My earliest childhood memories revolve around sitting in my great-aunt’s beauty salon, conveniently called The Beauty Shop. A mixture of smells filled the air, from hair grease meeting a hot curling iron, to that of the infamous relaxer, to a hot lunch of Long John Silver’s fish and chips, delivered just in time by my grandmother. A day at The Beauty Shop was just that, an entire day (hours upon hours) of sitting, waiting and hair styling. My cousin and I brought along our dolls to pass the time, pretending to do their hair the way we wanted ours to turn out.
I never knew the true texture of my hair until I was in my mid-twenties. The time I spent at my aunt’s shop meant slapping a relaxer on my hair and smoothing it out until she was convinced my hair would be straight enough for the gods. I never went too long without a relaxer for fear of the new growth or “naps” underneath, a severely flawed fear passed down from generation to generation.
This wasn’t every African American girl’s childhood, but many of us can relate to the stench, burn and “magical” straightening effects of Creamy Crack, a white creamy hair relaxer consisting of sodium hydroxide, calcium hydroxide, or potassium hydroxide that breaks down the bonds in the hair shaft, turning tightly coiled hair into loose flowing locks. Ooo’s and ouches and “It burns!” ensued, but I never failed to make it through to the finished product of bone straight hair.
In my mid-twenties, I found out that the hair that grew out of my head was tightly coiled locks that spring back and shrink with each tug. I never knew that my natural hair was luscious and full, beautiful twisted like a rope or piled on top of my head in a waterfall of kinks, curls, naps and coils. Where I once ran from the word “nappy,” I now embrace it, knowing that the word doesn’t mean bad, but beautiful. This is what “going natural” means, to rid yourself of the hair from the past, and embrace the hair you were born with. I could go into the long, drawn out spiel about why we once (and sometimes still do) relax our hair, but I’ll save that for another day.
One thing that is present today that wasn’t when I was growing up are books that encourage embracing the hair on your head, books that reflect the young black girl I was and the young black girls out there today. Below are some of the few that celebrate the versatility of natural hair.
I Love My Hair by Natasha Tarplay encourages young children to love not only their hair, but also their heritage.
Hair Dance by Dinah Johnson shows that the hair that grows out of your head comes in all different lengths, colors and textures. Wear it long or short, in braids or cornrows, locks or an Afro. Hair Dance is just that, a dance celebrating black hair.
Happy to be Nappy by Bell Hooks presents an enthusiastic celebration for young Black girls to embrace their hair.
Big Hair, Don’t Care by Crystal Swain-Bates is the story of a little Black girl who loves her big, curly hair.
Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair takes a chronological look at the culture behind the ever-changing state of Black hair from fifteenth century Africa to the present-day United States.
Better than Good Hair: The Curly Girl Guide to Healthy, Gorgeous Natural Hair! is a fresh new handbook on how to achieve and maintain stylish natural hair, from the savviest and most revered expert on coils and curls
You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson is a hilarious and affecting essay collection about race, gender and pop culture from celebrated stand-up comedian and WNYC podcaster Phoebe Robinson.
Natural hair is magic. Whenever I see someone rocking their natural, I’m in awe. The things we can do with our hair are endless, and I only wish I would have known this sooner. No one should be ashamed of the hair that grows out of their head, no matter its kink, curl or coil. What are some of your favorite books that celebrate Black culture? Tell us in the comments below!
Looking for more books that celebrate natural hair?Check out Tenderheaded
Brittany is a Children’s Library Assistant at Main, where she enjoys reading stories, singing songs and ending her story times in a multitude of bubbles. Reading isn’t her only love; she also enjoys writing for children and adults alike.