“You Need To Comb That Mess”: Why I Don’t Care What My Mother Thinks of My Natural Hair Anymore

August 21, 2012  |  

“You know better than to be walking around with your head lookin’ like that.”

“Why do you want your hair to look all wild and wooly like that?”

 “You can’t go up there with them White folks lookin’ like that.”

“You need to comb that mess.”

“Why don’t you straighten it and part in on the side and tuck it under?”

Nice little drive-by of insults, huh? Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, right?

This is what I came home to on summer breaks from college. Back then, I was a cowardly little thing, so, to avoid the ridicule I would either pull my afro back into a tight neat bun or just give the fight all the way up and straighten my hair until I got back to my safe haven of self-expression: college.

The comments didn’t bother me as much as the fact that this outright dislike for my natural hair was coming from the mother who expressly forbade my sister and me to get relaxers in our adolescence. Now, in my adult years, they were scolding my exploration of my God-given, naturally-grown kinks. Er? My mother had a huge afro in her twenties! Either way, my full head of curly hair wasn’t something she wanted to see out and about.

Let me back up to the 6th grade. I hated my hair. My mother kept my hair blown out in three or four braids and she stood by her decision to keep my hair chemical-free, citing complete baldness as a sure thing if I got a relaxer at that age. To an 11-year-old who is getting bullied every day by the other little black girls – all of whom HAVE relaxers – those lectures went in one ear and right out the other. I cried. A lot. I changed my hair at the bus stop. I developed a detrimentally frequent relationship with handfuls of thick, slick grease and any form of intense direct heat I could get my hands on: an old school, set-it-on-the-stove-till-it-smokes hot comb; a rusted, gold curling iron that left more burn marks on my ears and neck than it straightened my hair; a blow dryer with the standard fine-toothed comb attachment that when raked through my thick kinks, murdered my scalp, but left my hair LAID. At least until I’d sweat or take a bath. Then those little curly Qs would pop up all over in a frizzy mess. At one point with angry and frustrated tears in both eyes, I grabbed a severely rusted pair of industrial-sized seamstress’s scissors, sat behind the couch and cut off my wildly frizzy bangs, right down to the scalp. My mom freaked, but still no relaxer.

Granted, I know the ‘no-relaxers’ policy saved my hair and maybe it was easier for my mother to fire up a hot comb or plug in a blow dryer, but what was I learning in that process? Though she didn’t believe in putting a relaxer in my head, she felt that straight hair was and is the “right” way to wear my hair. I took this standard and internalized it. Yes, I was told by my mother that I had ‘good hair,’ but if my hair was ‘good’ then why wasn’t a pony puff or full ‘fro ever acceptable? Without realizing it, for years I believed that my freshly washed frizzy curls were “nappy,” ugly and in need of manipulation. Not because my mom TOLD me they were but because she SHOWED me they were by praising the “straighter” versions of my hair and shunning the curlier. Straighten it, part it on the side and curl it under. THAT’S the ticket.

In the end, I was more comfortable in my natural hair at college than at home. I didn’t want to fight my hair anymore. I wanted to embrace it. I wanted to make it work–and I did. My ‘fro became my trademark so much so that my friends and the PROVOST OF THE UNIVERSITY called me “Puff Puff.” It was hilarious back then, but it speaks volumes now. Something I had feared and deemed ugly – others loved and embraced. The old slavery time stigma of ‘good’ hair versus ‘bad’ hair had reached into my family and I never even recognized its grasp until now. Just a few weeks ago my sister, mother and cousin made me relax their hair. I might have been less reluctant to do it if I was certain that they had no complex about their own hair and that they just didn’t have the time to dedicate to natural hair care, but each of them sees their natural hair as ugly in some sense. That saddens me, but I’ve accepted that not everything is for everybody. Straight hair is no longer my standard of beauty. Well-maintained hair is, no matter what that looks like. I see the beauty now in what my hair naturally is. However, I’m careful not force my new views of black hair on my family. All I can do is what fits me.

The straight, “side part under” may have been the safe thing to do back in the day, but today is a new day and I am bold. I’m redefining ‘beautiful,’ ‘acceptable,’ and ‘correct,’ for myself. Does my mother like it? Not always. Every now and then she’ll tell me to “Do something with that mess,” and I shrug it off. I’ll keep my twist outs. I got a taste of freedom and I’m not going back. No shade to the faithful creamy crack users – do you. But for me? I had to lose the hold my family’s warped perception of black hair had on me and interpret my hair and my image for myself. The feeling is unparalleled and so is the growth – both internally and atop my head.

La Truly is a Natural-haired, late-blooming Aries with lots to say. Her writing is powered by a lifetime of anecdotal proof that awkward can transform to awesome and fear can cast its crown before courage. Armed with the ability to purposefully poke fun at herself La seeks to encourage thought, discussion and positive change. Check out her thoughts/jokes/rants on Twitter: @AshleyLaTruly and her young women’s empowerment blog: http://www.hersoulinc.com.

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