Growing up in the projects off of 8-Mile Road in Detroit, my mother prayed for one thing -- not for an end to poverty, not for the safety of her siblings, not even for racial equality being a part of the first integrated class in her high school. The one thing she prayed for was "long hair like Betty." Mom's friend Betty was a light-skinned girl with soft locks that cascaded past her shoulders like a chocolate waterfall. My mother would pull at her own nappy roots with the hope that they would one day grow out and make her pretty and "passable" like her friend.
Years later she met my father. He was smart and successful, a doctor from Chicago who also happened to be white. So when I was born with a caramel hue and a head full of dark, wavy hair, my mother proclaimed, "My prayers were answered. You got the long hair like Betty."
Mom would rake through my hair each morning and pull it into poofy pigtails tied off with plastic barrettes. My friends at my 98 percent white elementary school thought they were fun to play with and so did I until the day my barrette burst open and my uncontrollable afro escaped. The teachers began to panic. They had no idea how to tame my explosive mane so they let me run free like Buckwheat for the rest of the day. You can imagine my mother's horror when she came to pick up her perfect little doll and found a wild child instead.
Eventually I began to embrace that my hair and roots were neither white nor black. Combing my curls into uncontrollable frizz no longer appealed to me and I began to style my hair with gel, which allowed them to shine. Yet I still felt burdened by the promise I'd made to my mother to protect her greatest asset, my hair. I could not cut it, relax it, or otherwise damage it in any way. This hair was on loan to me from God.
I began to embrace my curls and see them as beautiful even though I had developed the idea that men preferred hair they could run their fingers through I ended up meeting and marrying a guy who loved me exactly the way I was.
A few years ago, I began to get requests to give my dating advice on camera. I struggled to find the right look, realizing the unpredictability of my curls. The point was driven home when someone told me, "Your platform is all about branding yourself in dating, you should think about how you're presenting your own brand." Reading between the lines I heard the message loud and clear, "Your ethnic hair is not acceptable for TV."
From then on, every time I appeared on camera I made sure that I straightened my curls within an inch of their lives and suddenly, the way people spoke of me changed. I was no longer "cute," but I became "sexy." It horrified me to have my lifelong fears confirmed. If I succumbed to the mold of what others found beautiful with long, straight, touchable hair, I could finally be pretty.
I want to scream and yell from the rooftops that it's not true. I'm the same beautiful person no matter what the texture of my hair is like. When the women I coach ask me if they would be more attractive if they wore their hair straight instead of natural I want to say, "Of course not. Wear your hair any way you want and if you feel good, you will look good." But I fear that I would be lying to them.
I yearn for the day that a black woman can walk into a boardroom with her head bald or "kinky" or big and bold and be taken as seriously as her colleagues. I desperately want to tell the women they will attract their perfect mate without the weave and relaxer. I pray that one day all hair textures will be treated equal. Yet for now, my life experiences have taught me otherwise. So until that day arrives, I'm coming out with hot combs blazing.
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