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Good Hair Wars

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When I recently read that Tyra Banks had never publicly worn her hair natural in the history of her entertainment career, I felt sad for her. Yes, this random female felt sad for Tyra, a multimillionaire and international superstar. I also thought about the fact that I've never seen Beyoncé wearing her hair naturally either. I wondered what would it be like to have to spend so much time putting up a façade to impress the gatekeepers and advertisers and audience that you weren't able to be you?

I've also heard a lot of discussion of Chris Rock's soon-to-be released documentary, Good Hair. Chris has mentioned that he came up with the idea after his daughter, Lola, went to him crying and asked, "Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?" Ouch.

This isn't an isolated occurrence. There are thousands, if not millions, of young girls who hate their hair, who wonder why they don't have "good hair". That's why it's important that these girls, these young women, these people period see role models who look like them -- not just skin tone or body shape, but mane-wise as well. One great thing about Tyra and Beyoncé, in particular, is that they seem comfortable, even appreciative, of their curvy bodies. They parade around not with knobby knees and brittle arms but with curvy hips and shapely asses. This encourages other women to feel more comfortable in their own bodies. But yet, while they represent two successful black females who seem comfortable in their bodies, their hair appears to tell a different tale.

I'm concerned about all the little girls with kinky, curly, nappy hair because the women they model themselves after might naturally look like them but transform themselves into society's ideals. Then, these little girls think that maybe there's something wrong with the way they look and maybe they should look like these stars instead.

I'm not suggesting celebrities rock a Macy Gray 'do or fashion their hair like Alex Wek or India Arie; they don't need to wear short styles like Halle Berry or Rihanna. Wouldn't it be a good thing, though, to see people who felt comfortable enough to honor their hair the way they honor their bodies?

I'm not blaming Tyra or Beyoncé or any other superstar for the hair conflicts that are deeply embedded in African American society; those were created centuries ago. However, as we continue to progress as a nation, as women, as people of color, every role model there is who, instead of appearing like a manufactured mirage, presents their natural beauty, the better.

My own relationship with my hair has been rocky. My first hair memories are similar to many other African American women, being the hell of having to get my hair combed (my mom had to sing to me while she did it because I'd cry the whole time). Despite the dreaded hair tussle with my mom, it was nothing compared to trying to comb through the black Barbie doll's matted nest. I strongly preferred the blonde Barbie, and I believe the black Barbie hair wars had at least something to do with that. I can't remember, though, feeling very mentally distressed about my hair as a child.

I was fairly ambivalent to other black women's coif preferences, until I began to attend Howard University. HU is a historically black university, and I was surprised to see, as I termed it, such a "Beyoncé Effect". There were many more girls with weaves, honey-blonde-dyed hair, or both than I had expected. I thought, Here I am at 'The Mecca' and it looks like a BET get-together.

This was around the same time that I first experienced the phenomenon of "good hair". I spent most of my freshman year wearing micro braids. When some friends helped me unbraid my hair, one of them said, "You've got good hair." Having not grown up hearing people discuss good versus bad hair, I had no clue what she was talking about.

"What do you mean?"

She replied, "Your hair is curly."

Clearly recalling the hair-combing struggles of my youth, I told her, "My hair's nappy."

"Your hair is curly."

"My hair is nappy."

"Your hair is curly."

"Well, in that case", I said, "your hair is curly too. I mean, all of us have curly hair."

"No, my hair is nappy. Your hair is curly."

Shortly thereafter, she said, "You should wear your hair natural." I gave her a crazy look and said, "You've got to be joking." There was no way I was going to wear my hair natural. I'd worked hard over the years to be comfortable with myself but I wasn't that comfortable. By the end of my freshman year, though, after friends prodded, promised to make my hair look nice, and gave endless encouragement, I hesitantly agreed. After washing and conditioning, brushing, and styling, I was pleasantly surprised with my hair. I ended up wearing my hair like that for about a year, hearing plenty of compliments about how good or how curly my hair was. I figured my hair was what it was, but many black people were quick to let me know that in fact I had good hair. Since then, I've worn my hair in braids, relaxed, a full weave, highlighted, darker, and natural again. More than likely, I'll recycle some of those styles again in the future. I've currently been wearing my hair natural for over a couple years, not because it's necessarily my favorite style, but because it's most cost-efficient (after all, I have to be resourceful in this recession).

All this to say that I'm not trying to discourage people from wearing weaves or extensions or anything else that they like. As Atlanta housewife NeNe told fellow housewife Kim Zolciak, "You do you." What I am saying, though, is the fear of not passing someone's ideal of beautiful should not be a reason for people to continually alter who they are - whether its body, personality, hair, or otherwise. If we're not good enough as we are -- in whatever shape our hair is in -- we will never be good enough with the finest, most painstaking hairstyles constructed from the most expensive packs of designer hair. If these celebrities -- or anyone for that matter -- find themselves scared to wear their hair as is in public, they should take a few minutes to figure out why. And then if they still want to rock their weaves, more power to them.

Whether for publicity for the new season of the Tyra Banks show or just to bring some self-love into the mix, I congratulate Tyra for deciding to let the public see her wearing her hair natural. I encourage Beyoncé to do the same. I was quite hesitant to wear my hair natural in public but after I did, I found it to be refreshing. They might have a similar reaction, and they can positively influence their fans at the same time.

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