by Guest Contributor Safa Samiezade’-Yazd, Special to Racialicious
Hard to believe, but I was born bald. Not cute little peach-fuzz bald. Not skinhead bald with a chance of stubble. No, I was born with a head as bald as a baby’s butt. What’s more unbelievable—I grew up with straight hair. Of course, if you look at me now, the first thing you see is what happens when Ireland and Iran decide to come together to have a baby—curls that put even Shirley Temple to shame.
My hair went curly in early adolescence, right around the time I hit middle school. I was a small, petite tweenster, and instead of fretting about breasts, which were hardly there, or periods, which were nonexistent, I poured my angst and energy into my newfound mop of kinky hair that sprung itself on me almost overnight. My father hated my curly hair. He said it made me look black. This is a problem to some Iranians, who hold a great pride in the purity of the Persian race. Iran is actually Farsi for Aryan. To this day, when people meet me, their first impression isn’t that I look Persian; it’s that I look black. My Arabic first name doesn’t help. It makes people assume that I’m one of “those black people” whose parents named her something from the homeland. Persians have lustrous hair, but usually it’s straight with a slight little wave. Mine is too kinky to scream and dance “Iran!” Even when I met Shirin Neshat, the most famous Iranian artist outside of Iran, who has made a career out of photographing Persian women, it wasn’t apparent. She didn’t realize I was Iranian until I mentioned my last name.
There is a racial element to the picture here—hair that is curly, kinky or even nappy is commonly associated in American culture as “black.” Silky, straight hair, on the other hand is usually seen as “white.” As comedian Paul Mooney put it, “If your hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed. If your hair is nappy, they’re not happy.” Herein lies the paradox of many ethnic women in America, black and otherwise—the pressure we curlyheads feel in assimilating into a dominant image of lustrous, straight hair that will seemingly make us look more well-kept or better-groomed in a culture of brushes, perms and irons designed to give straight hair what we already have. Yes, curly hair is sexy—at times. Usually the sexy sirens with curly hair are actually straight-haired women who know how to use a curling iron. The grass really is greener on the other side.
This ideology is pervasive, to the point that many times, we don’t even realize we’re buying into it. Beauty requires an acknowledged ugliness in something else, so in order to look damn good, someone else has to look like a train wreck. I remember being told as a child that curly hair is really a genetic mutation. I remember thinking I was a freak. When I was in high school, a classmate once told me that race is actually determined by hair type. If your hair is straight, then you’re Asian. If it’s wavy, then you’re white. And curly hair makes you black. I stood there dumb-founded that a straight-haired, freckled white guy was telling me this. The physical contradiction between him and his theory was so obvious. Even with a democratically elected black President, there are people in our country who still think that the American image should still lean towards white. And if you think that’s outdated, just look at this past summer when 11-year-old Malia Obama wore here hair in twists during a trip to Rome. The conservative blog Free Republic called her unfit to represent her country because her hair wasn’t straight. The blog has since pulled that thread from their site. Continue reading