Nappily Ever After: On hair, perfection, and other inherited conversations.
Last night I proposed to my wife that we’d break our rule of going to bed early on school nights and watch the new Netflix film Nappily Ever After. I had three reasons for breaking this rule: the first was that the movie is produced by Tracey Bing, a dear friend from business school, whose success I celebrate with all my heart, and it makes me smile to see her shine. The second reason was that I had read a review that made the topic of the movie really intriguing for me: the exploration of un-questioned inherited conversations that limit our happiness, and the third reason was really my own confusion that I didn’t know if this was a “big screen” movie that was only going to be aired on Netflix last night, which for the record, is not, but all the same, provided that “sense of urgency” that was enough for my wife and I to break our rule and watch the movie before going to bed.
Nappily Ever After can be seen as an entertaining modern-day romantic film, and it does provide a good and relaxed time, but qualifying it as such would be to leave out what the movie really explores: how we get trapped in conversations that we inherit from our ancestors, culture, society and surroundings, and which we accept as truths that become traps for our own happiness, authenticity and free self-expression.
In the movie, Violet, a young, successful, beautiful black woman, chases and struggles with the idea of being the “perfect woman” so that the “perfect man”, with the “perfect profession” and financial status wants to marry her. In her quest for perfection, as defined and instructed by her mother, Violet struggles with her hair, which, by cultural conversations and her mother’s definition, is highly imperfect and needs to be painfully fixed.
Violet’s hair drama has been a life-time inhibitor of fun, self-love and freedom: from long and painful kitchen hair-strengthening and burning sessions with her mother and a comb stove-top heated, to picnics where children can freely play, get dirty and swim for hours without worrying for their appearances, a pool that is so appealing to her but to which her mother warns her not to get close, so she doesn’t ruin her hair, to finally an adulthood in which she wakes up one hour before her boyfriend does, to fix her hair, so he doesn’t have to see her real hair when he opens his eyes and makes love to her, while she stresses out if his passionate expressions would damage the work she has so carefully done on straightening it. Undoubtedly, her life revolves around finding, being and achieving perfection, and one of the biggest gauges for it is how straight her hair is.
All these social constructs, greatly fueled by Hollywood, princess stories, and mass media, with clear definitions of what constitutes beauty, perfection, success, happiness, family, marriage, relationships, motherhood, parenting, the dreams you should have and the failure you should avoid, get passed-on to us by our parents and relatives at the dinner table, in car rides and in every small moment in which we interact with our community. We get fed with their fears of not being enough, not looking good, not achieving whatever the standard is, and in those moments, the Light in us gets slowly put away, until we forget all about smiling from the heart, living fully, being who we are, and most certainly, being enough, just how we are.
We witness in the movie how Violet struggles with not finding “perfection” enough, how she can not secure the husband and starts having a series of what seems to be very unfortunate hair events, that slowly lead her to a catharsis in which she finally starts exploring and confronting how uncomfortable she has been under her own skin and how inauthentic she has been for most of her life.
In those moments of deep sadness, she realizes that she has lost track of who she really is, she has lost connection, and how, without hair to worry about, she can slowly start bringing her Self back in, experiencing what it is to love yourself for who you are, truly, authentically, fully out.
Perhaps you don’t have and have never experienced a limitation to your self-expression and authenticity coming from your hair, it doesn’t matter. Nappily Ever After is not a movie about hair, or about an African American woman, it is about all of us and whatever hair, perfection or other inherited conversations we all have.
What is your inherited limiting conversation? What has been passed-on to you that is preventing you to live fully-out? What is your own “closet” that is limiting your self-expression and your happiness?
The invitation is to “shave it off”, whatever “it” might be for you, and step out, fully out, into being truly alive and create your own definition of happiness, not the one you bought into.