Hairlooms: The Untangled Truth About Loving Your Natural Hair and Beauty

Hairlooms: The Untangled Truth About Loving Your Natural Hair and Beauty

by Michele Tapp Roseman


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780757319679
Publisher: Health Communications, Incorporated
Publication date: 02/07/2017
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 825,154
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Michele Tapp Roseman (Washington, DC) is a seasoned writer/media specialist with contributions in print and electronic media. Michele was the Senior Producer for Wealthy Radio, a weekly broadcast show on NPR-affiliated WEAA (Baltimore, MD). She has also attracted media coverage on behalf of President Barack Obama's Special Assistant for Disability Policy and for Hollywood actor Jeff Bridges. As a former Graduate School USA Adjunct Professor, Michele taught professional grammar and writing courses in Bangkok, Thailand, and throughout the U.S. The native New Yorker is conversationally fluent in Spanish and has provided editorial training for foreign nationals.

Read an Excerpt


Here's a riddle: What is strong enough to make some women refuse to exercise or get wet, yet weak enough to break from the ravages of chemotherapy and autoimmune disease? A woman's body is covered with 100,000 of them, and she recycles 100 of them daily.

Its flow and sway rivals the lushness of a tropical paradise. The wise admire it from afar and touch it only by invitation. Tied down at night, in the morning it rises up again like a phoenix, and can flourish despite intense heat and harsh chemicals. Released by some to explore robust expression, it's been known to cause a double take. From project stoops to penthouse steps, 'sheroes' of the ages have dared to control, curl, and color it. Reducing some women to tears when cut, one inch of 'new growth' can make them strut with peacock pride.

Do you know what it is? Undeniably complex. Unabashedly beautiful. Some call it 'glory.' It is your hair.

I wrote Hairlooms: The Untangled Truth About Loving Your Natural Hair and Beauty to help Black women—and people connected to us—identify and explore issues that may keep Black women from completely embracing our natural hair and inherent beauty. At some level, all of us know that hair issues dangle beyond texture and length. Even today, at this point in history, we have pleasant and painful memories that are clear indicators that the validity of our beauty seems to rest on the type, length, and number of strands that adorn our heads.

Dating back to early memories, many of us realized that our hair could elicit praise or criticism. Some of us know the prestige of being favored because our manageable locks hugged our shoulders and responded like well-behaved children. Pressed hair that refused to unwind in the presence of summer's sweltering heat may still be a familiar sweet spot in our minds. Others can't forget how quickly our confidence evaporated beneath the scorch of an elder's biting comments about our tightly coiled locks.

Afro-textured hair has also faced scrutiny in many public arenas. Dialogue about the impact of the United States military's hairstyle ban—on Black female soldiers—caused an about-face on policy within the United States Army, United States Navy, and United States Air Force. On August 13, 2014, then United States Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, overruled the armed forces' 239-year grooming code that restricted Black women's hairstyles.1 This move was followed by the December 2015 decision that the United States Marines would modify its uniform policy.2 In light of allegations of racial insensitivity, female Marines are now allowed to wear 'locs' in their hair while in uniform.

In June 2014, NBC Today anchor Tamron Hall's big 'natural curl' hair reveal created a stir in national and local media.3 Sparks of controversy flew nationally as young Vanessa VanDyke faced bullying and suspension for wearing her natural, Afro-textured hair to school in 2013.4 On the entertainment front, comedian Sheryl Underwood's August 2013 references to Black hair being 'nasty' and 'nappy' during a re-broadcast of The Talk did not go unnoticed.5 The rapid-fire tweet-back in the Twittersphere precipitated her quick-response apology in September 2013, during Steve Harvey's nationally syndicated radio show. The topic of Black women's natural hair and obesity was even a discussion topic on Katie Couric's talk show, Katie.6

I have personally witnessed how the perceived texture of Black women's hair has even been fodder for discussion about animals. I love to crochet and wanted to get a close-up look at genuine alpaca fiber, so I went on a tour of an alpaca farm that was connected to a yarn shop near my house in the spring of 2016. During the tour, one of the breeders casually told our group of visitors—a racially mixed group—that the creamy white alpaca fleece is always preferred to the chocolaty brown alpaca fleece. The breeder matter-of-factly validated this claim by making a comparison between the 'obvious' desirability of a White woman's hair texture versus a Black woman's hair texture. I was shocked, but it happened so quickly and was so outlandish that I didn't even think to respond.

This audacious comparison underscores the often-predictable public impressions about our Afro-textured, curly hair. Yale University's 'First Impressions and Hair Impressions' study was conducted to explore whether observers determine a person's character traits solely by virtue of their hairstyles.7 The introduction stated:

As children, we were told not to judge a book by its cover, that things are not always what they seem, that appearances are beguiling, and that all that glitters is not gold. As adults, however, we cannot seem to help ourselves. A quick glance of someone is often enough to form a distinct first impression.

Based on hairstyles, study participants were asked to judge whether models possessed several social attributes. Respondents were asked to determine—by sight—whether the models were intelligent, sexy, or poor. Overwhelmingly, empirical data from this study revealed that the models with long, blond, and straight hair were perceived as beautiful and smart.

After reflecting on these findings and personal experiences, I could not help but wonder what these 'first impressions' mean for women like us. We represent the women who—more often than not—don't have long, blond, straight hair. Genetic influences naturally place the majority of Black women in the 'undesirable' category and leave the masses thinking we are dumb, unattractive, and poor.

While these insights have been the grounds for robust private and public discussions about our hair and beauty, the biggest question in my mind has been: How do I move past the point of not completely accepting what I see in the mirror?

For those of us who want to have a better grasp of our inherent beauty, we need to draw insights from another side of the natural hair and beauty discussion. Emotions definitely have a place in self-acceptance, but progress without hard data is just emotion. Personal experiences have taught me that the power needed for a genuine self-embrace is born of a mixture of feelings and fact. To this point, Hairlooms acknowledges some questions that may be absent from our natural-hair discussions. The first question is: Why is it so difficult for Black women to embrace their hair and beauty? The second question is: How can Black women overcome the multi-layered challenge of embracing their natural hair and beauty?

If we do the work and begin unearthing some personal truths, we will be poised to more clearly understand the genesis of any personal discomfort surrounding this topic. Moreover, we won't get tangled at pain points, but we will have a better understanding of how to make intentional, sustainable forward movement for ourselves. I know we are a lot of things to many people. I am a wife. You are a mother. We are money-makers and the shoulders upon which friends have cried. Before we ever assumed any of these titles, I was simply me and you were simply you.

I wrote Hairlooms for me, and I wrote it for you. After you read it, you will be in a position to:

  • Understand why you—and other Black women—may have difficulty accepting your hair and beauty;
  • Identify, discover, and overcome the internal roadblocks that hinder some Black women from accepting themselves; and
  • Develop a deeper appreciation for your inner and outer beauty.

While Hairlooms addresses issues that directly impact Black women, I intentionally wanted to open the door for other groups who have questions about, or aren't familiar with, the array of challenges many of us face. Recent spikes in interracial marriages and transracial adoptions signal the need for answers to basic questions they may have, such as, 'How do I handle a child's hair that is not like my own?' This book also bridges the information gap for men who are connected with us. We all know that touching our hair at the wrong time or making a snide remark about our looks can be grounds for a civil war. In their defense, a lot of times, the men in our worlds—Black and White—are honestly not aware of the deep-rooted self-acceptance issues we carry about our hair and beauty. Left unchecked, we may find ourselves in relationships with emotional snarls and knots that are hard to undo.

What to Expect

For starters, this book is really centered on my timeless truth: words shape worth. Accordingly, it comes as no surprise that the rise and fall of many Black women's self-perceptions of their hair and beauty is drawn from words. For the sake of this book, I refer to these identity-defining words with my self-created term, 'hairlooms.' An obvious play on the word heirlooms, this term refers to words about Black women's hair and beauty that are deemed worthy to pass along.

We all know that heirlooms are objects of great value that are handed down through several generations. Granddaddy's jewel-encrusted crucifix, Great-Great Auntie's secret family cheese biscuit recipes, and Great-Great-Great Grandmother's patchwork quilt make our hearts swell with pride and curl our lips with laughter. Heirlooms assure us that family torches will remain brightly lit in the wake of future millennia.

Tangible items are not the only markers of history. Code words about our hair may also create patterns that inevitably punctuate our family lines. Big Mama compared your mother's hair to steel wool. Your mother rolled her eyes and complained that your nappy head was too hard to comb. Now you refuse to compliment your niece until she gets a fresh perm. No doubt these phrases have been passed along generationally. Alternatively, 'hairlooms' have been passed along generationally in private and public settings. These words, looks, and gestures have shaped our attraction or repulsion to certain types of hair and physical features.

Based on the power of words, Hairlooms is chock-full of word pictures and stories about this thought-provoking topic. In each chapter, you will find the following:

My Story

Every chapter paints a picture of the steps I have taken and am still taking to discover and embrace my natural beauty. More than seven years ago, I decided to wear my hair in its natural state. I share how words and pivotal life events impacted my willingness to claim my own worth.

Their Stories

After telling my story, you can read up-close-and-personal accounts from thirty-two esteemed Hairlooms contributors. Each storyteller delivers a compelling, personal account of an aspect of the path to embracing your hair and beauty.

Your Story

After reading my story and the contributor stories, you have an opportunity to write the best story yet: yours. You'll find the 'Comb Through' sections of Hairlooms directly after the contributor stories. Expect to be prompted to reflect on the chapter material and begin examining your own hairlooms. I purposely set the stage for you to identify and self-correct unhealthy thought patterns. You will be challenged to address open-ended questions about the book's content; this will be a great way for you to explore the next leg of your self-acceptance journey.

Action steps always help me make sense of what I just read. Once you read the chapters, stories, and 'Comb Through' sections, the 'Strand Strategy' is next. After looking at my own life, reviewing my blog comments, and personally surveying more than 200 Black women, I created this set of how-to steps from some of the most popular topics about our hair and beauty. In this section, you'll find practical tips that include ways to be fit and still have a 'fro; how to handle heat-damaged hair; and how to ace a pop-up interview that is scheduled before your next hair appointment!

Hairlooms is rounded off with a great resource index that cites products and services—only those I personally use—that align with our mission of creating healthy self-esteem. Last, and certainly not least: who among us could use some financial wisdom? The '?'Fros and Finance' resource is just the place for tips to learn how to be beautiful without breaking the bank.

Well, ladies, are you ready?

I officially invite you to curl up, kick off your shoes, and get ready for some internal dialogue about the most talked-about subject in our circles. Expect to split hairs on a topic that has been divisive. As you pore over these pages, let your hair down—even if it doesn't make it beyond the nape of your neck. Get ready to journey to a place where you can untangle the treasure on your head that creates tension in your heart. This is the place where your hair looms.

What will you comb through today?


1. Pentagon Does About-Face on Hair Regulations—Black Women Approve. National Public Radio, August 14, 2014.

2. Female Marines in Uniform Can Now Wear Locks and Twists in Their Hair. Stars and Stripes, December 15, 2015.

3. Tamron Hall Wears Her Natural Hair for the First Time on TV. TODAY, June 27, 2014.

4. Hair-Bullying and the Decline of U.S. Education System. The Huffington Post, June 2, 2014.

5. Sheryl Underwood Black Hair Comments Apology. Steve Harvey Show audio file.

6. Katie Couric Wigs Out on Hair-Themed 'Katie' Today—SNEAK PEEK. Entertainment Weekly, September 19, 2012.

7. LaFrance, M. (2001). First Impressions and Hair Impressions: An Investigation of Impact of Hairstyle on First Impressions. Unpublished manuscript. Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT.

©2017 Michele Tapp Roseman. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Hairlooms: The Untangled Truth About Loving Your Natural Hair and Beauty. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Preface xi

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 Baby Hairs 9

Chapter 2 Check Your Roots 39

Chapter 3 Dread Locks 73

Chapter 4 The Mane Attraction 101

Chapter 5 Hair Peace 129

Chapter 6 Pony Tales 157

Chapter 7 The Split Ends 185

'Fros and Finances 211

Hairlooms Strand Strategies 213

Basic Steps for Healthy Hair 229

Hair and Beauty Resources 235

Emotional Health and Wellness Resources 237

Notes 239

Color Yourself Beautiful! 241

An Invitation from Michele 245

About the Author 247

A Gallery of Hairlooms Contributors 249

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