“Relaxing your hair is like being in prison. You’re caged in. Your hair rules you. You didn’t go running with Curt today because you don’t want to sweat out this straightness. That picture you sent me, you had your hair covered on the boat. You’re always battling to make your hair do what it wasn’t meant to do. If you go natural and take good care of your hair, it won’t fall off like it’s doing now. I can help you cut it right now. No need to think about it too much.”
My friend Jeannette has the most beautiful hair. She has worn it in braids, she has worn it straight, she has worn it full and curly. I never know quite what to expect when I see her, and I used to be reluctant to comment as if I was drawing attention to it unnecessarily.
But when we drove to Normal, Illinois, together for our National Board Certification ten years ago, I told her, “Jeannette, I love your hair. It’s always so beautiful.”
“My hair?!” she screeched. “My hair and I are divorced! We have irreconcilable differences.”
Which made me laugh, and remember what she said perfectly clearly even today, because curly hair is a Big Deal whether you’re Black or White.
Ifemelu, the charming and honest heroine of Americanah, centers her story of coming to America from Nigeria around her hair. Interspersed with the chapters of her life, are the tales of going to salons for braids, or going to the drugstore for relaxers, or having her friend take up the shears to cut it an even two inches all around. All this fuss is because hair is important. Far more important than just the literal stuff that comes out of your head. Hair practically defines you.
When I was in high school, the popular girls had hair like the girls in 1970s Pepsi commercials. Their hair was blonde, straight and parted down the center. It swung when they tossed their heads. It never frizzed out of control in humid Illinois weather, or took hours to dry after swimming lessons. It resembled my own hair not at all.
My Italian hair is thick, and curly, and prone to wildness. It has taken me years to find a stylist who can cut it, and years to find the way to dry it with a diffuser so it is full and swirls around my face. It has taken me years to accept it as who I am, which once I’ve done I now embrace. And with that embracing comes compliments from others. “Oh, I wish I had your hair. Is it natural?” I hear that all the time. Because once we accept the natural part of who we are, quit forcing a part of ourselves we don’t like into something it isn’t, we become more beautiful.
So while I commiserate with Ifemelu’s woes, her distress and pain about fitting in, I suggest it isn’t just hair that’s the problem. It’s cherishing who you are no matter what the rest of the world holds up as a certain standard.
“On a unremarkable day in early spring – the day was not bronzed with special light nothing of any significance happened, and it was perhaps merely that time, as it often does, had transfigured her doubts – she looked in the mirror, sank her fingers into her hair, dense and spongy and glorious, and could not imagine any other way. That simply, she fell in love with her hair.”
7 thoughts on “– the day was not bronzed with special light – Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie”
It's interesting to see how you've focused on hair, Bellezza. I read Americanah a couple of months ago, and I don't think I mentioned the hair at all in my review, but I agree, it's a strong theme in the book…I'm now wondering if I missed the point of the whole thing, or at least, a key aspect of the novel!
Jacque, I doubt very much hat a brilliant reviewer such as yourself could have missed a key aspect of the novel; this particular point of hers is well taken by me because I've had similar hair “struggles”. But, what I really wanted to point out in my post is that no one, particularly women, should force any part of themselves into something it isn't in order to feel accepted. Or, beautiful.
A very good point; I'm with you on that.
I am yet to read a book by Adichie but I have decided that she and Atwood are at the top of my must-read-right-away list for the year. I think I don't read their books because I want to love them so much and yet if I read and don't enjoy them, the idea of loving their books sort of die in my mind.
Oh hair! When I was a child my mother used to put mine in curlers which I HATED. She did this to her own and so, I presume, thought I would want it done too. I most certainly did not. Ever since then (and it took me until I was almost 16 to wrest control of it back from her) I have hated having anything artificial done to my hair. When I had to dye it aged 43 because I realised it needed to be done, I felt sick. I've got used to that now, but even so… Yes, hair does have a hotline to one's sense of identity, for sure.
Atwood, absolutely. About Adichie I haven't decided; so many parts of Americanah infuriated me. But maybe that's one of the marks of a good author: the ability to move one's emotions. I suspect Americanah is an important read, of the Nigerian experience as an American immigrant, but it will never compare to Atwood's early works for me.
I knew you'd understand. Have a point of reference.