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 of her interview with A’Lelia Bundles with the NaturallyCurly community.
A’Lelia Bundles is the great-great granddaughter of the first Black female millionaire and hair care creator Madam C. J. Walker. A seasoned journalist and public speaker, she has also authored the New York Times bestseller, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker (Scribner). A’Lelia has partnered with Sundial Brands (SheaMoisture) to create the Madam C. J. Walker Beauty Culture hair care products, which are distributed through Sephora stores nationwide.
When I was twelve and getting ready to take swimming lessons, I got a perm. I had long hair, and we figured that would be easier. So at that stage—it was 1964—getting a perm was a normal thing to do. My dad, at that point, was president of Summit Laboratories, which was a company that made a product called Hair Straight. It was one of the main Black-owned hair care companies that had developed in the fifties. In 1969, when I was a senior in high school, Afros were really very popular.
At that age, I was a very politically aware person, and I really wanted an Afro.
This may seem like an irony to a lot of people because of their misconceptions of Madam Walker and their belief that she invented the hot comb. I was becoming very conscious of being Black and the symbolism of being Black in that era. Unique to other people’s households, we had hair wars in my house because my father was very much opposed to me getting an Afro because his company made hair straighteners. My mother thought differently. She said, “Hair is hair. You have to use shampoo and conditioner whether you have a perm or not.”
Nonetheless, my mother took me down to the Walker Beauty School, and I left with this really huge Afro hairstyle. I wore an Afro until the end of college and cut it very short by my senior year. For the next two decades, I really went back and forth between short hair, long hair, and permed hair. I got to the point—in my late thirties or so—where I just didn’t like the way my hair felt when it was permed. It felt like straw to me. At that time, I was wearing it long and going to the beauty shop every two weeks to get it styled and sit under the dryer. I would go to my hair dresser at 8:00 in the morning before I went to work.
One day I went, and the stylist didn’t show up. At that point, I said, “Forget this. I’m cutting my hair!” For the last twenty years, I’ve worn my hair short and natural. I just prefer doing it that way because I don’t really want to spend time on it. I’m too busy. I’ve got too many other things that are more important to me than doing my hair. Having said this about me personally, I love it when I see all of these great permed or natural styles.
We—as African-American women—need to love ourselves. We can still have permed hair and love ourselves.
Through the words of A’Lelia we can feel the presence of a haircare pioneer that is so near and dear to our hearts, as people with curly hair. Thank you A’Lelia for your words on self-love, texture celebration, and for continuing to forge a path for Black women in the haircare industry. We appreciate you.
You can read the rest of Hairlooms: The Untangled Truth About Loving Your Natural Hair and Beauty by purchasing it at: