In "I Love My Hair" -- a favorite for many children -- Natasha Anastasia Tarpley describes the familiar mother-daughter nightly ritual of combing the tangles out of her hair. When she cries because it hurts, her sympathetic mother tells her how lucky she is to have such beautiful hair. Imaginatively, the woman goes on to say that she can spin it into a fine, soft bun or 'plant rows of braids' along her scalp, prompting her daughter to think of other wonderful things she likes about her hair.
With many children heading back to school this month, NaturallyCurly.com talked to Tarpley about her book and the positive message it sends about loving your natural hair.
NC.com: Where did you got the idea for your book?
Tarpley: 'I Love My Hair!' was inspired by my own experiences getting my hair combed as a little girl. Although I couldn't stand the actual experience itself -- I still can't stand combing my hair -- I loved being able to share that special time with my mother. It was one of the few times I had her all to myself -- without having to share her attention with my sisters and brother. Also, my mom made getting my hair combed fun. We created this ongoing, elaborate story in which we pretended that there were people living in my hair! We would visit a new character and make up stories about them as she combed the various sections of my hair. This not only served to distract me from all the tangles, but more importantly, it made storytelling a constant presence in our lives; it strengthened my love of language and, I believe, helped to guide me along the path to becoming a writer.
NC.com: Have you always been natural, or did you relax your hair at some point?
Tarpley: I did everything you could possibly imagine to and with my hair, from dying it crazy colors to shaving it bald. When I was little, my mom used to press my hair with a hot comb, and eventually I did get a relaxer. But I have little memory of those days. Maybe I just blocked it out Then when I got into college, I started wearing braids, and then eventually, a short Afro. I started my locks in 1994, and wore them until 2004, when I cut them off. Now, I'm in that stage of trying to 'figure out' what the next chapter in Natasha's hair saga will be. I'm bringing back a lot of the 'old' favorites -- french braids, afro puffs, etc.
NC.com: What message do you hope children take away from your book?
Tarpley: I want kids to feel good about everything about themselves, and to feel comfortable expressing their creativity in any way they see fit. For me, especially early on, I tried out different styles of dress and ways of wearing my hair. Now, I don't need the external manifestations of my own uniqueness so much -- I know who I am and I like myself. But getting to know yourself is a process. Trying out new ways of thinking and looking and dressing -- as long as you're not harming yourself --and getting comfortable with how you look are among the major steps in that process.
I also hope that this book will be a way for kids of all backgrounds to make connections with one another -- we all comb our hair -- and to share the similarities and differences of their experiences.
NC.com: Do you think our love/hate relationship with our hair begins in childhood?
Tarpley: Yes, like most things. Kids are very much in tune with the images they see and the messages they receive. If someone is constantly fussing with your hair, or telling you to 'fix' this or that about yourself, you're going to believe that there's something wrong with the way you are. We need to be conscious and vigilant about the messages we send to our children, which means that we need to be conscious of our own beliefs and views of self. The more we begin to give our children positive messages about themselves, and the more we refuse to accept negative images -- turn off the tv, make demands of products, networks etc. for more positive and accurate images of who we are -- the more confidence our kids will have.
NC.com: Do you think books like yours are helping to change attitudes about curly/kinky hair?
Tarpley: I hope that books like mine will instill a sense of creativity and love of self in our kids, and that it will be a vehicle to celebrate all of who we are. I hope also, that books like 'I Love My Hair!' will not be so necessary; that acceptance and love of self will be a given for our children.
In 'Bippity Bop Barbershop,' the companion book to the bestselling 'I Love My Hair!,' Tarpley writes about a a young boy, Miles, who makes his first trip to the barbershop with his father. Like most little boys, he is afraid of the sharp scissors, the buzzing razor, and the prospect of picking a new hairstyle. But with the support of his dad, the barber, and the other men in the barbershop, Miles bravely sits through his first haircut. The book captures an important rite of passage for boys and celebrates African-American identity.