Sharon Harvey Rosenberg




From Ms. Press-n-Curl to Coilygirl


by Sharon Harvey Rosenberg


In my parent's home there were no discussions about good hair/bad hair. Hence, as I child I was puzzled when other folks (playmates, babysitters and other outsiders) asked how come my sister Karen had such long pretty silky hair and I had the thick hair.


I heard the unspoken: I had the “bad” hair and a lot of it. Hair dressers would complain about having to work on “that child with that thick head of hair.”  And while working on my head, the ladies with the blue grease, hot combs and curling irons pulled my hair, burnt my neck and fried  my ears. But I had bouncing and behaving hair. I had press-n-curl Shirley Temple Curls for church.


“Just don’t bring her back for a while,” my first hair dresser told my mom.


I didn’t go back. But there were others. When I was a pre-teen, one hair dresser relaxed my hair with a white cream that smelled terrible and left big burns — oozing, oozing — on the back of my scalp. When she finished, my hair looked like a big dog had licked it straight. My scalp still burns — even decades later.


Finally, in seventh grade in 1972, I was liberated. My mother took me to a barber, who cut my shoulder-length hair into a little Afro. It was short, thick and beautiful and all of the kids in my seventh grade class thought I looked really cute.


I wore an Afro through most of high school. In 1976, I was crowned Miss Black Teenage World of New Jersey, with a tiara perched on my big ‘fro. But during my freshman year at college, one of the brothers teased me about my hair one day during lunch.


“Girl, you got that tough stuff,” he said.


“Excuse me?”


“Your HAIR!!! You got that tough hair. Fierce,” he said, making two fists.


Oooh.... He didn’t like my hair. His girlfriend had long wavy hair and most of the Black men on campus preferred their girls with long, swinging hair. That summer, I relaxed my hair, tweezed my eyebrows and bought new clothes. I was hit on when I came back to campus. I was pretty with my new Revlon-hair. I had dates. I was popular. I was happy.


But the happiness turned to horror every six weeks to eight weeks, when I went to the beauty salon. The hair dressers said the burn of the relaxer was my fault because: a) I had scratched my scalp; b) I had washed my hair too much  and c) above all, my hair was so thick and fierce. Super white lye was needed on naps like mine. That’s what they told me.


Frankly, the process was humiliating. The salon was an expensive statement and again, I heard the unspoken: My hair, they told me in sign language, was "ugly " and needed to be “fixed” before it was even styled. And most disturbing, something strange often happened to me when I stepped out with salon-straight hair. I crossed over the threshold of color.


With straight hair, I moved into the world of other: Are you from the Philippines? Are you some Asian mix? A Latina? Where  are your parents from? What’s your native language?  Those questions often greeted me when my hair was straightened with lye.


Even Black cab drivers in DC didn’t always know I was Black. Even the little girls from the old neighborhood church in Philly didn’t recognize me on Easter Sunday.


“Help! The Chinese lady is chasing me,” one little girl called for rescue, when I tried to play with her in the church foyer. I was the Chinese lady. And I heard the unspoken: Did my straightened hair mean that I was ashamed to be Black?


But in my late 20s, my life changed. After a broken engagement, I cut off my long hair. I wanted to see a new self in the mirror. Next, I converted to Judaism, acting on a deep religious pull that had tracked me since childhood and dates back to my grandmother, an AME preacher who loved the Jewish faith.


After marrying Avi Rosenberg, I began covering my hair, a custom observed by many Orthodox Jewish women. I covered my hair with hats and scarves. Eventually, like other observant women, I often covered my hair with a wig.  My wig was a short page boy like Diana Ross from her Supreme days.  But underneath the wig, my hair was growing in nappy and full. It was fierce and I loved it.


I loved my Teeny Weenie Afro.


But soon, my afro was so big that my hair no longer fit under my wigs and scarves. I didn’t want to cut my hair. So I went to the store and purchased a so-called Kiddie Relaxer Kit from Walgreens. I opened the kit, lined up my tools and started the process. But I couldn’t do it. In the face-off  battle in the bathroom mirror, my natural hair won.  I refused to put the white creamy chemical in my hair and on my scalp.


I liked my hair just the way it was. G-d didn’t make a mistake. My hair — as I once wrote on Nappturality.com — was a gift that I had just taken too long to unwrap.


So, in order to fit my 'fro under assorted headgear, I began braiding my hair. Years later, my thick braids and double-strand twists reach the middle of my back. I’ve hunted down hair care information on websites such as Natural Grooming, Nappturality and other hair destinations, where I was known as “Coilygirl.”  Additionally, I had support from my brother Ben -- a DC school teacher -- who began locking his hair in the mid 1990s.  His example inspired me.

Through this journey, I am  loving my thick, nappy hair.

Sharon Harvey Rosenberg Sharon Harvey Rosenberg
This is a picture from my High School yearbook, class of 1976. This is the Afro, I wore in high school and during my freshman year at college. This picture of my hair in braids was taken in 2003. In my own home, I do not have to cover my hair.

Sharon Harvey Rosenberg Sharon Harvey Rosenberg
Here is a 2005 shot taken in my home. I usually cover my hair, but when I am home alone I sometimes walk around without a scarf or hat. This was taken in April 2005 with my hair in a wrap. This is my most frequent look.

Sharon Harvey Rosenberg

Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is a freelance writer with a weekly column in the Miami Herald. Her work has appeared in People Magazine, the New York Post and other publications. She has been featured on the Oprah show and other national and local TV and radio broadcasts. She is currently writing a memoir about her grandmothers.

This photo was taken in 2005 at a poetry workshop in Miami. My hair is tied back in a scarf because I have to appear in public with some sort of head covering (for Jewish religious observance), I pick naptural styles that work with scarves, hats and other head gear. In this photo, my hair is in double-strand twists.



Sharon Harvey Rosenberg
e-mail: Sharonhr@bellsouth.net

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