Embracing the Curl: How Natural Hair Helps Reclaim Identity

In her novel Americanah, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie introduces us to Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman living in America who has decided to move back home. As she travels to get her natural hair braided before her trip, we are given powerful and important observations on race, size, and love. Our protagonist does not hesitate to describe people as fat, but she does not connote it in a cruel way. This is a relevant issue, as body-positive communities online are trying to tear down the stigma around the word “fat”. It is an adjective, the same as “funny” or “tall”, but a culture centered around body-shaming has turned it into a curse word. The way Ifemelu addresses terms like “curvy” and “big-boned” (7) resonated with me, as I know many people who have struggled with weight and self-acceptance, and have personally experienced it as well. It is important to remember that there is no wrong way to have a body.


On a similar note, the first chapter of this book puts a lot of emphasis on natural hair. Ifemelu is questioned by her hairdresser as to why she chooses to keep her hair natural rather than relaxing or straightening it (15). Even from another African woman, Ifemelu receives judgement for letting her hair be and refusing to conform to more modern standards of beauty. The fact that she brings her own comb to the braiding salon shows that this type of subtle oppression is an everyday occurrence. Today, traditionally African hairstyles are claimed and renamed by white culture. Bantu knots have been turned into “mini-buns” and credited to Marc Jacobs, rather than recognizing the history behind them.

“Afro” is a widely used term that has lost its true meaning. As a white woman with 3A curls, I have had people refer to my hair as an Afro – which it clearly is not. Misuse of the term has distanced it from its roots. Natural hair itself is taken from its wearers; people often touch natural hair without permission. They do not have the right to violate an individual’s privacy simply because their curls are distinctive. By wearing her hair natural, Ifemelu bravely invites judgement while making a statement about who she is and reclaiming a bit of her culture and identity.


3 thoughts on “Embracing the Curl: How Natural Hair Helps Reclaim Identity

  1. I completely agree on the power behind the symbol of hair in “Americanah”. It has created an important contrast between Ifemelu and her mother as Ifemelu recognizes the culture and history behind her hair, while her mom doesn’t hesitate to chop it all off to fit in at the church. The issue this connects to in the world today, which you mentioned, is cultural appropriation of hair when white people wear their hair in cornrows/braids/ etc, without understanding the history that lies within.


  2. Pingback: Week #1: Blog Responses – Amme AP Lit

  3. Very nice blog entry here, and I really enjoyed how you included photos to connect to your readers more. Previously I didn’t register Ifemelu bringing her own comb as a symbol of her own oppression, so I commend you on pulling that out of the text. I think it’s interesting how you included multiple hairstyles here rather than the typical two hairstyles mentioned in the book, relaxed hair and natural hair.


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