I’ll never forget the day when my daughter at about four years old came home after a couple of hours at day camp with tears in her eyes saying she wanted “down” hair. “Down” in her little four year old thinking meant “straight”. I asked her why and she explained that she didn’t like being the only one at camp with curly hair. Before that moment, I wasn’t certain she noticed such things. I scooped her up in my arms and told her, “Oh baby, it’s because of mommy that you have those curls and it’s because of daddy that they’re blonde, would you ever really want to change that?”
Now, I admit, this was probably a bit high concept for her to grasp, but SHE DID! She looked at me and simply said, “No, I wouldn’t.” TJ and I made a very conscious effort for her to love her curls from the beginning, but this was the first time I explained it to her in a way that was specifically because of her mommy and daddy. Some how, some way this clicked for her and it’s never been brought up again.
From the beginning, we made up adventurous bedtime stories about female heroes with beautiful curly hair. We’d buy books and dolls that feature kids with curls, and while “The Princess and the Frog” was her first movie in a theater and a huge hit in our house, “Brave” gave it a run for it’s money as it focused around a strong-willed girl, with a head full of curls, and a killer shot with a bow and arrow, I meeeeean… Side note: We crushed Halloween that year, and she was really feeling herself, bragging about being the only Merida in the pre-school parade without a wig.
When I was growing up there just came that time when I got a relaxer, and that was that. I was super young and didn’t even recognize that the texture of my hair was in fact curly. I did that for many years, then began working on “USA High”. My hair broke off like crazy and suffered terrible damage early on and life was made much easier for me and the stylists on the show when I made the choice to braid it up. That choice was prompted when an extra from the show handed me her card with a disapproving look as I stepped out of my dressing room and told me she “does hair”. #truestory #humbled #hilarious! She’s now one of my closest friends some twenty years later by the way. That started the braid/weave trend for me. It was easy to justify because I’d already been down the road of finding out how damaging all the on camera styling can get. When I was working consistently as an actress I always liked to think that my hair didn’t define me but looking back honestly, I realize that there were indeed times when I just believed I was considered “prettier”, or more “mainstream” with longer, straighter hair. I believed that primarily because it was made crystal clear by “the industry” at that time that I was considered “prettier’ and more “mainstream” with longer, straighter hair. When you’re a 20-something trying to make it in tinsel town it can be easy to buy into the lies that are thrown around so you play the game by the rules that are set. But eventually things changed and I had a daughter of my own. I spent so much energy teaching my little girl that she never had to conform or be like anyone else to be beautiful or accepted in any way and in doing so had to take a long hard look in the mirror myself. As life would have it I felt a strong call to return to on camera work after a after a six year break. Clearly I wasn’t twenty any more and the idea of trying to figure out what Hollywood would want this time around was immediately a daunting task and one I was far less interested in really entertaining.
So, I made my triumphant return to acting. The big question for me was to weave or not to weave? I’d been wearing my hair natural for a short while now. Could I be considered a leading lady with these kinks?? The bigger question should have been, “could I be considered a leading lady after disappearing for six years”, but I digress. All examples in media pointed to NO, so I weaved it right on up. Some of my fellow non black actor friends had no idea why it was an issue, “I love your hair!” they’d say until I reminded them to think of most working black actresses out there and then think of the fact that the majority of them actually had hair like mine that no one has ever seen. Silence… yeah, you’ve never thought about that have you? Upon my big “comeback” I’d worked some, but no one was breaking my doors down. All the while my baby girl was getting older and it became increasingly more challenging for me, in good conscious, to tell her how important it was for her to love her curls and then iron every bit of mine away or sew in, what I’m sure was some lovely Indian woman’s hair, up in my head. I couldn’t do it anymore…and my “natural hair journey” became a real thing. I felt a responsibility to my daughter to practice what I preached when it came to loving the curls we were BOTH blessed with.
Hollywood was going to have to deal with it, or not, I’m to grown to care in the same way. I work in an industry designed to make you feel powerless at times. However, I’m living during a time designed to take it back. There are women killing the game out there, playing by their own rules and creating their own lane. That sounds much better than sitting and waiting for the phone to ring with a “potential” opportunity. I can now see that being obedient and agreeing to come back to acting may not have meant I was skyrocketing to fame but instead it was giving me a set of standards under which I will work. It inspired me to write again and even create projects of my own, that include a web series and this blog. In some backwards way it helped to give me a greater confidence and sense of self, that I can pass to my kids. That’s better than an Emmy, if you ask me.
We need to at least try and change the narratives out there. I’m not alone, there are finally more women on the scene with some version of natural hair. It’s not really about some political statement I’m making, I’m just comfortable in saying that I now feel my most confident and super fly with what God gave me. It’s not to say that I’ll never wear a weave again, I get that hair is a tool, but it won’t be because I don’t feel cute enough, or acceptable if I don’t. Raising this strong young lady filled with black girl magic has given me real awareness of my own. I’m the leading lady of this house over here, holding it, happily and nappily, all the way down. After all it’s because of Pauline and Joe that I have these kinks and coils, so do I really want to change them? The answer my friends is, no.
*Photo credit for featured image of my boo: David Carlson
*Photo credit for my headshots Bobby Quillard