Michele Tapp Roseman, author of Hairlooms: The Untangled Truth About Loving Your Natural Hair and Beauty goes deep beneath the surface to tackle issues that women of color face when they make the decision to transition to natural hair. In Hairlooms, Roseman shares her personal testimony and interviews Kim Coles, Jane Carter, Dr. Rovenia “Dr. Ro” Brock, Lisa Price, and 27 other men and women about their views on natural hair, beauty, body image, and self-worth. Below is my in-depth interview with Michele about her natural hair journey and her new book.
Phillips: What inspired you to write Hairlooms?
Roseman: What inspired me was my own personal journey of embracing my natural hair. I used relaxers for a number of years only to discover that the image of beauty that I thought I had wasn’t real. This realization didn’t have anything to do with what someone else said but the feeling that I got when I looked in the mirror. Before I embraced my natural hair, I was constantly critiquing myself and my hair texture. I felt like my hair wasn’t status quo. After I began to work through those emotions connected to my perception of beauty, I started to speak with some other people and I realized that I wasn’t alone. So, I began to chronicle my story and to contact other leaders on the topic which was the genesis of Hairlooms.
Phillips: Why do black women and women of color have negative views about their hair?
Roseman: The negative views that we have about our hair is due to internal and external forces. Often times, our inner dialogue isn’t very productive. We think thoughts or say things to ourselves that aren’t giving life to our spirits. We say things like ‘girl you need get your hair together, you don’t look good, you are not attractive, he doesn’t want you, or you are not going to get this job because of how you look’. We are injuring ourselves with this type of negative inner dialogue. A lot of times, this inner dialogue happens when we are at home. After we do our hair, put on our make-up, and get dressed to go into the external world, we see society’s definition of beauty which doesn’t hold the Afro-centric look in high regard. How we are genetically dispersed and designed isn’t embraced by society. The images that we watch on television, in movies, and in mainstream media have an impact on how we feel about ourselves and sometime reinforce our inner dialogue.
Phillips: How will our readers benefit from your book?
Roseman: I think your readers will benefit in a variety of ways. Hairlooms may be the catalyst for some of your readers to find their voice. Often times, when we tell our story and someone else reads our story, it connects people which begins the process of a group of people finding their collective voice. Hairlooms contains my story along with 32 other contributors. I am confident that your readers will be inspired by the stories of these 32 men and women. Hopefully, your readers will explore the inner and external forces that influence their emotions connected to their perception of their hair, beauty standards, and self-worth. Another way that your readers will benefits from purchasing Hairlooms is because of the Do It Yourself (DIY) exercises at the end of each chapter. These exercises are the first step in the process of peeling back the layers and finding out why we feel a certain way about ourselves. When we were children, our teachers encouraged us to express our feeling through creative outlets like coloring and painting. In Hairlooms, there is a coloring page so that your readers can begin to express their emotions on paper. In the back of the book, there is a wonderful resource section with hair tips provided by mental health therapists and some suggestions on hair products.
Phillips: Please tell our readers about your natural hair journey?
Roseman: When I was 16, I was introduced to natural hair by my older sister who decided to go natural. She challenged me to join her but I wasn’t ready back then. About 25 years later, I had my next natural hair experience when I was married and we were trying to have a baby. I didn’t want my baby to be exposed to any harsh chemicals so I decided to go natural. Now, I am 52 and I’ve been natural for almost seven years. When I transitioned to natural hair, my hair was short so I didn’t have to do a big chop. But about nine months ago, due to some chemical damage, I did the big chop. Now, I am at a place where I can really say whether my hair is long or short, I embrace it. When I first started my natural hair journey, it was just for the baby and it was very difficult. I can remember putting on hats and trying to put down my edges so that my hair would look the way that I thought it should. It took me a long time to really give myself permission to look like I am designed to look and to be okay with the kink and curl in my hair.
Even though I was introduced to natural hair as a teenager, I just couldn’t imagine myself with natural hair. As a dark-skinned woman who was often teased about my complexion and told that I wasn’t attractive because of my dark skin, I felt that my only claim to beauty chemically straightened hair. My experience writing Hairlooms is apart of my 52 year journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance.
Phillips: Please tell me more about your sister’s natural hair journey? Did you rely on her for assistance with your journey?
Roseman: My sister was a trailblazer because she transitioned to natural hair in the 1980s on a college campus of a predominantly Caucasian college. The 1980s was a time when being natural was stigmatized and she didn’t have as many resources. When I decided to transition to natural hair, my sister was a pro at being natural so I definitely relied on her as a resource for products, how to handle my hair, and the emotions connected to my transition. Right now, my sister is still one of my main resources.
Phillips: What impact did writing Hairlooms have on your life personally and did it lead to any type of transformation?
Roseman: Hairlooms was really difficult for me to write and it took six years for me to complete the book. Some of the chapters required me to become very transparent emotionally and I had to stop writing and collect myself. Sometimes, I just had to put the pen down and say, ‘I can’t write right now’ because it would take me back to places that were so painful. During the writing process, I had to relive some difficult times which forced me to grow. While writing the book, I had to do the big chop because of heat damage which caused me to have bald spots on the side of my head. When I did my big chop, that was the shortest that my hair had every been cut. When I left the hair salon, I thought that I was okay but two hours later I was bruising. I couldn’t believe that I was almost finished writing Hairlooms and I was still dealing with hair issues. Writing Hairlooms was like peeling back layers of on an onion. As I peeled back my layers, my eyes watered, I cried, and I felt pain. Today, I am in a much better place than when I started my journey. Hopefully, reading Hairlooms can assist other people on their journey.
Phillips: How can men assist women with their natural hair journeys?
Roseman: It’s simple. Brothers can encourage us with word that affirm. Even if you don’t understand the journey or what she is experiencing that day, you can say something like, ‘baby, you are doing a good job, your hair looks good today, or maybe you can try this’. It’s important that men provide women with life-giving words to help counter-balance the negative inner dialogue that’s going on in our head. My husband is a wonderful man who saw me grapple with my hair issues but I notice that he never said negative or disparaging word me. Most of the time he doesn’t really understand but he supported me with positive words and his presence. I recommend that men read Hairlooms so that they can get a better understanding of what we are experiencing when we transition to natural hair.
Phillips: Do you have any closing comments?
Roseman: The final thing that I would add is that you matter and you are important and you have worth. It doesn’t matter what you look like, it doesn’t matter the texture of your hair, or how much you weigh. You have value. You are so beautiful, you have worth, and you matter. In the scripture, it says that death and life is in the power of the tongue. From the secular perspective, whatever you think and speak will manifest itself. Thinking and speaking words of power doesn’t come overnight but it will come over time. We must think and speak words of power about our hair and ourselves.