp, seeming to grow healthy hair like lucious green grass, and wonders how I can have thriving nappy hair with the audacity not to relax it. Meanwhile she is bald and massaging Wild Groth Oil on her scalp 3x’s a week… It’s a shame. She is 73 and just never learned any other way. Now when she sees me massaging the same Wild Groth Oil through my hair and scalp she thinks their is hope for her. :-)

    • 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 heavy African features; light African features is better like, light brown skin, no nappy hair and a thinner European like nose….When I ask my mom: Why do you consider European or straight hair “good hair” and African hair “bad hair”, her only response is, “that’s just the way it is.” Of course, the real reason is that this idea was instilled in her as a child and Dominicans much like African Americans, have an entrenched inferior complex over possessing African features. Nappy hair is not bad hair. It is natural, regular, beautiful, normal hair like European, Asian or any other type of hair; we need to educate the future generations to think this way to bury racist ideologies that promote low self esteem and long term psychological effects.

  • Ashley

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

  • 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 as a kid children would ask to play with my hair and I (oblivious to the labor my mother endured to style it) always obliged. I would return home to an exasperated mother telling me “Your hair is ALL TANGLED! Now what am I going to do!?”

    Poor thing. She really didn’t know what to do with my hair! For a long time I was ashamed that I was different from the rest of my family members. I longed for their “water & oil” hair and would sometimes tell people that my hair was naturally curly (WHEN IT WAS NOT!). Ugh, a sad lie.

    Anyway. Long story short, I’m learning to ACCEPT my differences. Our differences are what make us beautiful and unique…we will never find true happiness until we are able to accept ourselves AS WE ARE! That means no more obsessing over weight loss, no more cosmetic alterations, and most importantly: NO MORE CHASING OTHER PEOPLE’S HAIR TEXTURES!!!

    Keep in mind that I am a work in progress, but I’m getting there. This article was an excellent reminder that I will never be happy chasing someone else’s truth!

    (sorry for the long response)

  • 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 pissed. But when she started with mine, she siad it was like braiding a freaking cloud. She said that the only problem with my hair is the length and everyone in my family agreed . Now that I am 15 and determined to grow my hair, my mom and aunt at first were like, like that will ever happened, but I cut off an inch of my hair in February 29 and 2 inches grew back and my hair is hella big but I started using a comb in mid July and that caused breakage so I stopped last week. Honestly good hair she be healthy hair not based on texture and I even watched the Tyra show yesterday on good hair and it made me really sad that all those beautiful girls had nice hair .

    • 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

    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 to do different regimes due to the type of hair. But this “Good hair, Bad hair” business just need to stop, because it’s just plain silly.