As a flight attendant, I miss a lot of news and on purpose. I try to stay away from negativity, however I just had to stop to try understand this. Why is there a controversy about Gabby Douglas and her hair?
The first time someone posted it on facebook, I ignored it. Now a few days later everybody and their mama are writing articles trying to explain black hair. It is amazing the value of this controversy. Apparently to brands, it is worth $90 million dollars. Incredible!
First of all, I want to send greetings and positive love to Gabby Douglas. You are a beautiful dark chocolate sister with an accomplishment of Gold Medals. We are proud of you, that you are African American child of God. Kudos to you, Gabby Douglas. You are special and unique. God turned this embarrassing moment of black self-hatred into an opportunity for dialogue about a taboo subject for Black women into a historic financial abundance for you.
Now I wish to share my story of my journey to freedom from what black women think about my hair.
I was born and raised in a beauty salon, as my mother was a cosmetologist. She would press my hair until about age 5 years when she gave me a perm. My hair was half way down my back. The women in the salon would come and watch my mother do my hair. They reasoned that if my mother could grow my hair that long that she could grow their hair that length too. So the women lined up to get their done by my mother, I was the child hair model.
Shirley Temple was a popular child actress during the time that I was growing up. Everyone loved her singing, dancing, and her beautiful curly blonde hair. As child, I wanted to be Shirley Temple particularly since my last name is Temple. I identified so strongly with that blonde, blue-eyed child star. My parents were furious when I asked them if I could have blonde hair and blue eyes. This foolish child desire made my mother cry and father scream at me. I was having an identity crisis and my parents could not cope with it.
This happened during the 1960"s Black Panthers and Dr. Martin Luther King's civil rights movement. This was also the era of Johnson & Johnson Products explosion in the Black Hair Care Market with Relaxers and accompanying products. The money was very good during the 1960's as women began to rush into beauty salons to get their hair permed and conditioned. My mother made a very good living from making African American women feel beautiful and growing their hair.
The issue of Gabby Douglas' hair runs deep into the White standard of beauty. This standard of beauty is cultivated in Black Salons with the discussion and brainwashing of a Black woman's locks. It is goes something like this, "Girl what would want me to do with them naps? We can't have you running around all over town looking like this". These were conversations that I heard regularly while being in my mother's salon from age 3 to age 24 years when I left to live in Paris, France. The hairstylists would talk about the women's insecurities their "naps", and their "kitchens" to increase their sales. Black women trust their stylist, their beauty maker with ultimate confidence. If they have a good stylist, they give them their ultimate trust. I never heard anyone in a beauty salon disagree with stylist about having their hair called "nappy" or "kinky".
There was this phrase during my teen years to describe processing Black hair - "fried, dyed and laid to the side." Well I have worn my hair "fried, dyed and laid to the side". When I was about 12 years old Beverly Johnson and Naomi Sims wigs became popular. My sister and I had plenty of hair, because it was the latest fashion we had wore wiglets and "I Dream of Jeannine" ponytails in the summer heat. I detested wearing those wig pieces which made my scalp hot, itchy and sweaty. About age 15 to 16 years old, my mother dyed my hair red, brown, and added gold highlights ( not all at the same time).
Then a little after my 16th birthday, I became curious about what my natural hair looked and felt like. I started asking my mother about another way to wear my hair, because at that point I had done everything possible to my hair except to wear it naturally. I begged her to cut it off into an afro. We argued about several times. One day I won and I forced her into cutting my long relaxed hair off in front of her clients. She was in tears as she cut my locks off. Her friends and clients were furious with me. They turned on me with a vengeance. They berated me. "How could you do this to your mother?" "You look like a boy." "You look like you are twelve years old." Those women tore my self-esteem down. They made me conform to wearing a relaxer. They made me feel so ugly for wearing an afro. They truly damaged my psyche. I was struggling to find my self and my concept of beauty. I had grown weary of being the hair model and the hair, growing, moneymaker. Whatever, my mother told me to do with my hair, I did it. I was not expected to think or have an opinion.
So I was forced to conform to the status quo of wearing my hair in a relaxed manner and do hair shows until I left for Paris, France at age 24 years old. My mother gave me a bon voyage party and invited all of her customers plus friends and family. They gave me money plus tons of gifts. It was an incredible outpouring of love to my mother as sent her oldest daughter off to Europe.
As I packed my international luggage, I had one suitcase for my clothes and another suitcase for my hair products and tools. My hair suitcase included salon size products of relaxers, conditioners, setting lotions, blow dry conditioner, scissors, curling irons, rollers, steam rollers, hair twists, combs, detangling combs, boar brushes, portable hair dryer, and blow dryers. It was amazing I moved to Paris with a beauty salon in my suitcase. My values and priorities were all about keeping my hair looking good. I am sure I had to pay overcharge to check those beauty items on Sabena Airlines to Brussels. It didn't matter the cost, I was fully indoctrinated into the straight hair beauty concept.
In Paris, one day I found myself homesick. I decided to to go the African beauty salons near Sacre Coeur. I walked from one salon to another until I settled on a salon where four African sister were braiding the hair of one woman. I sat in that salon until nightfall, not speaking word, just watching them do hair. It is funny the things you miss when you live overseas. I had wanted to get away from my mother's beauty salon, but when I was homesick I found comfort sitting in a salon all day. Isn't that weird?
My "Aha" moment regarding my hair happened while I was living in Istanbul with my ex-husband and my first two children. One day I went to Akbank to make a deposit and the teller looked at my daughter Cendrine's hair which was in braids. Then she looked at my relaxed hair. She asked "Niye"? That means "why". She was asking me why did I perm my hair. Then she pointed to my daughter's hair. She said, "Cok Guzel" which means very good. The Turkish bank teller told me that my daughter had good hair, that natural hair was good. My pscyhe and self-esteem awakened by those three simple Turkish words from that young Turkish bank teller. If only she knew, how much of an impact that she had one me.
After we left Turkey, we moved to Argentina where I went into a salon to have my hair cut into an afro. it was the first time I wore my hair in a natural since age 16 years old. I was finally liberated. There were no old women to chastise me into conforming. The wonderful thing about living and traveling the world is self-discovery. Travel teaches you about yourself.
Every since that moment in Turkey, I have been a trendsetter in my hairstyles on my own terms. I have worn an afro, twists, cornrolls, natural hair straight blow dry, and now locks. I have created my own beauty. I am trendsetter with my hairstyles. I know who I am. I know what image I wish to portray. I am proud of my natural, curly, kinky, nappy hair.
Gabby Douglas you are an international citizen of the world now. You are a trendsetter. The women who tried to make you conform to their standard of beauty will now conform to your standard of beauty. God has lifted you above them and their condescending conversations. Those women do not know who they are. If they were comfortable with their beauty, they would not have attacked your beauty.
Gabby Douglas know that whatever hairstyle you wear that millions of little girls will want to be you. They will want to wear their hair like yours. So Gabby be proud of your beautiful dark chocolate skin and your beautiful hair. Do not allow others to define you. For God has uplifted you and set you apart, you are blessed to be a role model.
Gabby Douglas just do you!
Guest Blogger and Mama of Nubian Fitness Goddess
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