Fear the 'Fro

When Mad Men's Teyonah Parris stopped relaxing her hair

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While doing some internet-sleuthing for my Mad Men post, I came across this cool piece by Teyonah Parris over at Essence (props to Dawnie Walton) on going natural. Parris plays Don Draper's secretary. Here she voices an old feeling, the likes of which many black woman (and perhaps women period) will find familiar:

I was walking down the street with one of my girlfriends and I saw this young lady who had the most amazing, bomb twist-out. I said to my friend, "Oh my gosh, her hair is so beautiful. I wish my hair could do that." My friend looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Uh, it would if you stop relaxing it." I stopped and thought to myself, wow, duh. I kind of felt dumb because of course I knew my hair was naturally curly, but it had been so long since I had been relaxing. I realized that I had no real relationship with my natural hair. At that very moment, I decided to change that. 

I wanted to see what my own hair felt like because I really didn't know. I had no clue. In the back of my mind, I always figured I could go back to a relaxer if I didn't like it. I started transitioning for a year and a half using sew-in weaves so my transition was fairly easy. My stylist would trim off the relaxer as time went on and eventually, she cut off the last little bit of straight ends and I was relaxer-free. I finally saw my own hair in its natural state. 

And then... I cried. 

 I did not know how to deal with this little afro on my head. I called my best friend crying because I did not want to leave the house. She came over and literally sat me down and said, "Teyonah you are beautiful. Your hair is amazing." She is really the main reason why I am natural to this day. Later on, we went out in Harlem and I was trying not to feel so self-conscious. The whole day, people would come up to me and say, "Wow, I love your hair. It's gorgeous." I was totally shocked. The reaction I got from other people was really comforting. I know we shouldn't look for approval from other people, but in all honestly, it really helped me see that it was really my own perception of my hair that was holding me back. That was really eye-opening for sure.
I should preface this by saying that I'm a sucker for the natural, and thus wholly biased. In any event,  I think that hair presents us of one of the more mind-boggling aspects of the intersection of racism and American beauty. It's no so mind-boggling that black women relax their hair, so much as it is that so few no what to do with it sans relaxer. Of course that's not really mind-boggling either--how would anyone really know? 

The natural tradition is all about neoclassicism and rediscovery, about going back to a home that most of us have never really known. So much of our experience is about getting back to something that may, or may not, have ever really existed. But in that journeying we create a kind of "new" past.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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