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