Michele Tapp Roseman is keenly aware of how deeply rooted our feelings about our hair are tangled with our feelings about ourselves. She authored a book called Hairlooms: The Untangled Truth About Loving Your Natural Hair and Beauty and agreed to share an excerpt with the NaturallyCurly community. 

PICTURED: MICHELE TAPP ROSEMAN

Realize Others Have Hair and Beauty Issues

I was reluctant to deal with hair and beauty because I thought I was alone in my quest. Regardless of where I have been, I’ve discovered that all women are concerned about hair. Dating back to China’s Ming Dynasty, fourteenth-century women were valued for their ornate hairstyles. In Australia, people who are blessed with wonderful red hair are ostracized and colonized. Some Caucasian women with straight hair get perms because they want to have curls, and conversely some women with curly hair get them because they want straight hair. Hair issues clearly cross racial and ethnic lines. This truth became crystal clear during the beginning stages of wearing my natural hair. Countless strangers would approach me for candid “How do you do your hair?” or “Why are you natural?” conversations. I’ve also had an equal number of conversations with Black women who proudly rock straight hair but struggle with exercise options or complain about their hairdresser being double- or triple-booked for appointments. As I realized that my secret hair issues were really not a secret, I breathed a sigh of relief. As I took the time to comb through what were some apparent flaws in my own mind, it was easier to be kind to myself. When I flipped through magazines and read how several Black women have conquered the fear of the ’fro, my heart decelerates. My friend’s plan to wear bantu knots at a conservative meeting helped me to see a work in progress. I knew that my roots were all my own, but I was not the only one doing some untangling.

One Issue at a Time

Okay. I would have surely lost my mind by now if I focused consistently on every root issue I have with hair and beauty. If I did this 24/7, I’d have an invitation to a padded room very shortly! After I started dealing with the aftermath of a stoning incident from my childhood and earlier reactions to my appearance, my thoughts and emotions were in turmoil. To make matters worse, instead of giving myself comfort and self-love, I blamed the victim; I got mad at myself and beat myself up for not moving on after almost five decades. Once my fury came down several notches to a simmer, another idea entered my thought process. My alternative way of thinking is best illustrated with a story about how I shampoo my natural hair. While I now love my hair, I hate the process of washing it as it grows longer. Combing through all of my hair and working through the tangles takes a long time. After battling with snarls and knots, by necessity I started dealing with my hair in sections. It became more manageable—and the process far less unpleasant—because I created bite-sized portions. Bringing closure to many of these feelings has been a work in progress. My journey toward self-acceptance taught me the power of dealing with one emotion at a time. During the course of my healing, once I identified the most dominant emotion, I would then work through it like well-conditioned curly strands. I combed all the way through my issues until I reached the root. It has been said that “The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.” I prefer this saying: “The best way to check your root issues is one strand at a time.”

Optimize Each Experience

I will never forget my first perm in the nation’s capital. Fresh out of grad school, I was seated in a trendy salon. I remember telling the stylist that my hair was not very coarse and that I needed a touch up. She acted as if she heard what I shared and proceeded to process my hair. Within seconds, I felt like my entire scalp had experienced the apocalypse! I can’t even begin to describe the searing pain and intense heat that engulfed by scalp as she applied the relaxer to my hair. My forehead broke out in a sweat, and I felt like my life was going to end in her chair. After the relaxer had been washed out, a scab that was the size of a quarter quickly formed on my scalp. How did this happen? She had used a super-strength relaxer on my “non-coarse” hair. Despite the pain and second-degree burn this relaxer gave me, it created the highest level of straightening results. I have made it a personal goal to exceed my expectations when dealing with my root issues. When I had to deal with the root that was blocking the car door, I was willing to squeeze my way through the partial opening. This approach is not optimal but speaks of using minimal effort. If I had taken time to deal with the root, I could have proceeded through a larger opening. That relaxer experience remains etched in my mind. It helped shape my personal pledge to optimize my chances and straighten out the core issues in my life.

Train Your Thoughts

We’ve all experienced random thoughts that sneak into our heads and hijack our resolve: Go ahead. Eat the pint of ice cream. You can work it off later. The dress is on sale, so that makes it a smart investment. From the silly to the serious, our minds are a hotbed of nonstop conscious and unconscious activities. Wedged in between common and uncommon mind play, ideals about our hair and beauty are sure to bubble up to the surface. So let me ask: What are the last thoughts that you had about your hair? For a split second, what did you really think about your new lipstick choice, your fit in those skinny jeans, or the way he looked at you? It’s amazing because, as Black women, we typically believe we can train anyone or anything. Our coworkers know how much personal space we need in our shared office. The men in our lives know what to say and what not to say about how much weight we have or have not gained. The young folks in the family already know how to act when they’re with us in public. Our environments are strategically trained—or so we think. If you and I are really that disciplined with our external worlds, why are our internal worlds so chaotic? How come we don’t challenge our own thoughts about our personal hair and beauty when they “cross the line”? How can we speak to ourselves with such anger and rate our appearances beneath everyone else’s when we’d never consider speaking that way to someone else? The good news is that it is possible to make a thought back up and leave before it takes up residence. For instance, as an example, my neighbor has a new dog—a dark chocolate and black gumdrop-spotted puppy. I have a “respectful fear” of dogs but found my heart warming to this little guy who, like our thoughts, rambunctiously wanders all over the yard and through the easy-access fence that separates our houses. Now, however, my neighbor has started training the dog; all he needs to do is give a command, and the puppy obediently crosses back over the line. The same principle holds true for us. When our thoughts attempt to go off course—like the puppy—our own words have enough power to bring them back in line. Once we are intentional about switching our thoughts, when we realize we are in command, we can then begin to find a suitable replacement that will help us comb through any issues we are facing.

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