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More Than Hair: How a Mom’s Blowout Affected Her Daughter

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This piece is a cross-publication series with our former Politrix columnist Kenrya Rankin Nassel. Last year, she gave birth to our first Parlour baby, nicknamed Babygirl, and recently decided to chronicle her mommy tricks and lessons on her blog called Black + Green Mama. My sister said I should have mommy things on Parlour long ago, so here you go sis. Enjoy! 

I wear my hair in an Afro. Not one of the teeny weeny variety, although of course it started out that way. I’m talking about a great, big, get-stuff-lost-in-it Afro. I always had a vague idea that I’d “go natural” one day, but I went through a lot of other phases before reaching this one in July 2009, when I finally got the courage to stop relaxing my hair. My mother first processed it when I was about eight, which left me without a clue as to my natural texture. In fact, I was secretly afraid of it, not just in the way we tend to fear the unknown, but in the ways no Black woman wants to admit: I was worried it would be too nappy to manage, too subversive to make me attractive, too Black for me (and others) to handle.

I hated having those fears. After digging them out of my darkest corners and turning them over and over in my hands, I discovered the cracks, the imperfections, spidering out from an initial blow that was dealt when I was young, one that told me what grew out of my head was inferior and needed to be changed.

So I set about destroying them, exposing them to reason and love. The reality was, no matter what my hair looked like after I cut off the relaxed stuff, it couldn’t make me feel any worse than I did each time I hopped into the chair to have a chemical applied that helped me conform to a standard of beauty that had absolutely nothing to do with me. I eventually came to understand a lesson that took tentative root when I was wearing my hair short and straight: it’s just hair. Cut it, dye it, grow it, cut it again—it keeps your head warm, it grows back. Though, of course, it’s never that simple when it comes to black women. Everything we do with our hair is a statement. If any other American woman dyes her hair blonde, she’s trying something new. If I do it, I’ve lost touch with my roots. If that same woman later decides to cuts her hair super-short, she’s edgy, but if I do it, I’m militant. If she leaves her hair be, no one notices. If I simply let my coils grow out of my head the way they please, I have an agenda. Whatever.

But I know that it’s just about accepting myself as I am, and finding joy in that acceptance. So with Babygirl, it has been important to me that she knows that I love both my hair and hers, and that I will never do anything that rejects our texture. I don’t believe it is up to me to make the choice to alter the structure of her hair, and I never want to do anything to her that I wouldn’t do to myself at this stage in my life. So she wears her own Afro, a little sandy brown version of mine, with looser curls that reflect her dad’s texture. And I don’t do much to it, because I don’t want her to think she has to “do” her hair. I wash it, condition it, detangle it, oil it, and send her out into the world. Occasionally I put it into a few ponytails, but that’s mostly to prove to my hubby that I can, ‘cause he has jokes. I want her to be able to see herself in me, and vice versa.

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